Brett Elmgren, a leadership development specialist for Saskatoon-based uranium producer Cameco Corp. first met Dan Pontefract three years ago at a conference. Pontefract chief envisioner of the Telus Transformation Office (TTO) and author of Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization spoke about the work he’d done to boost employee engagement at Telus and Elmgren was hooked.

Elmgren, who has a personal mission statement of setting out to “humanize the corporate world,” was particularly struck by Telus’ improvement in one key performance indicator. As measured by human capital management consulting firm Aon Hewitt, Telus had boosted its employee engagement score from 53 per cent to 83 per cent over five years. The method uses anonymous employee surveys to produce the metric and Cameco also employs it. With a score of 52 per cent at the end of 2013, Elmgren wanted to know how to replicate the success of Telus, which is now in the top one per cent of companies globally by this measure.

“They’re pioneers in the area and we’re inspired by their story,” he says. “Employee engagement is one of the best ways to put a gauge on your corporate culture.”

So when Pontefract gave him a phone call to introduce Telus Transformation Office as a client service and offer Cameco an opportunity to take part in a free-of-charge pilot project, Elmgren jumped on the opportunity. After some discussion, Cameco implemented the program about five months ago. It’s one of several firms Telus has been testing its new service with. Others include the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and Loblaw Companies Ltd. Last week Telus publicly launched its offering, which it says has five areas of focus: leadership and culture, digital readiness and connected learning, career and talent service, onboarding and induction, and flexible work styles.

A diagram provided by Telus illustrates the services of its new Transformation Office.
A diagram provided by Telus illustrates the services of its new Transformation Office.

Overall, it’s about taking an organization with a rigid structure to one that is more fluid and engaged, Pontefract says.

“Telus is an organization that’s come a long way in trying to put customers first,” he says. “We know that other organizations are either wanting to do it, in the midst of doing it, or yearning to do it.”

Telus ‘blue ocean’ go-to-market strategy

It’s unusual for a telecommunications firm to start offering what amounts to a consultancy service in the human resources line of business, he acknowledges. Top-line competitors Bell Canada and

"I don't care what widget you sell, if you have morose employees that will impact upon your bottom line." - Dan Pontefract, chief envisioner, TTO.
“I don’t care what widget you sell, if you have morose employees that will impact upon your bottom line.” – Dan Pontefract, chief envisioner, TTO.

Rogers Communications aren’t doing it – but that’s exactly the point. Telus’ strategy, a so-called “blue-ocean strategy” is to enter uncontested markets that its competition has left vacant, he says, and points to Telus Health as another example of that strategy in action.

Three of Telus’ five services were of interest to Cameco – focusing on digital readiness, career development, and leadership and culture. After determining the scope of the pilot project, Cameco was connected with Telus’ culture change agents and set up three focus groups that were virtually facilitated with IT department, human resources department, and corporate communications.

At the end of the focus group meetings, Telus produced a 144-page report, or a “playbook” as Elmgren refers to it, with its recommendations. The report says Cameco’s leadership and career development approach lacked a common vision. The absence of standardization led to employees having difficulty connecting the learning and development opportunities with their role and ascribe those opportunities to the views of their unit leader, not the organization as a whole.

"Before we met Telus and had gone through this, we felt like we were going in blind." - Brett Elmgren, leadership development team, Cameco.
“Before we met Telus and had gone through this, we felt like we were going in blind.” – Brett Elmgren, leadership development team, Cameco.

“They explained that right now Cameco has a lot of good stuff, it just hasn’t been connected to an overall vision,” Elmgren says. “We realized in order to get this right, we need to scale everything based on core competencies.”

To fix that problem, Telus recommended Cameco boost its leadership program, ULead and employee SharePoint Portal, UShare to encapsulate all of the leadership and collaboration at the organization. Cameco should extend the naming convention to career development with UGrow, and build out branded communications packages, learning materials, and other content.

Specific tactic recommendations for short-term adoption are identified in the report by Telus. It includes ideas like using employee contests with prize incentives to get SharePoint profiles up to date, using traditional communications media like posters to engage on-site mining workers, and create leadership guides for key stakeholders to follow. There’s also several long-term recommendations.

“We need to balance the delivery models of our existing development experiences,” Elmgren says. “We’re too focused on classroom styles of learning.”

Since classroom learning is also the most expensive way to train employees, Elmgren hopes towards the Telus model of training employees in three ways: one-third through classroom, one-third through digital, and one-third through casual. It’s a model designed to appeal to younger workers entering the organization.

More than a consultancy office

Telus won’t be using TTO as a marketing Trojan Horse for its technology services, Pontefract says. The office is completely independent from those divisions and the goal is not to sell telecommunications.  Pontefract positions TTO’s position within a company focused on service delivery as a silver lining for clients.

“We’re practicing what we’re preaching and we’re continuing to invest in this because we know it works,” he says. “We’re not just a consulting shop, we’re living and breathing it.”

He points to other markers of corporate culture success as proof. Telus was receiving 110,000 CVs per year in 2010 and now is taking in 260,000. Its complaints to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunication Services was down in the last report by 27 per cent while overall industry complaints were on the rise.

Telus recommended that Cameco unify its internal corporate branding.
Telus recommended that Cameco unify its internal corporate branding.

“I don’t care what widget you sell, if you have morose employees that will impact upon your bottom line,” Pontefract says. “If people aren’t waking up to this, TTO isn’t for them.”

Clients can expect costs for an assessment by Telus to start at $25,000 and taking a collaborative approach to boost employee engagement will be costed out on a case-by-case basis.

Considering he only paid for Telus to fly out and present its findings to Cameco, Elmgren feels he got a deal. But it hasn’t been long enough yet to see if the recommendations will ultimately boost the Aon Hewitt indicator he was focused on.

“Before we met Telus and had gone through this, we felt like we were going in blind. It provides a lot more strategy and focus to what we’re going to do,” he says. “I’m pretty hopeful.”

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