What’s the best approach to evolving your culture?

Culture change is a top priority for many telcos on their digital transformation paths

STL Partners has been working with the OpenROADS Community to build a tool for assessing digital maturity (the Open Digital Maturity Model) to benchmark operators against other leading players. The model covers five domains, one of which is Digital Culture, Talent and Skills.

Digital culture is an area of focus for many telcos at the moment, as they begin digital transformation to become more agile, software-led businesses. The primary goal is to have an organisation and workforce that is akin to that of a successful digital company. This encompasses three main areas: empowerment of agile, collaborative teams; training, learning and development activities to ensure employees have the appropriate skills; and provision of a digital workspace through (physical and digital) tools, supported by the organisational structure and policy.

Despite the need for a shift to a digital culture being felt by many operators, the task of changing culture is viewed as a real challenge and the most difficult domain to change in the context of digital transformation. Culture change encompasses a range of different activities that need to be improved in parallel. Some of these are highlighted below, showing how they evolve when moving from the old world to the new.

However, telcos are lagging behind their ambition

From our research using the Open Digital Maturity Model benchmarking tool, we have found that telcos are behind digital culture. In the below graphic we have highlighted three areas and three associated KPIs using data collected from the benchmarking tool. The difference between the results for best practice levels for each KPI and the telco averages shows a clear discrepancy; telcos need to take a well thought-through approach when it comes to digital culture and metrics can be key in helping to track progress here.

What’s the best approach? AT&T’s re-skilling programme is part of a comprehensive strategy for evolving its culture

In a previous Telco 2.0 report, Five telcos changing culture: Lessons from neuroscience, we analysed five telcos’ strategies to changing culture in the content of insights from neuroscience (David Rock’s SCARF principles), showing that change is possible with the right strategy and leadership. One exemplary case is that of AT&T; its approach to skills development is notable for the way in which the company offers every possible opportunity for staff to upskill while leaving the decision whether and how to do so in the hands of employees: respecting their autonomy and building certainty that this is what the business needs, and that this will result in more opportunities for them.

There are four key stages to their approach:

1. Vision and planning

  • AT&T set out a clear vision for the future to become a digital service provider underpinned by a more mobile- and video-centric business model and a software-centric, virtualised network.
  • Created a strategy of the culture change programme directly linked to this vision, for example ensuring ‘agile and innovation’ and ‘customer focus’ were key here

2. Programme development

  • First, AT&T conducted a “roles’ audit” to evaluate skills needed in the present and future e.g. the roles of software engineers (coding, testing, etc.) will need to be consolidated in the future into a broader role to suit the end-to-end nature of cloud-based operations, which use DevOps practices.
  • Then, it established the training curriculum, which was widely publicised and included university courses and degrees, an in-house programme, and online learning, etc. across all employees.

3. Support

  • Constant communication from senior leadership (e.g. CTO John Donovan issued fresh communications on an almost daily basis) ensured the programme was taken seriously and adopted by all.
  • Employees were empowered to choose their own development path; they could select suitable courses (many paid for by AT&T) without any mandatory requirements.
  • The training programme was complemented by (digital and physical) tools, e.g. collaboration tools, work space, telepresence booths (full immersive video) and creating ‘collaboration zones’ in the office environment.

4. Metrics & feedback

  • Used metrics to track programme success through ‘Skills Pivot Indicator’
  • Applied metrics to workforce planning and incentives; the Skills Pivot Indicator is used to identify existing staff who have gained the right skills whenever a new job position within the company becomes available.

The key takeaway for telcos is to ensure all aspects of culture are considered when taking on the challenge of changing the organisation to adopt a more digital culture. It is not just about implementing change, such as a new learning and development programme, but how you implement it, taking into consideration the potential risks of an imposed change, as well as the benefits of a fully-considered process.

Read our latest analysis and insights on our telco research hub here.