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One major consequence of our increasingly digital society and economy is that the next great business idea really can come from anywhere. Companies are increasingly taking this lesson to heart and looking for ways to solicit ideas from their entire community of employees, not just those formally dedicated to the development of new business. Last week, Digiday’s Max Willens took note of this trend in the media, observing the innovative techniques publishers are using to generate product ideas, such as a “Shark Tank”-style competition Politico tried out last summer:
Politico joins other publishers that are turning to their own employees to develop new revenue ideas. Before it was acquired by Meredith last fall, Time Inc. ran a similar internal competition that attracted nearly 60 submissions from employees. The Globe and Mail in Toronto and New York Daily News have run their own accelerator programs for years. Those programs have resulted in The Globe and Mail’s Workplace Awards, a profitable award and events program, and an ad-viewability tool at the Daily News.
Finding new sources of revenue has become a top priority for publishers everywhere. But in these cases, the goal is also to instill entrepreneurial thinking in a mature industry.
This concept is being tried in many industries, not just publishing. In our recent and ongoing research at CEB, now Gartner, we’ve seen many organizations turning to their employees through these types of ideation programs—some of which are much more effective than others. As you might imagine, inviting entire workforces to generate ideas can result in a certain amount of idea or information overload. The more interesting solutions we’ve seen guide employees to focus on and share the most helpful kinds of ideas, creating a sort of self-filtering mechanism.
Watson Assistant, the latest entry into the AI-powered virtual assistant market, made its debut on Tuesday at IBM’s Think conference in Las Vegas, CNET’s Ben Fox Rubin reports. Unlike Amazon’s consumer-focused Alexa, however, Watson Assistant is an enterprise-oriented technology that “will function as the behind-the-scenes brains for a variety of new digital helpers made by a variety of businesses”:
For example, Watson Assistant is already in use at Munich Airport to power a robot that can tell you directions and gate information. The assistant is in development by BMW for an in-car voice helper. Also, Chameleon Technology in the UK created a Watson Assistant-driven platform called I-VIE that helps people manage their energy usage.
“We looked at the market for assistants and realized there was something else needed to make it easier for companies to use,” said Bret Greenstein, IBM’s global vice president for IoT products. …
IBM made headlines last month when it filed a lawsuit against its former Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of HR, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, claiming that her decision to accept a new position as Chief Diversity Officer of Microsoft violated a year-long non-compete agreement she had signed with IBM. McIntyre, the suit claimed, was privy to data and methods pertaining to IBM’s diversity and inclusion program that constituted trade secrets and would inevitably influence the work she did for their competitor.
In a court filing Monday, IBM revealed that it had settled the suit on February 25 and that McIntyre would delay the start of her new position at Microsoft until July, GeekWire reports:
Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed, but Microsoft said in a statement this afternoon that McIntyre will be officially starting in her new position this summer. … A judge in the case had issued a temporary restraining order preventing McIntyre from working at Microsoft pending a preliminary injunction hearing that was slated to take place next week.
“We’re pleased the court granted IBM’s motion for a temporary restraining order, protecting IBM’s confidential information and diversity strategies,” an IBM spokesperson said. “We’re glad the action has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and that Ms. McIntyre will not begin her new responsibilities until July.”
Microsoft announced on Sunday that it had hired Lindsay-Rae McIntyre as its next Chief Diversity Officer, reporting directly to Chief People Officer Kathleen Hogan and leading “a multitude of existing cross-company initiatives to further Microsoft’s progress in building a diverse and inclusive culture.” McIntyre comes to Microsoft after two decades at IBM, where her most recent titles included Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of HR.
Not so fast, says IBM, which filed suit against McIntyre on Monday, claiming that her new position at Microsoft violates a year-long non-compete agreement and puts IBM’s trade secrets at risk, GeekWire’s Todd Bishop reported:
The suit, filed federal court in New York today, describes McIntyre as one of the company’s “most senior executives with knowledge of IBM’s most closely guarded and competitively sensitive strategic plans and recruitment initiatives,” including “confidential strategies to recruit, retain and promote diverse talent.”
In her new role at Microsoft, she would compete for the many of the same types of hires she previously recruited for IBM, the suit says. … IBM claims in its suit that it will be “inevitable” for McIntyre to use IBM’s trade secrets against the company.
In its complaint, IBM argues that Microsoft itself recognizes the competitive advantage of keeping diversity data and strategies private, pointing to an ongoing class-action lawsuit alleging that Microsoft discriminates against women, in which the tech giant has resisted efforts by plaintiffs to force it to hand over detailed diversity data: “As Microsoft has admitted, disclosure of the very type of confidential information that McIntyre possesses—non-public diversity data, strategies and initiatives—can cause real and immediate competitive harm.”
IBM has joined the list of tech companies overhauling their parental leave policies to court working mothers in the US. The company’s VP of Employee Benefits, Barbara Brickmeier, announced on Wednesday that the company had updated its parental leave policy, applying retroactively to IBM babies born or adopted after November 2016: New mothers will now have up to 20 weeks of paid leave, rather than 14, and leave for new fathers, partners, and adoptive parents has been doubled from six to 12 weeks.
Parents can take this time off at any time during the first year after the birth or adoption, and IBM will also reimburse up to $20,000 of employees’ adoption of surrogacy expenses. Brickmeier also highlights some other changes the tech giant has made to support parents, especially mothers, in its workforce:
As medical diagnosis has improved, our society has recognized the potential of special needs services for children. Our Special Care for Children Assistance Plan reimburses employees $50,000 towards applicable services for each child with mental, physical or developmental disabilities.
In addition, we continue to adapt our popular family-friendly programs, which include:
- Our 2015 milk delivery program for nursing moms who travel on business has been expanded to international travel;
- Childcare center and after-school center discounts across the U.S.;
- Expanding expectant mother parking to IBM locations across 50 states;
- Investing in child care centers with guaranteed priority status for IBM families through our Global Work/Life Fund;
- A range of maternity and mindfulness services;
IBM already scored high on indices of working-mother-friendly employee benefits and corporate environments, and is both following and driving forward an industrywide benefits war to attract and retain working mothers to help fill their talent gaps. It has also developed, in partnership with iRelaunch, a re-entry program for mid-career women who have taken extended career breaks, such as to care for a child or elderly parent.
Faced with a large number of women in STEM fields who exit the workforce mid-career, many employers in the tech sector have been looking for ways to bring these women back, both to address overall skills shortages and to improve diversity and inclusion. These women are typically mothers who leave their jobs either to devote their time exclusively to raising children or in response to workplace cultures that don’t allow them to balance family and career; though they may not intend to drop out of the job market permanently, in their fast-changing fields, a career gap of just few years can make it very hard to re-enter—and some of these women have gaps of a decade or more.
To help them get back on their professional feet, some companies have launched re-entry initiatives or “returnships”: internship or mentorship programs for mid-career employees that enable them to rapidly update their skills and re-establish their professional networks. Erin Carson at CNET profiles IBM’s re-entry program, a 12-week internship that places mid-career women with STEM backgrounds in one of the company’s various business lines:
Participants get a mentor and work on an actual project, whether it’s in data analytics or programming. The idea is that the program can create a smooth transition for its interns, get them up to speed and give managers a chance to see the interns’ work before hiring them.
Underscoring the increasingly central role CEOs of major US companies are playing in the country’s public and political debates, a number of business leaders abandoned President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council this week in response to the president’s remarks regarding violence that occurred at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. Ultimately, according to the Wall Street Journal, members of both councils decided to disband—although Trump later claimed on Twitter that it was his decision:
On a 45-minute conference call that started around 11:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, members of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum decided to dissolve the group. Blackstone Group LP chief Stephen A. Schwarzman, who organized the conference call, called the White House and spoke with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a presidential adviser, to give him the news, according to a person familiar with the call. Around the same time, the manufacturing council also had a call and decided to disband. …
“It became clear very quickly that there was a consensus” to disband the group in total, one participant said. “It was important that it be addressed as a group and not a drip-drip.”
The CEOs have taken care to frame their departures from the councils as something other than partisan political opposition to the president or unwillingness to work with his administration, as IBM chief Ginni Rometty did in a communication to her employees: