post_2.jpgIBM’s Watson team began like a startup operating within a large enterprise. Watson’s original crew of 200-ish researchers brought Watson to life. Thanks to their guidance, the technology reached the point that IBM could monetize it. Monetizing Watson meant hiring many more people, and Obed Louissaint was the team building genius who could do it.

In the first part of our Watson team profile, you met Louissaint, the Usain Bolt-inspired VP of People & Culture for IBM Watson. You learned how his team revamped on-campus recruiting, incorporating digital interviewing and a tool called CodeVue, to refine a talent pool of 10,000 candidates down to their top 75 Finish Line finalists. In this post, you'll learn how Watson persuaded 95 percent of its finalists to accept. It all started on a cold day in Manhattan, right before Thanksgiving.

The Finish Line

Louissaint and his managers were ready to make offers to the 75 people they invited to IBM Watson’s two-day Finish Line event in Manhattan. They organized the event to give candidates a taste of what life with the Watson team would entail.

It also gave Louissaint and his team the chance to confirm they’d chosen the right people. The first day began with a scavenger hunt through Manhattan, designed to help top candidates to know IBM. Some stops along the way included:

  • Grand Central Station. Here, candidates met an IBMer who talked to them about IBM, team building, and believing in the power of data.
  • Clients and partners. Students met clients and ecosystem partners who used the Watson platform, seeing firsthand how it was changing the way they did business.
  • IBM tour. The scavenger hunt ended with a tour of IBM Watson’s offices and a mixer including both current IBMers and Finish Line candidates.

The next morning, candidates were farmed out to existing IBM Watson teams, where they had the chance to create new use cases for Watson. Louissaint’s team, along with Watson team leaders, got the chance to assess candidates’ collaboration, cognition, and technical skills, along with the most important skill of all: the willingness to think big.

After the brainstorming session, IBMers took questions through a Twitter AMA, answering questions submitted by the candidates about working at IBM. They also attended a reception to meet more current IBM employees.

The Spirit of Service

The last day of Finish Line also happened to be the day before Thanksgiving. The candidates spent the rest of the day divided between two homeless shelters, packing bags for Thanksgiving meals. Louissaint’s team wanted to make sure candidates understood the importance of community service within IBM’s culture. It also served as a team building litmus test, demonstrating how well candidates worked cooperatively in the spirit of IBM.

The Offer

When Finish Line candidates headed home for Thanksgiving, IBM Watson’s managers weren’t just happy about the candidates; they were ecstatic. According to Louissaint, they went into two rooms and fought over which managers got which candidates.

After a couple of hours spent matching the right candidates to the right managers, each manager wrote a handwritten note to accompany the offer materials. Ninety-four percent of candidates who attended Finish Line received an offer within an hour, sent via text message. All but 5 percent of those who got offers accepted them, some via text and some via Twitter.

As soon as candidates came on board, they received learning plans within a tool Louissaint’s team called Watson Academy. Based on data gathered from CodeVue and from digital interviews, candidates got personalized learning road maps within Watson Academy, including MOOCs on Watson’s natural language programming.

The Future

IBM is now using digital interviewing for all its interns as well as in multiple departments across the company. The Watson team is also launching a new ATS with integrated digital interviewing, and they’re exploring ways to use gamification and even Watson technology to fine-tune their candidate selection.

Watch Obed Louissaint’s Digital Disruption talk to get even more details about team building and Watson. Also, check out how CodeVue helps teams like Watson's evaluate developer’s skills—without the dreaded whiteboard.

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