IBM’s Ginni Rometty on Ability-Constructing and Success


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ALISON BEARD: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Enterprise Evaluation. I’m Alison Beard.

Probably the most profitable individuals on the market, in enterprise or wherever else, are those that are at all times able to study. They’re continuously fascinated by tips on how to enhance, the place they’ll develop, briefly, what new expertise they should develop, whether or not it’s one thing technical, like a brand new coding language, or so-called softer stuff like communication and collaboration. The most effective leaders are additionally fascinated by talent constructing on their groups and of their organizations, even throughout society as an entire to sort out looming challenges and seize rising alternatives.

That is one thing right this moment’s visitor is aware of rather well. She discovered in regards to the significance of coaching and growth, first from feminine position fashions in her household, then by training it herself in her personal profession with targeted research and stretch assignments. As she rose by the ranks to CEO, she infused her Fortune 500 firm with an ethos of steady studying and expertise first expertise practices. And now, as a private and non-private board director, she’s encouraging different organizations to do the identical.

Ginni Rometty is the previous chairman and CEO of IBM, an creator of the brand new guide, Good Energy: Main Optimistic Change in Our Lives, Work, and World. Ginni, welcome.

GINNI ROMETTY: Thanks, Alison. I’m very completely satisfied to be right here with you.

ALISON BEARD: First, let’s discuss in regards to the younger Ginni. How early on in your life did you develop this robust perception within the significance of constructing marketable expertise by completely different sorts of training and coaching?

GINNI ROMETTY: It most likely goes again fairly far. And I believe the most important influence was simply actually watching my mom, my aunt who discovered themselves actually coping with tragedies and needed to get sufficient talent to essentially transfer ahead. After I was very younger, my father deserted our household. My mom had had no training past highschool. And to essentially save us from dropping our house, being on meals stamps, my mom went again and received some training. It wasn’t actually a level, nevertheless it was a set of expertise.

Having simply solely gone to highschool, 4 youngsters, very younger, age 32, she started to return to a neighborhood school. And at first, it was simply taking some programs in accounting after which some very fundamental programs in computing. Now, this might be the Nineteen Seventies, so very completely different world than what we all know right this moment. However with these varieties of programs, she started to qualify for various jobs, which have been first clerical, however then moved up with every little rung and in a approach to make more cash every time.

ALISON BEARD: After which how did the need to problem your self in new areas and focus by yourself self-development play out in your profession?

GINNI ROMETTY: At first, once I noticed my mom, the lesson I discovered from the time when my father deserted us was my mom’s choice to by no means let anybody, together with him, outline who she was. However the second record, the corollary to that was to utterly be unbiased, which means I used to be already watching her and saying to myself, “Look, by some means, a way I’ll at all times have the ability to deal with myself and never must depend on somebody.”

After I began college… And now, I did have an inherent ability for math, nevertheless it was actually downside fixing. I at all times actually wished to grasp how a solution received created, and math and the sciences are very logical in that order.

I did understand the increasingly more I discovered, sure, information was a door opener for me. And again then, it was the Nineteen Seventies once I was in school, and at the moment in engineering, I might be the one girl in lots of of those lessons. And when you find yourself the one one, that comes with its upsides and its downsides. I at all times thought of something I stated, any individual would bear in mind as a result of I used to be the one one there. And so information grew to become a little bit of a defend then. It made you research tougher since you knew should you’re going to talk up, individuals have been going to recollect it.

ALISON BEARD: After which as you began your profession very early on in IBM, you appeared to determine explicit areas the place you actually did must study and develop. You inform a narrative about strolling into certainly one of your railroad shoppers and spending a Sunday utilizing the software program on their machines, that form of studying, the technical stuff, but in addition smooth expertise like communication, emotional intelligence, management. How did you pinpoint these areas as somebody who aspired for higher issues after which determine tips on how to get the abilities you wanted?

GINNI ROMETTY: Yeah, it’s a really fascinating query as a result of I believe there’s two components to this; tips on how to get them, after which which expertise. It did educate me the worth of apprenticing; going into one thing you didn’t know earlier than. And a method to try this is working with specialists, and also you simply study at their facet. And I might try this many, many instances in IBM, and that might be one method to get these expertise.

Now, typically that’s onerous expertise, however I typically watched and I noticed one thing else. And I believe it’s a very vital level which you can at all times study from any scenario is the smooth expertise are sometimes extra vital. And at one time what I witnessed was how properly different individuals communicated. And I can bear in mind in my very early coaching being taught tips on how to current to a buyer or tips on how to current a conclusion of a venture or an engineering program we have been engaged on. And I received such harsh evaluations after this. And now, some individuals would discover that very odd as a result of many individuals right this moment assume I’m an ideal communicator, however I used to be horrible to begin. And that concept of not being defensive after which saying, “You already know what? You’ll be able to study any of this.”

And, in truth, I imagine very strongly many of those smooth expertise are a science that may be discovered. And really early in my profession, I might take heed to what individuals stated to enhance issues like communication expertise. After which as time would go on, I might watch the very best. And though I used to be listening for the content material, I used to be additionally… I had a bit guide, I might diagram the shows and the speeches to say, “What was it that made individuals actually memorable in what they stated?” And there are some very… a brief record of issues you are able to do that can make what you say in profit and, because it the phrases I exploit within the guide, to be in service of another person. It isn’t about you sharing the whole lot you realize. An awesome communicator says, “What do I need them to study? And the way can I make it very easy for them to take action?” And that might set me down a path of getting gone from horrible communicator to, I hope, now good communicator.

ALISON BEARD: After which as a workforce chief, whenever you have been a younger supervisor with a small group of direct reviews all the best way as much as CEO whenever you had the C-suite reporting to you however have been liable for the entire group, how did you push your individuals to develop their very own expertise and ensure they have been continuously coaching and had that very same studying mindset?

GINNI ROMETTY: It could, over a long time, this concept of at all times be studying. And certainly one of IBM’s nice values was an thought of a treasure wild duck. All the time be on the lookout for one thing completely different. However as time would go on, I believe, really, I watched the surroundings worth increasingly more actual experience in a talent. So I stated, “Gee, we’re hiring specialists. And that’s good, besides generally when a specialist has solely finished the identical factor ceaselessly, that’s not a very good factor. The world’s altering so quick, it means they really don’t need to study one thing else.” And  as I might go on after which be CEO and have many direct reviews, you actually fear about how do you get a workforce that, sure, has the abilities that you just want, represents quite a lot of completely different teams on the market?

And I had fairly an expertise very early on. We have been trying to rent cyber expertise. That is 2012; there weren’t many within the market. And so we had had a bit experiment with a highschool that, in a really poor neighborhood working with a neighborhood school, we gave it some enter on a curriculum, we went forward and gave them digital mentors of our individuals and an opportunity perhaps to get a job even with an affiliate diploma.

And lo and behold, wow, we witnessed individuals completely may get this talent. Possibly didn’t have a university diploma. That they had a beautiful curiosity and a willingness to study. And it will educate me lots about hiring individuals and eager to develop and actually reinforce for individuals who had a propensity to study, a curiosity. That was a primary factor.

And IBM itself on the time had two out of 10 individuals who had expertise for the long run. Nice expertise for the present, however not the long run. And it was actually not simply the workforce I might rent, it will then be utilized to, really, the workforce that was there. And we put such a deal with how do you construct expertise which are up to date? After which the entire system to place transparency round that so the individuals then take duty to say, “Look, it’s my duty too to make sure I’ve a talent that’s significant within the market and I’m incented to proceed to enhance it.” And that occurs with transparency after which being rewarded with it.

ALISON BEARD: You probably did step in as CEO at a time of huge digital transformation the place you needed to shift the corporate in a really completely different path. Discuss to me about simply as whenever you have been younger, you recognized the abilities you wanted your self, to how, whenever you’re main this world group, how do you determine what these expertise are after which strategy recruitment and re-skilling?

GINNI ROMETTY: I believe when anybody goes and assaults a metamorphosis, what individuals speak about probably the most is what within the portfolio modifications. What do I make that’s altering? What I might come to study is that how we did our work and the abilities we had would really be equal, if no more vital, and would most likely be the more durable of all these issues to do; change how work was finished, after which change the abilities.

And so partly, sure, in fact you want completely different onerous expertise. We have been getting into an period of not only one know-how pattern, however you had cloud, you had AI together with it, all of this knowledge, you had mobility, you had social networking beginning. In contrast to any time in historical past you had 4 or 5 developments all going directly, feeding on one another and accelerating.

Sure, there have been these onerous expertise to show, and truthfully, we did one thing known as Suppose Academy to impress upon those who all of us needed to change our expertise. It was obligatory, first Friday of each month, and I taught the primary hour. And so I had ensure I knew one thing that was price sharing. And my level was to not be an ideal trainer, however my level was like, hey look, all of us, me too, all of us must continue to learn these items.

However then there could be issues like once I say how work’s finished, to show an entire workforce issues like design pondering. As a result of we have been an enterprise firm dwelling in a world completely influenced by consumerism, which meant, hey, though it is a very advanced enterprise, enterprise to enterprise product, hey, once I come to work because the person of it, I count on it to be so simple as my iPhone. That will result in issues like coaching in design pondering.

And so it was not simply the talent, it was coaching in tips on how to do work in a different way. And I come again to then how did you incent individuals? It was again to what I stated a minute in the past, very clear with them about, properly, let’s take a look at all of our personal talent inventories.

After which we use issues like AI to assist individuals discover what’s the proper pathway for somebody with what may be my present talent to get a brand new talent? We may infer a lot utilizing know-how by the form of tasks, what individuals did, their resumes, et cetera, that we just about had a very good deal with on what talent stage individuals really had. After which go down a path of quite a lot of experiential studying. After which, on the finish of the day, you need to reward and pay those who approach and promote them, the accountability techniques would change the abilities and placing the information in individuals’s palms so they may handle it themselves, after which a Netflix-type studying system that’s on the market, after which an terrible lot of experiential.

I can bear in mind doing not the AI jam; on the time, it was the cognitive jam. It was actually on the coronary heart of a perception that AI ought to increase man and never substitute man. How may individuals perceive what it was, what AI was in the event that they didn’t really contact it, really feel it? And we stated, “Everyone in the entire firm, type a workforce. Decide anyone you need, cross-functional. You’ll be able to work on a shopper downside, your personal enterprise downside. Hey, one thing for society. And we wish you to make use of all these AI instruments and go construct one thing. Even should you don’t know tips on how to construct, then get a builder in your workforce, put a advertising and marketing particular person in your workforce.” Anyhow, virtually 10,000 groups received shaped. I inform that story as a result of it was an enormous method to take a pair hundred thousand individuals and put them in experiential coaching.

ALISON BEARD: Let’s speak about expertise first hiring. How does it differ from conventional recruitment practices? And why do you assume that it’s a greater method to do it?

GINNI ROMETTY:  I had again behind my head my mom who, whereas didn’t have a level, really was fairly good and was in a position to get the abilities to do some fairly robust jobs. Second, I might do all this apprenticing. I might really construct a consulting firm and by no means have an MBA myself, however I might study. Then the third, I might, once I grew to become CEO, stumbling upon this concept of, my goodness, as an alternative of maybe hiring all school graduates, I had discovered a pool of individuals, by the best way, all from underrepresented teams that, if I used to be prepared to re-credential a job that had been over credentialed, I may deliver way more inclusion and get good workers into the workforce.

Many issues began to now could have set, in the beginning appeared as remoted occasions all related to me. And it received me beginning to look and say, “How many individuals on the earth have a university diploma, what number of jobs actually wanted to get began?” Even all developed economies, it’s about 65% wouldn’t have a university diploma. For those who look in America, Black Individuals, it’s virtually 80% don’t. And my very own expertise had been, hey, did all my jobs actually require a PhD or a university diploma to get began?

After which we began to push increasingly more jobs. We have been 95% all jobs PhD or school and from the best universities. As we pushed and pushed, we ended up at solely needing 50% wanted a university diploma to get began. Didn’t imply that you just won’t want one down the road. However this begins dawning on me that it is a actually false barrier for thus many proficient individuals to hitch the workforce.

ALISON BEARD: And also you talked about the tempo of change. For those who received a PhD 20 years in the past, what you discovered won’t apply anymore.

GINNI ROMETTY: Yeah, no offense to all of our nice levels, it could not apply otherwise you received it in one thing that you just’re like, “Okay, what am I going to do with this diploma?” And know-how expertise have been altering three to 5 years, and perhaps even shorter at this time limit. I didn’t name it expertise first to start with. Truly, once we began hiring those who didn’t have a university diploma, I actually needed to cope with the bias within the group as a result of individuals stated, “Are you dumbing down the workforce?” Like engineers, we did quite a lot of finding out of the outcomes, and the online of that was, nope, after about one yr, their outcomes have been really equal to our degreed individuals.

And by the best way, they really took extra training; they have been thirstier, and a extra various group we have been hiring. And at first, we known as them one thing known as new collar. Not white collar, not blue collar, one thing new. Not a nasty factor. Please don’t attempt to say, “Oh, properly, you’re not so good as these different individuals or as unhealthy as one thing else.” And that actually labored for some time.

After which I began to say, “Effectively, that is greater than IBM.” And by the best way, I additionally then began to do that in, properly, now it’s virtually 30 nations all over the world we received these applications going. This can be a very common thought. And so the concept was may I rent you in your expertise first, not simply your diploma. And I used to be simply speaking to somebody final night time, and I stated, “The purpose is…” They stated, “Oh, you don’t imagine in school.” And I’m a vice chair at a college. I stated, “That’s not the purpose.” I stated, “What I imagine is that the place you begin doesn’t have to find out the place you finish.” I felt prefer it’s an on-ramp a lot earlier for some individuals.

And by the best way, I additionally began to now witness so lots of the those who have been expertise first we employed, all of them went again to get four-year levels in lots of instances, however their pathway was completely different. I grew to become, and am, such an advocate that expertise first will not be solely a method to get entry to a extra inclusive expertise pool; goodness is aware of in quite a lot of new areas we want expertise. You do get a greater firm. I don’t have to assist persuade your listeners or of that subject. There’s loads of knowledge that claims a extra inclusive workforce develops higher merchandise.

However the factor that has actually propelled my work right this moment on the heels of George Floyd’s homicide, not simply that, I used to be reminded of it a decade in the past with the nice and unhealthy tech within the digital divide, and saying, “Look, too many individuals are being left behind.” And that rips at a social material of any nation, it rips at democracy if individuals don’t assume they’ve a greater future in entrance of them. To me, it is a method to get lots of people higher alternative. And if we try this, we could have more healthy communities, more healthy democracies. Financial alternative is the best equalizer there’s.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. And I completely need to get into that potential for broader influence. Let me first ask you, although, about what this appears like in follow. Do expertise administration techniques should be fully overhauled? Do HR leaders and hiring managers want fully completely different coaching?

GINNI ROMETTY: Abilities first is a expertise technique, it’s not a program. It means your actual philosophy is constructing individuals, not simply shopping for them. My expertise has been that it’ll not occur, as a result of it’s so cultural, it received’t occur with out top-down help.

The work and research I’ve finished already in lots of the greatest firms on this nation in the USA, about 75% of their good household sustaining jobs now all require a university diploma when it’s most likely 2x what it needs to be. In different phrases, you could possibly take away that over credentialing from half these jobs. Simply over time, it occurred after the warfare, it occurred as the nice American dream. It occurred for plenty of causes. It was a straightforward filter to get a lot of resumes and get by a bunch of them.

It completely modified a expertise technique, a construct versus purchase. After which you need to do issues like not solely change the job requisition to symbolize expertise, you need to give managers a license to rent, which means prepare them. How do they now rent in a different way? You bought to ask completely different questions.

I can’t ask you about, “Inform me all your journey expertise.” I most likely haven’t traveled wherever in lots of of those instances for example. It is advisable to have a normal job analysis rubric to do the form of hiring. You bought to be actually conscious of bias that’s simply implicit and constructed over time that has to return out. And a few individuals may say, “Effectively, hey, it’s riskier. You’re asking me to take a threat.” Some individuals say, “Okay, I received to place some form of incentive within the system.”

It’s important to rent in large teams. For those who solely rent individuals which are expertise first in tiny, little two, three individuals, your organization won’t ever change. You’ll kill them. They won’t change you. You’ve received to rent a large enough group. It’s a tradition. After which you need to discover the pathways. Okay, these individuals do have a talent; the place do I discover them? Most firms don’t have these pathways into their agency but, so these must be constructed.

ALISON BEARD: What are among the best methods to evaluate individuals’s expertise right this moment? Particularly softer ones.

GINNI ROMETTY: Yeah. These usually are not new methods by the best way, so it’s only a matter of whether or not you employ them, proper? A, there’s testing you are able to do since you’re actually attempting to get at individuals’s downside fixing and their willingness to study. You will get these two issues, downside fixing expertise and their capability to study, you get individuals with robust in a single or each of these areas, you’re going to finish up with a very nice worker. There may be extra qualitative evaluation to it. After which there’s some testing you are able to do on these matters round propensity to study and round downside fixing.

This isn’t nearly bringing individuals in, although, that is about tips on how to deal with an entire workforce. As a result of that’s what I noticed. I needed to rework an entire workforce, and I spotted, hey, this hiring of this new pool, it really intersects precisely on high of re-skilling a whole workforce as a result of, for what you stated earlier, expertise change so shortly, I really want this expertise first tradition throughout the whole lot.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. And it’s fascinating as a result of whenever you speak about expertise, you’re not simply speaking about, “This particular person is credentialed in so-and-so coding language, or this particular person has in a position to write a speech,” it’s really about curiosity and downside fixing too.

GINNI ROMETTY: Sure. And people are smooth expertise; teamwork. And up to now, we are saying, “Effectively, what else do you modify?” Then you need to take into consideration how do you do profession paths that approach or actions to jobs in promotions? There are quite a lot of firms now after a pair years which have been at this, not simply IBM. And Financial institution of America, I noticed some statistics. Truly, we put them within the Harvard Enterprise Evaluation article that B of A, inside promotions, 30% earlier than; with expertise first, they’re as much as 50% have now come from inside versus hiring from outdoors, for example.

That is really the problem for firms like Delta Airways who say, “Look…” On this case, should you’re attempting to advertise a various workforce, they’re like, “I’ve received on the entry stage, many, many various candidates. My actual problem isn’t getting extra, it’s selling then up and thru and into different professions.” Abilities first is an ideal match for that.

ALISON BEARD: You probably did preside over this transition, this transformation of the enterprise, re-imagining of the portfolio, new hiring technique, and that meant that revenues didn’t develop in the best way that buyers wished them to. For different leaders who’re pondering that they should embark on this sort of change, how do you make the case that you just’re setting the corporate up for the long run, even when there may be some brief time period ache or slowdown?

GINNI ROMETTY: Yeah, once I took on my place, each CEO will get their set of challenges; mine was the enterprise mannequin wanted to vary, we would have liked a brand new know-how platform, we would have liked to vary how we work, we would have liked to construct new expertise. And when you find yourself as giant as we’re and have been, that’s a tricky job and it takes a while. You’re proper about what you simply cited, nevertheless, on the finish of the day, I view you’re a steward of this firm. And it was my job to construct it a basis to develop once more at some point versus stop to exist, which may have additionally occurred.

And what the workforce did I’m really fairly pleased with as a result of 50% of the portfolio was modernized, nonetheless returned $43 billion to shareholders and 100% improve in a dividend. And worker expertise went from two and 10 to eight and 10, and document engagement.

So I might inform individuals do the correct factor for the long run. It’s important to have a board that helps that. I knew that lots of the issues I did wouldn’t come to finish fruition throughout my tenure. I used to be fairly conscious of that, however I at all times believed I needed to do them. And my predecessors did issues like that too.

And I believe when you’ve an organization that’s over 100 years, we’re the longest standing tech firm, you do study that. And to me, it’s the biggest definition of stewardship. You understand that, however you do these issues. And so many issues did come to fruition, and others have come to fruition now. The corporate is doing very properly, rising very strongly. It was giving them a basis, after which they continued to make the modifications and transfer on from there.

ALISON BEARD: How does the work that you just did at IBM and now that you just’re doing at different organizations specializing in this expertise growth, expertise first, how does that match into this greater thought of purpose-driven organizations specializing in all stakeholders, not simply shareholders, and your notion of fine energy that you just speak about within the guide?

GINNI ROMETTY: First off, I by no means felt deal with any of this was about company social duty. I wanted nice workers. On the identical time, I additionally imagine strongly in an inclusive workforce. And I’ve, actually, over a long time imagine society offers firms a license to function in the event that they dwell correctly on the intersection of enterprise and society. This isn’t do good work. I would like workers.

And this lives proper at that intersection, which I typically assume whenever you cope with a number of stakeholders, you search for these alternatives to dwell at these intersections. The one approach you get to be 100 years previous is you’re continuously balancing the tensions between these stakeholders; they usually’re a digital cycle, which means it isn’t good for IBM if the world doesn’t like know-how. It’s not going to be good if the neighborhood thinks it suffers. It won’t be financially good for a corporation.

And so to me, this wasn’t onerous, in there was no leap of religion to make. This was precisely what an organization is meant to do. And I’m one of many people very concerned within the function of the company that one thing known as the Enterprise Roundtable put out. The businesses that had actually been across the longest with deeply rooted values actually felt some ways enshrining a number of stakeholders and writing that down was how they operated, by the best way. And as I at all times say, “Media wish to write it black and white, however we dwell in a grey world.

I’m continuously coping with is that this brief time period, long run? Am I impacting one versus the opposite? Generally I’ve two unhealthy solutions, and I’ve to discover a third approach by one thing. And this subject, to me, the fantastic thing about it’s that it sits at that intersection that it’s actually good for enterprise and it’s actually good for the world.

Whenever you say, “Why do I work on it even now?” As I used to be retiring and the homicide of George Floyd occurred, I referred to that earlier, a few of my nice colleagues, Ken Frazier, Ken Chenault, among the nation’s most senior and revered Black leaders, stated one thing. They stated, “Guys, everybody’s perhaps speaking giving cash, fascinated by racial justice, however we must always do what firms can do finest; we must always rent individuals, create financial alternative.” And on the time, I believed to myself, okay, I agree 100%, they’ve received the what, however I’ve the how, and it’s known as expertise first.

The thought of fine energy is tips on how to do significant issues, which is the title of the guide, in a constructive approach. And to essentially get robust stuff finished, you really do want energy, the irony. As a result of most individuals say, “Oh, energy’s destructive.” Fixing issues wants energy, however it may be good energy, which means whenever you see tensions, go get proper in the midst of them and never compromise however attempt to resolve them. Unite individuals with what might be made progress on versus divide them. Do issues respectfully however with out worry.

Have fun progress, not perfection. As a result of perfection could be altering the training system. That’s simply not going to occur. However I may make quite a lot of headway with all of the issues we’ve talked about. And sometimes, when individuals go for perfection, they find yourself polarizing; you’re with me, you’re in opposition to me, it’s all this, or it’s all that, or it’s none of this. And then you definately make no progress, so it suffers. And I’m simply actual believer that we every have that capacity.

I hope I encourage individuals to remind them they’ve this energy in any respect components of their life, and it really grows with efficiency over time and with scope over time. And so finally, like the place I’m at this a part of my ripe previous age, engaged on an actual societal downside. And I don’t need individuals to shrink back from them and really feel like, oh boy, that is like we’re giving up. Don’t surrender. Identical to once I needed to change an enormous firm. You could not see the fruition of the whole lot, however you’ll make progress.

ALISON BEARD: Terrific. Ginni, thanks a lot for becoming a member of me right this moment.

GINNI ROMETTY: Thanks very a lot, Alison.

ALISON BEARD: That’s Ginni Rometty, former chairman and CEO of IBM, an creator of the brand new guide, Good Energy: Main Optimistic Change in Our Lives, Work, and World.

And we now have extra episodes and extra podcasts that can assist you handle your workforce, your group, and your profession. Discover them at or search HBR on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you pay attention.

This episode was produced by Mary Dooe. We get technical assist from Rob Eckhardt. Our audio product supervisor is Ian Fox. And Hannah Bates is our audio manufacturing assistant. Thanks for listening to the HBR IdeaCast. We’ll be again with a brand new episode on Tuesday. I’m Alison Beard.



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