To work in HR in the telecoms sector you need to be hungry for rapid progress, a fast-moving agenda and a business environment that is highly competitive and always on. Finding the right staff and competing for them is a key challenge. A new generation of leaders also need to be prepared to manage both a new landscape and a workforce that is rapidly changing.
What’s the culture like?
In the four years since Simon O’Halloran has been Head of HR for Customer Operations at Vodafone he has seen the company grow from one which was purely about mobile to one which now offers fixed line phones, broadband and is now launching TV. There is also a great deal of convergence in the industry with many of the big players buying out others such as BT acquiring EE and others getting in on the game, Google for example are about to provide mobile services. The environment is highly competitive and that means fast-paced, challenging and a war for talent.
Deb Lee, Chief HR Officer, BT says of the culture: “It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s relentless, it’s fun. Our industry provides the technical oxygen on which consumers, businesses and governments connect to each other.”
Which HR skills does the sector demand?
Broad skill sets: Maurice Daw, Chief People Office, Virgin Media says, the sector is broad, requiring very diverse skill sets, from the creatives in TV to the engineers running Virgin Media’s fibre network. “The need for variety in our workforce positively adds to the challenge. Ensuring our operating model is fit for purpose and that we have the very best talent in critical roles are also challenges we continually face. As the sector is so dynamic, our operating model requires constant review - the key is to always be prepared for change.”
Up-skilling leaders: With such a huge amount of change occurring in the sector and at such an unprecedented rate, it is no wonder that building leadership skills is a big part of the HR agenda in the sector. Lee says: “Being able to attract and retain the right people, identifying new business models, evolving skills and equipping leaders to create the right environment that builds customer empathy and innovation are key HR skills.”
What are the HR challenges in the sector?
The fast-pace: Daw says: “HR in the telecoms sector is exciting, dynamic and extremely competitive. It’s growing rapidly so the pace of change is high, which can often be challenging but also stimulating.”
Lee says employees need to have a fair amount of stamina to keep up with the changes and many have had to gain new skills in a short space of time: “Fast moving technology, convergence and moving to the cloud means change in skills sets of employees and a need for resilient employees. Customer expectations on service and performance increasing means always on, always available solutions require 24/7 operations.”
A war for talent: The competitive industry means that all telecoms companies are fighting over the best people. Responding to this, Vodafone has worked hard to simplify the application process in a bid not to put off people: “We’ve made it a lot easier for people to apply to work here. There’s less clicks through that are now necessary and there’s been a drive to engage people through social media,” says O’Halloran.
Yet Daw says it’s not just about finding people, but the right ones: “Working in HR in the telecoms sector is about more than finding the best people for the job; it’s about finding the right people to advance innovation and bring excellence to an industry that is at the centre of many aspects of life - from business to consumers.”
Lee points to the emergence of other content providers, consulting firms as well as Google and Amazon also wanting their share of talent, pushing the demand for talented individuals even higher. In the past the company was only competing with other fixed line telecom providers: “A competitive marketplace and new non-traditional entrants to our space means a war for talent and a general lack of diversity in the STEM area (science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.)”
Engaging staff: Making telecoms a great place to work has been the product of hard work. Employees at Vodafone are treated to great canteens with healthy food, gyms and even on-site doctors. This has been a deliberate strategy. “We have focused on delivering on our strap line which is, “We’re at our best, when you are at yours.” In reality that has meant treating staff as a whole person and, Vodafone has striven to provide flexible working and stamp out a culture of presenteeism. Employees are encouraged to keep fit and stay healthy.
Daw agrees that connecting with staff is crucial: “Having highly engaged people is critical to delivering our objectives as a business. We are a vibrant supporter of the Virgin philosophy of putting our people first, and believe it is critical to have a diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects our customer base and the communities in which we operate. Operating in a fast paced and highly competitive environment means that our people need great collaboration skills, good judgement and the ability to negotiate well.”
What do those in the sector say about working there?
“Whilst Vodafone is a very big company, the thing that has surprised me is that it is so friendly and you feel very included. It’s a relationship-based culture and it’s very fast paced which encourages collaboration. It’s vibrant and everyone is very helpful. At the end of the week you are tired but you also realise how much you have achieved and one week is never the same as the last. To work in telecoms, you must thrive on working in an environment that is constantly changing.”
Simon O’Halloran – Head of HR for Customer Operations, Vodafone.