In its quest to become the most recommended company in the markets it serves, TELUS puts its focus on customer experience and employee engagement.

Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngamantu.

(I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.)

Ubuntu, Zulu proverb

In the spring of 2008, I received a call from an executive recruiter. "Dan, might you be interested in meeting the executive vice president of human resources at TELUS?" said the voice on the other end of my mobile phone. "His name is Josh Blair and he's particularly committed to raising the level of engagement at the company. Perhaps your creativity and experience could be useful there?"

What struck me the first time I met Josh was his sense of humility and his sense of humanity. The front desk receptionist escorted me to the meeting room, and when he entered he shook my hand, said hello, and we sat down.

After quickly scanning the room, he noticed it was devoid of drinking water. Rather than call someone, Josh simply said, "Would you like some water?"

To be honest, at the time I wasn't sure if this was a trick question. Do I say no? How would that go over? If I said yes, does that make me look nervous? You'd think someone in Josh's position (an officer for a national telecommunications company in Canada, with $10.5 billion of annual revenue and 12.7 million customer connections) would have somebody fetch water for him, but that's not Josh and that's not TELUS.

That first encounter reminded me of the African philosophy of Ubuntu, which I refer to above. Nelson Mandela describes Ubuntu as "the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others."

The glass of water that Josh brought me spoke volumes about the culture that has been developing at TELUS during the past decade. During those 90 minutes, we spoke about the current state of culture at TELUS, and the various states of learning, leadership development, and education technology innovation.

It was clear to me that Josh was keenly proud of the organization. It seemed as though Ubuntu was indeed scratching the surface, that a burst of employee engagement was imminent if only a few more pieces would fall into place.

Josh spoke fervently and even poetically about the community philosophy at TELUS: "We give where we live." For example, from 2000 to 2012, TELUS team members and retirees contributed more than $260 million to charitable and not-for-profit organizations, and volunteered 4.2 million hours of service to local communities. Even today, that statistic really boggles my mind. Every time I read it, write it, or speak about it, I'm in awe that 40,000 employees can donate so much of their own personal time.

By the end of that first discussion with Josh I was thinking TELUS might become the organization that would define "corporate Ubuntu." I left that first meeting smiling, impressed, and humbled. By the end of the year, I joined TELUS—and what a remarkable journey it has been.

Fast forward

Present day, it's an exciting and equally rewarding time to be a team member at TELUS. Since early 2009, we've spent the bulk of our efforts developing foundational, companywide frameworks that focus on two key components: customer experience and employee engagement.

Darren Entwistle has been CEO of TELUS since 2000. What emanates from Darren every single time he is in front of team members, partners, customers, community groups, or shareholders is his unequivocal passion for a "customers first" attitude across the organization coupled with an insistence on nurturing company culture. In fact, Darren is on record as saying, "Our culture is our only sustainable, single point of competitive advantage." I must admit, to have that level of support for the people of TELUS makes my job infinitely easier.

Not surprisingly, other CEOs are beginning to see the relationship between customer satisfaction, employee engagement, productivity, and profitability. As Michael Thaman, chairman and CEO of Owens Corning said, "Make sure that the DNA of your company is right. Ultimately, that shapes the way you operate."

Customers first

The number one corporate priority at TELUS is to deliver on our brand promise to customers—"the future is friendly"—by becoming the most recommended company in the markets we serve. To enact this mission, we are embracing a companywide initiative we call Customers First. This priority is summed up beautifully by our customer declaration:

"We're not perfect, but our employees are deeply motivated to consistently delight our customers. We know that getting better means making sure we're listening to you. That's why we're embracing new ideas that will make your TELUS experience better, every day. We're on a journey to build on your trust by being clear, helpful and dependable. In other words, at TELUS, we put you first."

These words have become an unadulterated movement across the company. Sure, the declaration is found in our print, online, and television advertisement campaigns, but what is striking is the declaration's synchronicity to the culture of TELUS, to the people who are steadfast in their commitment to elevating our customers' experiences.

In my three years with TELUS, I've been humbled by its culture. What organization of comparable size or geography not only depicts the customer experience as a priority for all team members, but also publicly describes its imperfection? What organization indicates it is in the midst of a journey to improve the customer experience and that it is in fact working on being more clear, helpful, and dependable?

It's an organization that has both the courage to innovate and a belief in spirited teamwork. It's an organization that fully comprehends that the journey is an evolution, not an overnight quick fix. It's an organization that can fully engage in advancing its customer reputation and service level by systematically eliminating parameters of the relationship that are ineffective.

It's an organization that has shifted a customer's likelihood to recommend TELUS to friends and family from 62 percent in 2010 to 71 percent in 2012. It's an organization that has raised internal employee engagement from 53 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in 2012.

It's an organization that has developed an internal culture that is highly motivated, highly learned, highly collaborative, and highly engaged—and I'm proud to be a part of it.

So, how are we doing it?

There are myriad factors and numerous team member contributions that have assisted our quest to become the most recommended company in the markets we serve (our number one corporate priority), as well as our rise in employee engagement.

The three key frameworks of the TELUS culture are

  • the TELUS leadership philosophy
  • Connected Learning
  • Habitat Social.

Leadership

Best practice research from McBassi, Bersin, ASTD, and McKinsey overwhelmingly demonstrates that a consistently applied leadership framework will result in productivity, engagement, and overall talent management improvements. So it made sense at TELUS to introduce a holistic leadership, learning, and collaborative approach across the organization.

Launched in late 2010 and fully implemented in 2011, the TELUS leadership philosophy (TLP) is shifting our culture from leadership based on role to leadership based on responsibility. In other words, all team members have a role in leading.

By clarifying and fusing company leadership values, redefined leadership behaviors, Fair Process (our decision making process), and our business ownership mentality into a comprehensive meta-framework, the TLP is the integrating force behind talent management, part of every corporate Connected Learning initiative, and a powerful rationale and enabler of Habitat Social, part of our collaboration strategy.

TLP emphasizes a behavioral model in which all 40,000 team members are encouraged to engage and explore options and ideas, openly and collaboratively, prior to executing or explaining any action. Based on our four leadership values, it openly defines the expectations at four levels of the organization (individual contributor, manager, director, and vice president) such that everyone is aware of other's responsibilities and actions. It introduces such behaviors as collaborating, learning, communicating, initiating, risk taking, and implementing that ensure we are fueling our Customers First journey.

Backed by 10 effective leadership techniques, the TLP is helping our team members across the globe incorporate the values and expected behavioral norms into leadership development, engagement, daily actions, and of course, customer centricity. The TLP helps guide our actions in terms of delivering on our brand promise with all stakeholders. It provides a clear framework that prompts every team member to demonstrate leadership in delivering on our Customers First commitment.

As one of our customers recently said, "If this is TELUS's new way of working, I am excited."

Learning

It is our opinion at TELUS that learning does not occur solely in a classroom or a learning management system. We define the philosophy of learning as a continuous, collaborative, and connected journey combining formal, informal, and social opportunities. It can and does happen throughout all of our experiences—in the community, in the business, with customers, and among our team members.

Thus, the Connected Learning frame­work at TELUS is one that not only em­bodies this philosophy, but it is an integral part of the employee experience. It too is intricately linked to leadership, engagement, and the Customers First mission.

Think about it for a moment. How can you foster a corporate culture committed to customers first if the only way in which people think they can learn is from an expert in a classroom or through an e-learning course? According to Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger of the Center for Creative Leadership, we learn 70 percent of the time from real-life, on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem solving; 20 percent of the time from feedback, observing, and working with role models; and only 10 percent of the time through formal training.

Our examples include

  • our Lead and Grow Series (an organization-wide, six-week series of formal, informal, and social learning opportunities focusing on a single topic)
  • a completely revamped induction program that now spans the first 90 days of employment and uses virtual world technologies
  • our high-performer program known as Leadership NOW that delves specifically into the TLP
  • our Career Development Portal, which provides career guidance support and detailed information on career paths and customized career development plans.

We also introduced the Learning Launchpad, which provides easy access to formal, informal, and social learning opportunities for all team members. The Connected Learning framework, therefore, is a culture-building enhancement for everyone at TELUS that aligns well to the work of Lombardo and Eichinger.

Matthew Wilder, an engineer in TELUS's technology strategy and operations business unit, employed the Connected Learning model when implementing a rather difficult and complex technology at the company. When I asked Matthew what led him to employ the framework, he replied, "Dan, it just made sense. How else should we be learning and leading at TELUS these days?"

If, as the Zulu proverb says, "I am a person through other people," perhaps it's my learning that is tied to yours.

Social

The third major framework that has helped our corporate evolution is something we call Habitat Social. This is a collaborative sharing and learning platform promoting the exchange of information, knowledge, and expertise by surfacing documents, team member skills, learning opportunities, user-generated content, and communication between team members across the globe. One might think of our social strategy as the glue that binds our learning and leadership chapters.

Habitat Social's overall goal is to complement both the TLP and the Connected Learning frameworks. It provides an environment that either consumes or displays knowledge, skills, and information from other applications and stores or transfers content into platforms to reduce the number of applications needed within TELUS. It has become the single point of entry for all team member content, knowledge, and expertise. You could think of it as a window into the organization. The end result is increased collaboration, knowledge transfer, and connection between team members, meaning TELUS as a workplace embodies our own principle, the future is friendly.

Whether through our enterprise-wide microblogging or blogging platforms, wikis, YouTube-like video system, Facebook-like profile pages, virtual world environment, or even our photo-sharing site, the act of collaborating (a key component to the TLP) is akin to social learning (a key component to Connected Learning), which solidifies an ongoing cycle for TELUS team members that leadership, learning, and collaborating are intertwined.

Don't stop believing

TELUS is definitely on a journey: It's our quest to become the most recommended company in the markets we serve. We're not done yet, but we're extremely proud of our deeply committed team members who continue to demonstrate a passion for growth and who embrace change and initiate opportunity at every step.

This is the TELUS team: human, humble, trying to do their best for customers by putting them first every moment of every day, and making our world and our communities better places to live. I like to think that we're making Ubuntu happen.