The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Telstra business leadership programme: Transforming culture through connections

Australia’s Telstra is in the midst of a massive transformation – put simply, it is “evolving from a telco to a techco,” according to Telstra executive Joe Pollard.


Our vision is to make Telstra a world class technology company that empowers people to connect. It is a time of enormous opportunity Andy Penn, CEO Telstra

Originally established as Australia Post in 1901, Telstra is now a global telecoms, media and IT company in a highly-competitive market with rapidly changing customers, competitors and technology.

To meet this challenge, Telstra CEO Andy Penn launched an initiative to redefine the company’s leadership. His aim was to create an agile workforce able to change and adapt quickly to the challenges of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

In 2013 Telstra engaged LIW, a global leadership consultancy, to develop a suite of leadership programmes that would take Penn’s initiative to all levels of leadership within the company – from senior executives to frontline staff.

With a track record of delivering high-impact leadership programmes on a global scale for tech companies such as Cisco and Oracle, LIW was well positioned to meet the challenge.

It embarked on a collaborative design process with multiple stakeholders across Telstra, from the OD and HR community to senior strategic leaders. The teams discussed Telstra’s strategic objectives and translated them into meaningful business outcomes for different groups of leaders.

These outcomes then dictated the necessary leadership behaviours required and drove the design of the programmes. The result was a series of programmes in a top-to-bottom leadership development framework:

  • Telstra Leader Program (TLP): for the executive team and executive general manager group
  • Business Leader programme: for general managers
  • Emerging Leader programme: for up-andcoming leaders
  • Coaching programme: for all Telstra employees

The Business Leader Program (BLP) is designed to support Telstra’s Band 2 leaders – about 2,400 people in total and the largest, widest-reaching population of people leaders within the organisation.

These leaders are tasked with balancing the strategic, operational and aspirational and with developing Telstra’s people to their full potential. Their capacity to drive transformational change for Telstra is huge and extremely important in terms of reaching Penn’s strategic goals for the company.

BLP spans a five-month period and begins with participants and their managers identifying a real business challenge within their role to bring to the programme. All the programme’s leadership concepts, exercises and activities are then developed in the context of this personal business challenge.

Two face-to-face workshops focus on Telstra’s core leadership competencies and enable participants to explore, develop and practise each competency. The workshops are followed by three individual coaching sessions that support participants as they work through the goals they set for their business challenge and help them to embed new behaviours.

A number of innovative exercises bring the workshops to life for participants and ensure that messages hit home. At the beginning of the first “hot house” workshop participants are thrown into an interactive exercise with minimal information and a strict time limit.

The usual opening introductions are dispensed with and participants are simply told they must work in a group to assemble an unknown object.

The idea is to simulate a fast-paced, pressured VUCA environment. Frustrations simmer as participants learn piecemeal about the challenge until eventually facilitators reveal that the purpose of the exercise is to build a prosthetic hand for a landmine victim in an emerging country.

The exercise demonstrates the impact of purpose on levels of engagement, commitment and collaboration. It encourages participants to consider the importance of how they communicate the purpose of the work they do with their teams.

The hot house workshop also includes a leadership simulation designed to develop participants’ abilities to influence senior stakeholders. An actor plays a Telstra executive and participants take turns presenting strategies for increasing satisfaction scores for broadband connections. The goal is to practise skills developed through the hot house to influence the executive in order to enable projects to move forward. Each participant receives feedback from their observing peers, the facilitator and the actor.

The second workshop – the “cool box” – includes an “actor clinic”, which gives participants an opportunity to participate in a free-form conversation with a professional role player. The participant describes a scenario – perhaps a difficult conversation with a manager or a coaching conversation with a team member – and plays out the conversation with the actor. The clinic enables participants to practise and build on the thinking they have developed during the hot house workshop.

The programme was designed to maximise relevance and applicability and this is strongly reflected in programme results.

Immediately after the workshop participants consistently rated this measure at 100%, and this dropped to 97% only three months later.

Managers also recognised relevance and applicability with a score of 86% after 90 days.

Both participants and their managers report performance improvement of over 9%, which equates to almost an additional half-day in improved efficiency. The programme teams within Telstra and LIW recognised that manager buy-in would be an important driver in participants fully applying their learnings and worked together to foster manager support for the programme.

Graduates of BLP developed a real understanding of Telstra’s expectations of them as leaders and gained the confidence to behave as leaders whatever their role. This meant:

  • Setting clear goals for their team aligned to Telstra’s global objectives
  • Providing coaching and support to team members to develop their own capability
  • Taking initiative in cross–departmental projects to connect and collaborate effectively with peers in other areas of Telstra
  • Building business cases to demonstrate the value of work their team is doing or is proposing
  • Engaging a wide group of stakeholders in their projects in order to develop the fullest understanding of the challenges and enable fact-based decision making
  • Communicating effectively with senior leaders in order to gain support

LIW and Telstra continue to evolve the programme to align to changing strategic priorities within Telstra. Telstra maintains a focus on continuous development within the organisation and, over time, graduates of Telstra and LIW’s Emerging Leader programme (ELP) have moved up to the BLP programme to continue their leadership development journey.

With more than 700 participants having completed the programme, BLP is contributing to a common language of leadership across Telstra.

In the past year, the programme has extended its global reach with programmes running in the Philippines, the US and the UK. It is expected that the programme will continue serving the community of Band 2 leaders with multiple cohorts running from year to year.

“All my team (three Band 2 field Managers) returned stating this is the best ‘management’ course they had attended in their careers. (One of my team has 37 years’ experience.) The team commented that they had picked up more from the two days than they had for the entire year from other training initiatives” Manager, post 90 days

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