How TELUS Engages Employees Through Pervasive Learning

Tip sheets describe the information applicants should include on their résumés, what to say in a cover letter, and how to prepare for an interview. The advice isn’t unique to TELUS; it echoes the recommendations from career counselors, recruiters, and hundreds of news articles. But it’s there because the company wants to send a message […]

For team members at TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company, learning and career development begins before they even fill out an application. The “Career Tools” page on the company Web site presents job seekers with advice about how to define their career goals, identify their strengths and accomplishments, and find a position at the company that suits them.

Tip sheets describe the information applicants should include on their résumés, what to say in a cover letter, and how to prepare for an interview.

The advice isn’t unique to TELUS; it echoes the recommendations from career counselors, recruiters, and hundreds of news articles. But it’s there because the company wants to send a message about the corporate culture: TELUS is a place where team members are always learning. “Our careers page is the way we whet the appetite,” says Dan Pontefract, the company’s chief envisioner. “We believe that culture is our competitive advantage.”


Learning, says Pontefract, is “one part of a three-legged stool” that also includes collaboration tools and a leadership approach that promotes the open exchange of information. “We have data points to show that the more open and collaborative you are with people, the healthier your culture becomes” and the better the company performs. The way TELUS has embedded learning into its daily operations offers a model for companies that want to transform the way they train and develop employees.

Think Beyond Training

Managers know that employees learn important skills and capabilities on the job and by interacting with colleagues. But at many companies, such informal and social learning isn’t integrated with traditional classroom or online training. Rather, business leaders see learning and development as a set of transactions – people taking courses – instead of “the collective intelligence of the organization providing its wisdom to increase competence,” says Pontefract.

So TELUS approaches corporate learning not as a product (training courses) to be delivered but as a set of experiences, including in-person courses, online training, coaching, mentoring, and informal collaboration – all facilitated by the TELUS team. The corporate learning organization positions itself as an advisor rather than a service provider, helping team members and managers figure out what they need to learn and the best way to learn it to advance corporate goals and individual careers.

Open Up the Culture

The company’s 40,000 team members in eight countries are expected to share their knowledge and skills with colleagues, no matter what their  role. “We define leadership behavior to be collaborative: learning, communicating, demonstrating integrity, delivering, developing others,” Pontefract explains. “So you know what you are supposed to be doing.” Team members who demonstrate these leadership attributes daily are almost three times more likely to report that they are engaged with their work than those who don’t, he adds.

In other words, a collaborative culture that encourages learning creates a virtuous circle. Each year, TELUS runs a leadership program for its high-potential, high-performing employees – 700 to 900 team members who are likely to be tapped as project managers, team leaders, or future executives. In 2013, the company held a series of meetings across Canada for this group, including an open question-and-answer session with a panel of TELUS vice presidents.

“The questions had nothing to do with telecom or the business of TELUS,” says Pontefract. “They were all about leadership and collaboration and openness and work-life balance and having fun at work. If the culture isn’t open and engaged, your employees are going to be fearful of asking those types of questions. But that didn’t happen because both the team members and the leaders were engaged enough to be willing to share in a very open way.”telus 2

 telus 3Create a Structure for Employees to Share Learning

It’s one thing to decide that employees should take an active role in educating themselves and each other. But they can’t do it unless you structure the work environment to support learning. Finding information and acquiring expertise has to be easy, whether an employee wants to learn how to perform a task, consult an expert, or develop a new skill.

TELUS has deployed a number of social and collaboration tools to help employees get their work done more efficiently and build relationships across the globe. The same tools enable them to access interactive training programs as well as to communicate their knowledge, coach each other, and share work practices.

For example, a company vice president recently started an internal online community, along with his own blog, as a forum for sharing information about working in TELUS’s retail business (the company sells wireline, TV, Internet, and wireless services to consumers as well as businesses).

Even formal career development programs have elements that encourage social connections and sharing. New employees use the TELUS Passport system, which guides them through their first 90 days. They earn badges as they complete different orientation tasks, such as signing up for a microblogging account and creating a profile on the corporate social network (tasks designed to teach employees how to use the collaboration systems and meet other employees). Leaders can spend eight weeks coaching a virtual Olympic speed-skating team, competing against colleagues to earn gold medals. Not only must winners beat other teams, they must also demonstrate, through their actions within the game, the leadership behaviors that TELUS values.

Tie Learning to Performance

Research shows that employees are more engaged with their jobs when they believe that they are making progress in their careers and when they have managers who make use of their talents. Pontefract says TELUS’s mix of formal, informal, and social learning befits the company because it contributes to higher levels of employee engagement and improved job performance.

During the past six years, he says, the percentage of employees who report they are engaged with their jobs has increased from 53% to 83%. Pontefract attributes the improvement in part to the deployment of collaboration tools, an open leadership philosophy, and the pervasive learning model.

TELUS measures the impact of learning more directly, as well, using two metrics derived from a quarterly survey of employees and managers that asks what they have learned, how they’ve learned it, and what the results have been.

performance changeOne metric captures the type of learning tools that are most effective for acquiring different types of knowledge and skills. Another, called return on performance, captures whether the learning and the actions leaders have taken to facilitate the learning have improved employee performance.

TELUS includes its return-on-performance metric on the HR corporate scorecard, making it one way executives can highlight learning and development as a business goal that managers are expected to achieve. In fall 2013, 75% of TELUS team members reported a change in their performance as a result of learning programs, up from 62% three years earlier.

“Engagement is a multifaceted strategy,” says Pontefract. “It shouldn’t be treated as a silo, as a separate line item. You can’t engage your people if you’re just yelling at them in a classroom to do better on a test. If you include learning as part of your holistic approach to your organizational culture, I think you will be in a much better spot.”

There’s More.


The SAP Center for Business Insight is a program that supports the discovery and development of new research-based thinking to address the challenges of business and technology executives.

  1. “Canada’s Top 100 Employers 2014,” Canada’s Top 100 Employers, October 21, 2013, http://www.canadastop10com/national/.
  1. Frank Kalman, “When On-Boarding Goes Digital,” Talent Management, March 29, 2012, boarding-goes-digital/.
  1. Deanna Hartley, “The Psychology Behind Learning,” Chief Learning Officer, July 3, 2013, behind-learning/2.

About the author:

Elana Varon is an independent writer and editor specializing in technology, leadership, and business innovation.


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