April 7, 1977. It is my first day as an employee with the IBM Corporation. My manager takes me around the office to meet some other managers and key employees I will need to interface with and then he sits me down in a conference room. He hands me a pile of materials and tells me to read all of it. He then says, “You will be tested on this information tomorrow morning.” And so, sitting in a conference room by myself I begin reading the small mountain of information thinking my entire career with IBM might depend on that test the next morning.
I arrive at work the next day and my manager says to me, “Without looking at the information I gave you, I want you to write down IBM’s Three Basic Beliefs and why each one is important to you as an IBM employee.” That was the test. No other questions. Nothing about the company’s divisions and organizational structure, nothing about product offerings/benefits or sales strategy – Three Basic Beliefs. That is what he wanted me to know and expound on. Those beliefs:
- Respect for the Individual,
- Provide the best customer service of any company in the world,
- Pursuit of Excellence in all tasks.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was those ‘basic beliefs’ that largely made IBM so different as a company back in that timeframe. Tom Watson, Jr. explained that in his book A Business and its Beliefs – The ideas that helped build IBM.
From these three Basic Beliefs there soon developed within the company what best be called a tone. It was a blend of optimism, enthusiasm, excitement and pace. The company was always on the move, constantly changing, always striving for something better.
The ‘tone’ that Tom Watson Jr. was referring to is what we call in today’s world, ‘our culture,’ and every company in America is trying to create one that resonates with its employees.
In 1914, Tom Watson, Sr. was faced with the enormous task of bringing three different companies located in three different cities together into one cohesive organization. In his mind, this would require much more than just bringing the companies together operationally. He knew that in order to succeed in his efforts to unite these three different organizations, he would have to have a common set of beliefs that all employees would honor and adhere to. And so, he chose to build the IBM Corporation on Three Basic Beliefs. The rest is history.
This past week we witnessed the inauguration of our 46th President, Joe Biden. Interestingly, one of the first video clips I saw of President Biden from the White House was him speaking on a ZOOM call to members of his staff. He made one message very clear. “Trust me, I will FIRE YOU on the spot, on the spot, no ifs, ands or buts about it if I ever find you speaking down to someone, disrespecting anyone.”
Imagine, here we are in 2021, over a century later and as a broken country looking to heal and find some sense of unity, our new President draws on what really is some simple wisdom from our past (IBM’s 1st Basic Belief – Respect for the Individual) to define how we need to work with another going forward. But really, isn’t that where community and connection all start – with RESPECT?
I have a good friend who has always said, “You get respect when you give respect.” And how do we give respect? We listen to one another. We choose to be civil with one another. We choose to be kind to one another. We choose to be compassionate and caring to those we come in contact with. And as I write these words, I realize that so much of who we are, how we conduct ourselves, how we treat other people, how we THINK; is a function of CHOICE – something each of us controls for ourself.
Amazing how in America, or should I say ‘life’, we often find our future in our past. Or maybe Mark Twain said it best. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”