Corporate Culture can be a Competitive Advantage

It’s easy to become jaded and wary of those who rely on words like “innovation”, “transformation” and “engagement” too much isn’t it? So what happens when you come across a story that truly embodies these overused and abused terms? That’s the exact situation I found myself in after speaking to Dan Pontefract, author of Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization.

Dan is also Head of Learning and Collaboration for TELUS, a $10.5 billion global telecom company where he leads an ongoing culture, leadership, collaboration and social learning renaissance. It’s a Herculean task; TELUS has over 40,000 employees spread across several different countries and headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. Roughly one quarter of the company is unionized. And with field technicians, call centers, engineers, sales, finance, HR and legal departments, well, you get the picture. This sounds like a workforce whose silos might be impenetrable.

But TELUS has broken through in a meaningful way. Through an evolution in its leadership, learning and collaboration strategies – amongst other factors – TELUS has become a more productive, collaborative and social entity. Employee engagement is now 80% – up from 53% five years ago – and the company stock, which recently split, is soaring.

“In society, we tend to believe that leadership is hierarchical and that leaders command and control and bark orders,” said Pontefract. “The TELUS team launched a few important changes and planted a few seeds to then ultimately watch engagement and productivity grow.”

A large portion of their strategy lies firmly within the TELUS Leadership Philosophy (TLP), implemented coast-to-coast and country-to-country. It’s a leadership framework that espouses openness, trust, authenticity, collaboration and social. It was something employees could rally around, or as Pontefract puts it, “A systemic leadership framework that works for all, not just for those who lead people.”


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In parallel, TELUS began to unleash a plethora of social and collaborative learning tools.

“We don’t think learning is just a two-week 40 hour event you take in a classroom,” said Pontefract. “It’s done through coaching, mentoring, discussions, books, webcasts, wikis and blogs amongst other methods. It’s all about the sharing of intellect, competence and acumen. Leadership is the same way.”

TELUS also recognized it had way too many disparate HR tools coupled with a less than desirable HR apps system.

“Ultimately because of the combination of what Success Factors brought with its HR apps to the cloud plus this wonderful thing called SAP Jam, we now had the freedom to deprecate some of our disparate tools that started our journey,” said Pontefract. “We’re looking at SAP Jam as a way to further unify the team member experience. For example, some of our HR systems and apps could not be accessed via a mobile device. Now we will be able to.”

Pontefract believes culture change, and leadership style change is not a light switch.

“It’s an ultra-marathon. You really have to train and prepare and re-iterate that there is going to be a lot of ups and downs throughout this 100-mile terrain. But you will get the badge at the end if you persevere and believe that there is something good at the end of this. If you believe that culture is a competitive advantage – don’t just speak about it but act upon it – you can definitely improve your levels of employee engagement and productivity.”

Dan Pontefract will be speaking at SAPPHIRE NOW, SAP’s premier customer event on May 15th at 11:30. You can catch it live right here.

Follow me on Twitter @TClark01

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This post originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.