It is widely accepted that the biggest challenge for transforming any business or organisation is cultural change. Changing mindsets and ensuring that staff at all levels feel they have a part to play in how the business is evolving is essential for successful transformation. This is just as true of telcos, as they move from operators of physical infrastructure to providers of cloud-based services, as it is for any other industry.

Of course telcos are already fully aware that for successful digital transformation, putting employees at the centre of change programmes is fundamental. In a report for the World Economic Forum, Mario Di Mauro, SVP Strategy and Innovation, Telecom Italia and Chief Strategy Officer, TIM summed up “The big challenge is to deliver a digital transformation engaging people who are attached to the legacy systems from 20 years ago. It’s also a matter of creating digital knowledge and leading a cultural switch.” Cultural change being key to digital transformation was also the message from industry experts at the Total Telecoms Congress 2018. In a BIO White Paper on digital transformation, Rhona Bradshaw, in her previous position as Director of Digital Virgin Media had the same belief “The biggest hurdle is how to manage change culturally. How do we start to change people’s interpretation of the role of digital?”

So what to telcos need to do? On a practical level in terms of processes, skills and organisational structure, they can look to digital companies who champion agile methods of working, collaborative teams, a strong emphasis on training and development, and a working environment that allows for all of the above. They will also find valuable learnings from US companies AT&T and Sprint, who have already worked through successful cultural transformation programmes. – a digital business that still needed to create change – also provides useful insights.

Creating change at AT&T
AT&T used a four-stage process in their digital transformation strategy. First they set out a vision for the future and created a cultural change programme linked to it, pinpointing principles like ‘agile and innovation’ and ‘customer focus’. A skills audit showed that, for example, software engineers would in the future need to move from specific tasks to broader roles, more suited to cloud-based operations and DevOps practices. In response AT&T established a training programme including everything from in-house and online learning to university degrees, with many elements paid for by the business. Senior management were continuously involved, giving the programme gravitas and ensuring that employees took it seriously. Employees in turn were empowered, encouraged to upskill and given complete autonomy over their path, aware however that transforming their skill sets would lead to future career opportunities. Physical changes were made to the workspace, with collaboration zones and ‘telepresence booths’. Finally a ‘Skills pivot indictor’ was used to identify staff who had gained new skills when a suitable job came up. Through careful planning at every stage and looking at transformation holistically, AT&T have successfully moved towards a culture of change.

CIOs drive cultural change at Sprint Corporation

Another successful transformation story comes from Sprint Corporation, America’s 4th biggest telco with a history going back 120 years. After finding themselves losing money, in 2015 the business created a 5-year plan to increase investment, cut costs and improve customer service. Chief Information Officer Scott Rice emphasised the importance of the company’s digital strategy and corporate vision being one and the same. “When embarking on a digital transformation, there is little chance of success if everyone isn’t ‘pulling the rope at the same time and in the same direction’…A lot of companies struggle with this, but we tackled this challenge early.” He also talks about the importance of cultural and skills transformation “We’re training, we’re hiring, and we’ve created internship programs to bring new ideas into the business”. Incidentally it’s not just at Sprint that the role of CIO is crucial in driving digital transformation and cultural change. CIOs will be ‘as responsible for culture change as Chief HR Officers’ by 2021 according to Gartner. IT decisions on technology and processes impact on behaviour, organisation and culture – and equally values and principles should resonate with design processes – so it’s essential that these two different areas of the business align. move to the cloud

Telcos could also take learnings in how education and cultural change has been implemented in other industries. Take for example. The tech-born price comparison website moved to a cloud service five years ago and realised that when new technology was implemented, employees had to feel part of it if it was to be a success. When Microsoft Azure came in to migrate data to the cloud, staff were partnered with an engineer to help them become comfortable with the transformation. Only a third of’s staff have tech-based roles but CEO Louise O’Shea stressed the importance of everyone having buy-in. In an interview for she commented

"Ownership is really important. If people don't own it, they are just going to say' it's someone else's thing, so I'm not going to touch it'." have now begun a ‘school of tech’ to ensure the workforce stays up-to-date with their knowledge.

Transforming culture, transforming the business
So what should telcos bear in mind when starting a transformation programme? Here are just a few points to consider:

  • Employees need to be engaged, involved and retrained in order for any business to be successful in its transformation goals
  • The C-suite must demonstrate their engagement and involvement as other employees will follow their lead
  • Transformation needs to be defined so the business knows what success looks like
  • Employees should be involved in creating a new customer experience vision and taking it around the business to win hearts and minds
  • A transformation steering committee should include representatives from all departments, with members rotated so as many people can be reasonably involved in decision-making as possible
  • Key projects that deliver big improvements quickly should be heroed to provide proof that transformation works and impacts positively on employees’ everyday work
  • Best practice should be shared across the business, with problems approached in the same way
  • The newly transformed business should become one in a state of constant change, forever evolving to better serve its customers and deal with disruption.

But if there’s just one thing worth remembering it’s this. Technology will provide the fuel for transformation, but it’s how a business or organisation approaches cultural change which will really fan the flames for the future

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