Rising to the Top Down Under

When Australian telecom Telstra wanted to transform from a traditional utility model into a modern integrated media company, it created the Telstra Learning Academy.

When Australian telecom Telstra wanted to transform from a traditional utility model into a modern integrated media company, it created the Telstra Learning Academy to build its 21st-century workforce. The result: world-class skills that drove higher productivity.

When an industry undergoes dramatic change, only a dramatic response will suffice if a company wants to not only maintain, but expand its marketplace position. Such is the case for Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company.

In November 2005, Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo announced a five-year, end-to-end business strategy to move the organization from a 20th-century telephone utility with a government-style culture to a 21st-century growth business with a customer service culture.

The move included an investment of $200 million (Australian) to develop a next-generation engineering, technical and operations workforce to deliver on Telstra’s transformational business strategy. As part of the investment, the company created the Telstra Learning Academy in collaboration with Accenture.

With a governance structure in place, mechanisms to keep learning investments aligned with business strategy, innovative delivery and great content, the academy model positions learning as a core part of Telstra’s transformation program and growth strategy. And company officials said they have the metrics to show the initiative’s impact on the business.

Converging on the Future
Telstra enjoys a leading position in the telecommunications marketplace and is one of Australia’s top 10 publicly listed corporations. However, maintaining and extending this leading position required staying ahead of the enormous changes convulsing the communications industry.

Telstra’s transformational strategy had two primary components, each targeted at creating a telecommunications company poised for high performance in the years ahead. First, move from a products-based organization to an integrated, converged telecommunications company focused on the customer. Second, create long-term shareholder value by growing revenue from new value-based services while reducing costs.

The strategic review that preceded Trujillo’s announcement found several areas that needed reinforcing. The workforce review revealed that, despite experience and a high level of commitment, the company’s people needed next-generation skills to plan, build and work with the new systems, networks and technologies that were to be at the heart of Telstra’s new business and technology strategy.

Greg Winn, Telstra’s chief operating officer, said Telstra needed “a world-class workforce equipped to offer a differentiated customer experience as products and customer needs evolve.”

Setting the Direction
To design a new learning approach and program capable of meeting these comprehensive strategic needs, the company first outlined several imperatives for the program. These included:

• Accessibility by all operations people and the capacity to deploy courses at speed to a widely dispersed employee population across all of Australia.
• Consistent delivery of learning and value-adding knowledge — especially about new technologies — so that employees could, in turn, deliver a consistent customer experience.
• Time-efficient, modular and blended learning solutions that could be readily integrated into demanding work schedules.

Because of the need to move quickly and on a massive scale, Telstra deployed an outsourcing strategy for the learning function to provide needed skills in areas such as field technical, network operations, construction, engineering, IT, product management, billing and procurement.

The result was the creation of the Telstra Learning Academy, managed by Accenture under a five-year agreement. Company officials said this gives the company flexibility, scalability and access to expertise and training delivery based on leading practices.

How the Telstra Learning Academy Works
The academy has fundamentally changed the structure of operations training at Telstra. The former approach to developing skills had often been ad-hoc, with programs not sufficiently linked with strategic business priorities. With the establishment of the academy and its governance structure, it can track how every class, virtual, instructor-led session and online course is tied to the achievement of transformational strategic objectives.

At the head of the academy’s governance model is the Executive Council. This group, comprised of Telstra’s COO, the head of the Transformation Program Office and academy leaders, meets monthly to set the overall strategic direction.

Two learning councils — one that oversees training for the field workforce and the other looking after engineering and operational support personnel — are made up of senior executives, transformation business captains and learning and development leaders from each operational business unit. These councils meet monthly to discuss and endorse specific training activities. Their perspectives allow the company to map strategic initiatives and business objectives to required learning outcomes more effectively.

Then, four distinct academy functions — each with its own expertise, accountabilities and key performance indicators (KPIs) — work to translate learning plans and strategies into learning solutions that develop the skills, competencies and behaviors needed to execute the company’s transformational strategy:

1. Business alignment: A dedicated function is focused on managing the day-to-day link between each business group and the academy learning programs. This function, called “business interlock,” develops end-to-end learning plans for each business unit based on their strategic directions. This structure brings in fresh thinking from the telecommunications and learning industries and facilitates work with development leads and Telstra subject matter experts to define course audiences, required content and delivery formats.

2. Learning design and development: Content development and instructional design — including development of student activities and assessments — is performed around the world in Australia, India and the United States. Telstra officials said this is one of the advantages of an outsourcing arrangement. In its case, Telstra leverages Accenture’s global centers for 24×7 production capability that allows it to develop learning programs faster than before.

3. Learning delivery: The course delivery team schedules and conducts live classroom and virtual, instructor-led sessions. This team has a group of full-time master instructors, most with deep industry experience. They select and train a network of subject specialist instructors that deliver classroom sessions in more than 70 locations throughout Australia. They also manage two dedicated facilities and venue infrastructure.

4. Learning administration: An administrative workforce supports the entire operation, providing technical assistance to learners through a help desk. It also manages the course catalogs and tracks delivery.

Measurable Success
The Telstra Learning Academy is having a measurable impact on the performance of the company’s people and its business.

Not long after its establishment, the academy was commissioned to support a major organizational restructure with the centers that manage field workforce logistics. In support of the redesigned jobs and needs for systems training associated with the reorganization, the Telstra Learning Academy developed more than 55 hours of courses and assessments under a tight timeline and delivered more than 6,000 hours of training across Australia over a two-month period. This training helped smooth the transition to the new organizational structure and contributed to an increase of more than 15 percent in workforce productivity, company officials said.

Another program, called “Communication Technicians of the Future,” provided an opportunity for innovative learning. By installing new software tools in the more than 5,000 mobile computers used by field technicians, the company provided them with the best tools, systems and processes to do their jobs and serve customers.

An induction program for call-center employees introduced in January covers processes, products, systems, health and safety, troubleshooting and customer service. The program has improved employees’ product knowledge and helped them give more informed advice to customers. An internal study found the program contributed to an 11 percent reduction in average call-handling time, which could save Telstra more than $1.6 million Australian per year.

Other operational benefits that the Telstra Learning Academy has contributed during the past two years include:

• Reports of service trouble reduced by more than 40 percent.
• Cost of activation cut by more than 22 percent.
• Held orders for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) service (orders that temporarily cannot be fulfilled) reduced by more than 90 percent.

A Strategic Investment in People
In the two-and-a-half years since its launch, the academy has partnered closely with the business in executing Telstra’s transformational business strategy. The company has equipped more than 21,000 people with the skills and knowledge to plan, manage and communicate the emerging technologies, products and services Telstra is introducing to its customers.

The strength of the academy model, based on an outsourcing collaboration, comes from the discipline it can now bring to the way training is developed and delivered, as well as from more scalable and flexible solutions, the blend of delivery styles and readily accessible global learning expertise.

Above all, the academy’s success can be attributed to the power of aligning learning investments with business results. The single most important element learning executives should focus on achieving is a governance structure that identifies where a company is headed and what employees need to learn to get there. When successfully carried out, it can form the basis of competitive differentiation and high performance.