One of the first things that Sam Palmisano did after becoming CEO of IBM was to do a values gut check. Palmisano felt strongly that a refreshed values system would provide a roadmap for operating differently in a rapidly changing market environment and ultimately complete the transformation process.

The biggest challenge? Despite the fact that IBM was emerging from a long, painful decline and was newly prosperous, people were cautious and suspicious of a new vision. The company needed a way to galvanize people around hope and aspiration as opposed to fear of failure. The company also has a massive, global employee base with widely divergent views.

The answer was a highly innovative process that IBM called Jam Sessions. In a nut shell, the first one started with senior management creating a set of values that were vetted and refined through focus groups and surveys. Then, the entire employee population was invited to weigh in on the list. IBM used social media tools to gather input and analyze trends across the input. Each “value” was the topic of a single forum that was moderated by a member of the senior management team, including the CEO. Employees comments reflected the “good, the bad and the ugly.” Instead of running from the bad and the ugly, Palmisano viewed negative input as a mandate for change. Tags helped sort input, which informed the creation of a new mission and values statement. The company eventually held adjunct Jam Sessions to identify operational roadblocks to adoption of the new IBM way.

If President Obama and the United States Congress could outsource the healthcare debate, IBM would be the perfect partner. Imagine if we “jammed’ the healthcare bill. Each major tenet could be debated over a 2-3 week period and include anyone in the country who wanted to learn and participate. For example, one week, the focus could be “cost reduction”. This umbrella topic could be broken down into several sub topics such as “tort reform”, buying insurance over state lines”, “public option” , “pools”, etc. Before jumping into the jam session, the participant could view content that provides context for each topic. A few experts could debate the pros and cons of each topic and then citizens could jump into the session and comment. Following the “open jam” period, comments could be analyzed and used to create a “mission” for each topic. This mission then would be sent back out and people could give a thumbs up or down for each sub topic. Sort of a mash-up between Yelp, Ideastorm and IBM’s jam sessions.

Congress could augment this online debate with town hall meetings held simultaneously around the country in movie theaters. This approach was used by Buisness Week several years ago for its annual two day business conference. Live speakers were at various venues and teleconferenced to audiences in movie theaters around the country. Interactive devices facilitated audience participation and captured feedback instantly. This opens discussion and participation to audiences with no access to or comfort with online social tools.

The integration of on-and off-line engagement is  a best practices often missed by marketers. In this case, it also provides a very important choice for how to engage citizens.

Congress would then use this feedback to write a bill that reflects the will of the people. This of course has been one of the big criticisms of the current process: the will of the people has gotten lost in the shuffle. Another drawback of the recent debate has been the sheer size of both the House and Senate bills. A Healthcare Jam would break it down and give people an opportunity to learn in smaller bites, participate and “vote”. What a concept. It’s a little bit like “democracy in action”.

Let’s Jam!

Kathy Baughman
Kathy Baughman

Kathy’s forte is enterprise content strategy, content marketing and thought leadership. Over the past 40 years, she has worked with both emerging brands and large enterprises in developing content and thought leadership strategies. She has written several research reports, white papers and has been a key contributor to Forbes Publish or Perish Report.