AT&T Coaches Employees for Service Success
Charles Darwin said, "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." At AT&T that passage not only holds true; it's the basis for the company's organizational structure, which largely focuses on opening career paths for employees. Started in 2007 as a way to revitalize the eSales and service organization, the strategy has increased both employee and customer satisfaction.
John Cushman, eSales and service vice president at AT&T, says the idea grew from a lack of employee growth opportunities in the company's BusinessDirect group, which is a Web portal used by AT&T's B2B customers to perform services like rerouting network traffic in real time, placing orders, and paying bills. The eSales and service department supports BusinessDirect.
Many employees in the eSales and service organization had been in their jobs for more than four years; Cushman wanted to reinvigorate the organization and develop strong customer support internationally, redeploying employees to roles where their skill sets would create the most benefit, and revitalizing the group. "We were faced with how to continue to encourage people to develop their skills-to make them the best individuals they can be over time and be innovative," Cushman says.
In April 2007 Cushman created a vitality plan based on a survey of employees' goals. It set career paths within- AT&T Coaches Employees for Service Success
and sometimes outside-the organization. The plan also mapped out which employees wanted to be redeployed, and developed a timeline to orchestrate moves without negatively impacting customer support.
Cushman says employees worked with coaches to establish a career path. "If we had someone who was currently performing in a development role and if he wanted to get experience in a project management role, we explained the skills needed to succeed in that area," he says. Employees who moved to a different division received any necessary training and development. At the end of the process, 56 percent of the employees in the eSales and service organization had new roles.
Cushman refers to the program as "freedom to fail" and says too many people in companies worry about making a mistake and then losing their jobs. Not at AT&T. "You will only get penalized without taking a chance," he says. "Companies that are most successful are usually the companies that make the most mistakes because they acquired knowledge from those mistakes." Cushman says it was a risk, but beneficial to the enterprise. "We saw that a fresh set of eyes infused into the organization also created an infusion of energy in that team. They started asking questions that were easily ignored or taken for granted. And they were looking at doing things differently," he says.
The transformation produced improvements across the organization. In a 2007 employee survey, the eSales and service team reported more than 80 percent satisfaction. Customer satisfaction scores have also improved, by 20 percent. Newly motivated employees in BusinessDirect have also been a significant differentiator in customer sales wins and retention. Contracts have totaled more than $1.5 billion in annual revenue since 2007 (AT&T declined to give the percentage of increase in sales).
Going forward, Cushman wants to expand more employee roles outside of sales. He says, "Ideally, I'm hoping that it transcends sales[to] servicing the customer and figuring out how to do it better than our competitors."