Posted by: Chris | 01/04/2011

Who do you work for?

A few years ago I had the CEO of a Swiss bank visit us at the lab for a briefing on our research as we often do with clients. At some point our conversation moved to a topic of a great concern to him. He said when people ask my employees who they work for, they say they work for a bank and don’t say the name of the bank as if that wasn’t important. He was trying to change that part of their culture so they would say with pride the name of the bank.

Gustavo Stolovitzky is an IBMer

This conversation reminds me of a similar discussion we have had at IBM. Who do you work for? Is it the manager or group you work in? Is it the physical lab? Is it the strategic area that we like to drive across our Research division? Is it IBM Research or is it IBM?

Obviously it depends upon who asks you; whether it is a fellow IBM employee or somebody from the outside.

While, like the bank’s CEO, we would like people to say “I am an IBMer” (see video below)  when they’re asked by outsiders, many of our employees will quickly follow that up that they really work for IBM Research – Zurich.

The real question is who does someone identify with, the larger organization or the unit?

Why is this important? I think it poses a very interesting dilemma. Smaller groups or organizations are very easy to identify with because you have a sense of belonging and you work with a team you personally know. In fact, one of the groups in my lab even has given itself a unique “trademark” to identify itself with. They’re proud to belong and are highly motivated in their team and often go beyond the call of duty.   This sense of belonging is so strong that others have remarked that they feel excluded and not as special. Which is the flip side of the equation. Looking at it from a global perspective it becomes even more challenging. If you want to drive a larger program you need people to identify with that unit rather than the immediate work group they’re in.

So the question becomes who do you really work for?

And if you happen to see me at an event or conference, please come up and ask me, “So Matthias, who do you work for?”



  1. I feel happy and proud am an IBMer, As far as i know, IBM is only place to give plenty of opportunity, It is the best place to enhance our skill on technical areas and learn about new technologies…..Am an IBMer

  2. While I was at IBM, it was always “IBM Research”, or sometimes more specifically “IBM ZRL” (or before that “IBM TJ Watson”) if I thought they would know what those were. I actually still catch myself saying ‘we’ when discussing IBM Research despite having left years ago. Strangely enough, I didn’t like being called an “IBMer”, though.
    Cheers, Morton

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