IBM + Kenexa And What it Means For Compensation

By Alison French

When I interviewed for this job in back in 2004 I wasn’t interviewing with IBM, or IBM. In 2004 the group that recently became IBM’s compensation business unit was an upstart startup called, and I was going to be employee number 65. At the time I didn’t know anything about compensation or the marketplace for HR software and services.  I remember the CEO talking about how we would one day compete with the giants like Oracle and SAP, and I remember thinking he was crazy. Fast-forward almost nine years, and here we are – picked up first in 2010 by IBM, and just this week by IBM. Who’s the crazy one now?

As we prepare to join forces with one of the world’s largest organizations, both customers and colleagues alike wonder how the compensation division will distinguish itself in a sea of offerings from business analytics to storage area networks to consulting. Some ask “Does IBM really care about comp?” or say “You’re just a rounding error for IBM!” I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about why these comments don’t worry me.

If you’ve read any of the statements IBM leadership has made around the acquisition, you know that as a company we are committed to helping the world build a “smarter” workforce. I know that sounds like marketing-speak. As a marketing person I can surmise that yes, considerable marketing muscle was involved in the envisioning of the Smarter Workforce, and in the selection of its name. But Smarter Workforce is as concrete and real as a vision can be. It is a state to which our customers truly do aspire. All we’ve done is to articulate it.

Imagine the power and reach of a workforce made up of people who are in the jobs that are absolutely meant for them, fully engaged, empowered and productive. That is a Smarter Workforce. If you think any organization can get there profitably without absolutely nailing compensation strategy and execution, you’re more naive than I was in 2004 when I thought our 65-person company would never be worthy of attention from the IBMs of the world.

You know what excites me? The idea of people who are passionate about compensation meeting people who run the world’s leading analytics platforms. The idea that the comp data geeks I work with are now part of an organization leading the charge on helping companies leverage their data assets in ways we haven’t even thought of yet. The idea that as of this week I can knock on the doors of some of the best engineers in the world and riff about how they can revolutionize the way my customers execute on their goals.

You know what excites me? The idea of people who are passionate about compensation meeting people who run the world’s leading analytics platforms.

Part of my job here is to inspire organizations to invest in solutions that help their compensation teams work smarter. A big part of this is related to raising the profile of the compensation function, both within IBM and in the external market for HR solutions. In many ways, becoming a part of IBM has raised that profile already, because it brings a team of compensation experts, compensation product designers, compensation services staff, and leaders dedicated to serving the compensation market into one of the biggest companies on the planet. We are a small but powerful army of advocates for the role of compensation in driving business success, and our voices have just been amplified 400,000-fold. We’ve been given a huge stage, and a huge microphone. And I see this as a huge opportunity to bring the critical work that our customers do to the forefront of the conversation on how to get the most from – while giving the most to – people.

So to my colleagues, customers and even competitors in the market: be excited about the union of IBM and IBM. The new opportunities ahead of compensation as a function, as a market, and as a foundation of a Smarter Workforce are just beginning to emerge, and I promise we will change the way organizations think about compensation.

Alison French

Alison French, CCP, GRP

Alison French, CCP, GRP Strategy & Market Insights, IBM Smarter Workforce Alison French has spent over 10 years driving product marketing and strategy for IBM Kenexa’s compensation software ...(Read More)

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