Telstra asks its 30,000 employees what they really think with 'experience pulse'

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Telstra asks its 30,000 employees what they really think with 'experience pulse'
Telstra's Casey Hotham.

Insources, digitises and uplifts staff satisfaction surveys.

Telstra has insourced employee engagement data collection and diagnostics activities, setting up a new “experience pulse” that presents the data to 3300 “people leaders” across the telco.

Head of employee experience Casey Hotham told the Qualtrics X4 summit in Sydney that the experience pulse is underpinned by a new implementation of now SAP-owned Qualtrics’ EX platform.

Experience pulse replaces an outsourced, once-a-year employee engagement survey (EES).

“Previously, our once a year EES [with] probably 30-40 questions … was a compliance activity, quite frankly, in Telstra,” Hotham said.

“We would drive compliance so we would always get to 80 percent response rate. I don't even know where that number came from but we would always drive towards there and miraculously, in the last few days [of the survey], we always had 80 percent response rates [from employees].

The results of the old EES were collated and presented to “maybe a couple of hundred of our people leaders” in the form of a “paper-based PowerPoint presentation”.

And while action items were meant to come out of the process, employees were often unaware if anything had changed.

“What they used to tell us is that we can give us your feedback, and you never act on it,” Hotham said.

“So [we saw this as] our opportunity to shift that, as well as [to] put the data back into the hands of our leaders in our teams in order to act to fundamentally shift and improve the experience for our employees.”

Hotham said that taking that measuring employee experience was insourced and digitised, with the result being the experience pulse.

Experience pulse runs every month but employees are asked only to participate twice a year.

“We sample the organisation so we've always got a really good pulse across [it] in terms of how our people were feeling,” Hotham said.

Many more “people leaders” are now able to see the data for their respective teams in the Telstra business, and this is delivered via a dashboard rather than on paper.

“We've now shifted to me as a people leader, of which we've got about 3300 in the organisation now, having access to a live dashboard that gives me all of my results - all of the verbatims, my response rates in terms of my team, [and] data I never had [access to] before,” Hotham said.

Hotham noted that the availability of data was “amazing” but also daunting for some leaders, in terms of knowing how they should use it.

“It can be very confronting for leaders, and so that's still a component that we are currently working through in terms of how do we support them to open up the conversation [with the employees they lead],” Hotham said.

“The important thing, though, is we're not expecting them to have the answers to fix the voice of their people.

“All we're asking of our leaders in terms of taking accountability is to take the data and have a conversation - so celebrate what's working really well and find one thing in there that you might want to experiment for the month to do differently.”

Scaling out Agile

The changes to employee experience measurement and diagnostics come under the broader three-year transformation at Telstra, dubbed Telstra 2022 or T22.

In Hotham’s world - which is HR, but which has been rebranded internally at Telstra as ‘Transformation and People’ - that means pressing for fundamental changes in how employees “work, lead and team”.

“I think we've actually been put in a really privileged position in order to reshape the way in which we work and lead and team in the organization,” Hotham said.

“It's not because we are the executors per se, but we're absolutely the strategy, product and the policy owners of [the change].”

This means the team has a large influence on Telstra’s adoption of “consistent ways of working”, covering its use of methodologies like Agile, human-centered design, LEAN and DevOps.

Telstra is set to expand the number of employees that work under Agile by “a few thousand” from July 1 this year.

However, all employees have been given access to a cut-down version of Agile called ‘Agile essentials’ - meaning they can take and use some of the concepts in their own areas, even if they haven’t been formally included in the full-time Agile cohort.

“Every employee in the organisation will have the opportunity to experience, to play with and to take back into their nominal roles the Agile tools, so having stand ups, doing retros and reviews, and creating missions for their teams,” Hotham said.

Redefining leadership

Telstra has also been focused on re-defining what leadership means and entails within the organisation.

“Leadership in Telstra was previously a people leader who had control,” Hotham said.

“They were the inspector of work, very directive, the whole command and control component, and a bit of 'you do what I say'.

“Leadership in Telstra today, however, is very much about ‘How can I help you? How can I remove blockers and impediments for you, and just really move things out of the way in order to empower your teams in order to do their work?’

“That is a big shift in an organisation like ours whereby what we've rewarded and recognised leaders [for] in the past, we're now needing them to unlearn a whole lot of that and teach them a new skill set.”

The telco is also considering leadership more broadly.

“Leadership is not just for people leaders in the organisation; leadership is for everybody,” Hotham said.

The change was driven by employee feedback and is, in part, designed to recognise the weight that domain “influencers” have in the telco, even though they might not be people leaders.

“If you think about a number of our technical experts, albeit they didn't lead people, they absolutely had a really instrumental impact on others in and around them,” Hotham said.

“As we think about using the voice of our people in order to help us think and shift and change the way in which we design products and services for the organisation, the shift in leadership has definitely been one of them.”

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