Canadian Communicators Blend Values And Technology So Eemployess ‘Dream More, Do More.’
By Richard Acello
Skills for 40,000
Telus is a Canadian communications company in the midst of rapid expansion. From its roots as strictly a Western Canadian telecom provider, the Calgary based company has expanded into new markets, now serving 7.7 million wireless and 3.4 million land-line subscribers, 1.4 million Internet subscribers, and 678,000 Telus TV customers. Telus’s reach is not confined to the North. Its International Central America division was recently highlighted in Estrategia y Negocios magazine’s “100 largest companies that drive business in Central America.” In addition, Telus has branched out into previously uncharted territory, with business units in HR and health care services.
In an “always on” marketplace, and with the addition of the entrance into new business lines, the transition from regional telecom provider to national multi-service powerhouse had to be accomplished on the fly, and in the process Telus more than doubled its employee count from 20,000 to about 42,000, physically located in 13 countries, including 3,000 physicians. The lights burned late in Calgary, especially for Benny Ramos, director of HR and learning. “The only way we could manage this transition was to leverage technology — it would have been a long shot in 2000,” Ramos says. In one direction, Telus needed a more scalable system that accommodated the e-learning needs of a ever-varying employee cohort, and in the other it needed a system to accommodate increasing specialization and localization.
“We have several streams of communication,” Ramos says. “Our communications team makes sure everything is translated and localized and speaks to our learning philosophy including formal, informal and social learning. Everyone has the ability to be a leader formally or socially and everyone has the ability to engage, explore, and explain. The number of social tools is based on the idea that team members don’t leave their consumer tendencies behind at home, and we provide these communication channels inside our organization, a safe place to have contextual conversations.”
Ramos says that encouraging communication from out in the field has led to a flattening of the communication chain, so that employees on the front line can engage the company, a far cry from the occasional “employee suggestion box” of days past.
A micro-blogging group might come up with a “ground floor” idea looking for an airing. “In 13 countries, you can’t always have the water cooler conversation happening, but on the other hand, years ago a front line team member would not be able to engage team leaders — now they can,” Ramos says.
Though it makes prodigious use of e-learning technology, Telus’s learning and collaboration program springs from a shared set of values that guide daily decision making and interactions with colleagues, clients and stakeholders. Its learning programs are rooted in the notion of a symbiotic relationship between the success of the company and the health of the community the company serves, making it essential to live up to the company’s “brand promise”: “The Future Is Friendly.” The Telus Leadership Philosophy (TLP) provides a framework to support employees‘ day-to-day actions regardless of rank, level or experience. The pillars of TLP are effective leadership techniques, fair process, and what are called “The Values.”
We embrace change and initiate opportunity; we have a passion for growth; we believe in spirited teamwork, and we have the courage to innovate.
The values are enabled by Learning 2.0 methods and technologies allowing for engagement and the exchange of learning and ideas.
Ramos said he’s interested in creating a team of leaders at all levels within the organization. “There’s a quote from John Adams: ‘Any time you can help a person do more, dream more, you become a leader.’ Being a leader could be putting up a post or having a better decision-making process can make you a leader, too. So all the e-learning programs we have are leadership programs. In the past, someone might just be lurking, but now we find they contribute, building personal learning networks, and are more willing to comment and contribute.”
In addition to a suite of Skillsoft products, Telus employs the Success Factors LMS and is in the process of creating its own versions of Twitter, Facebook and You Tube. It has integrated Skillsoft’s “Skillport” and Books 24×7 content so that they are accessible through the corporate intranet. At the same time, employees are also able to manually log on to Skillport from outside the corporate network, providing anywhere, anytime access.
In addition, Telus adopted “Workstyles,” allowing employees to work in an office, from home, or a mixture of both if the employee’s position allowed for it. Currently, 60 percent of its Canadian employees are work-styled. To promote collaboration and the feeling of attending an in-person meeting, the company launched Telus Collaboration House (TCH) in 2011, and TCH Learning Center in 2013, using Avaya Web Alive to create live learning and meeting environments. New employees are introduced to TCH as part of their on-boarding process, attending sessions in TCH. But TCH can also be used as a just-in-time collaboration environment by anyone within Telus.
By 2103, employees had access to an abundance of e-learning opportunities, so much so that an April 2013 “Learning Blueprint” found that the abundance of learning opportunities was a “barrier to success.”
“You have this smorgasbord,” Ramos explains. “So many large assets — we have internally 700 to 1,000 courses and 500 reference documents and in combination we subscribe to off-the-shelf content providers like Skillsoft.”
Clearly, targeting and sorting of this mass of assets was in order, so Ramos introduced a system “just like on Amazon [.com]” to enable ranking, and see what their peers are looking. We have an electronic bookshelf of what leaders are reading, and you can follow what other people are doing, what courses other people are taking, and then you can have applicability to your own needs.”
The learning and collaboration program creates groups with what Ramos calls “ingenious conversations around context which led to the creation our own wikis and blogs on programs.”
By tracking the most-used assets, Ramos was able to take the vast smorgasbord, and using the rankings, conversations, and other qualifiers was able to pare the smorgasbord down to “smaller meals.”
Ramos says Telus’s e-learning and collaboration program helps drive interest in the company among Millennials. “Learning is part of our HR engagement,” Ramos explains. “Telus team members are getting younger, and when you ask Millennials what they are asking for, pay is not first thing. They’re looking for a quality of work life and opportunity and we have all these assets anytime anywhere.”
The combination of Telus’ values and technology is paying dividends. Ramos says that in 2010 only 59 percent of its employees said they were satisfied with their learning and development support; by 2012, 76 percent expressed satisfaction and in 2013, satisfaction rose to 78 percent.
RETURN ON LEARNING
Not surprisingly, satisfaction with learning and development appears to track engagement with the learning and collaboration program. Ramos says engagement rose from 57 percent in 2010 to 83 percent in 2013, making Telus the global leader of engagement, according to Aon Hewitt.
To measure “return on learning” (ROL), Telus created a measurement strategy called “AUGER” that measures
>> Access – click, open, attend
>> Use – view, stay, participate
>> Grade – knowledge acquisition testing
>> Evaluation – student assessment of the learning opportunity
>> Return on learning – return to the organization for the learning
Telus examines participation rates in the formal, informal, and social tools and surveys participants quarterly to determine the performance improvements as a result of using these tools. It found that social learning resulted in significant performance improvement, but the biggest performance gain came from informal learning. For example, more than 35 percent of the organization participates in social learning, and those learners recognized a 59 percent performance improvement. In addition, 68 percent of employees participate in formal learning, resulting in an 80 percent performance improvement; 63 percent of employees leverage informal learning, with an 85 percent performance improvement rate.
Telus was recently inducted into Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Hall of Fame, which recognizes Canadian companies that have a culture that helps them improve performance and sustain a competitive advantage.
“We’ve engaged our employees and we gave them the tools to engage,” Ramos says. “It has been a really powerful combination for us.”