Telstra’s ambition to connect everything to everyone

Case studies

Telstra’s ambition to connect everything to everyone: Transforming business through customer-centricity

Australian interview and case study, April 2015

Today’s organisations face a number of challenges including rapid technological change, globalisation, and a more empowered and savvy customer base. To remain competitive, organisations must be customer-centric. This case study highlights how one company is starting to build deeper connections to its customers and how the quest to become more personal with its customers is impacting their culture and fundamentally changing how they do business.

Today’s organisations face a number of dynamic environmental challenges including rapid technological change, globalisation and an increasingly competitive landscape. Customer expectation and behaviour too, have changed. Today’s more empowered customers buy a personalised ‘experience’, not just products and services. To remain competitive in this new environment, organisations must be customer-centric. This means organisations need to do more to understand the changing needs and wants of their customers. This requires more than just categorising customers into demographic groups (‘above the line’ categories). Organisations need to go deeper to really understand their customer, create meaningful experiences for them and anticipate their needs.

This case study highlights how Telstra – as an example of one such organisation - is starting to build these deeper connections and how the quest to become more connected to the customer is impacting their culture and fundamentally changing how they do business.

Under the leadership of David Thodey and the executive team, Telstra has embarked on a tremendous transformational journey, orientating the entire organisation around the customer. Customer centricity is not just limited to their customer facing roles: Telstra is putting the customer at the centre of everything they do; from the way they structure their business, to how they develop leaders and how they approach diversity and inclusion.  For Telstra, it’s about connecting everyone, as they ‘believe the more connected people are, the more opportunities they have’ (Telstra website).

Deloitte interviewed three Telstra leaders – Claire Devlin, General Manager of Capability; Rob Brown, Director of Customer Advocacy; and Troy Roderick, General Manager of Diversity and Inclusion – to find out what the ‘connected’ strategy means for their business, their leaders and how they serve their customers.  Discussions touched on what Telstra is trying to achieve, what they are doing to drive the strategy, how they are tracking against it and what they are most proud of.

1.     What is Telstra ultimately trying to achieve with a ‘connected’ strategy?

Announced at the end of 2013, Telstra’s purpose is to Create a brilliant connected future for everyone. “This was a galvanizing call for the whole of the organisation to make sure that ‘connection’ is at the heart of everything we do,” says Roderick, General Manager of Diversity and Inclusion. “It’s not a throw away buzz phrase,” he says; “but has deep meaning.”

“Making both ‘connection’ and ‘customer’ part of Telstra’s DNA means that, first, everyone in the business needs to understand what we mean by being a customer led organisation and, second, we all need to know that we play a part,” says Brown, Director of Customer Advocacy.

“This is really different to anything we have done before,” says Devlin, General Manager of Capability.  “The key word here is ‘create’,” she goes on. “We want to be the company that builds the brilliant connected future for everyone.” My role, she says, “is to create this environment from the inside out – casting a creative, inclusive and innovative leadership tone across the organisation.”

2.     What you are doing to drive Telstra’s connected strategy?

“Leaders are central to the connected strategy,” says Brown. “They are the lynch pin that sets the pace and culture of our organisation. If leaders don’t understand how we need to think differently, if they don’t get that we need to connect with customers’ needs to understand what they want and how best to simplify things for them, then it’s hard, if not impossible, for the teams to get it,” says Brown.

“Leaders have the power to change the system, because they play a role in creating it,” Brown continued.

Devlin emphasises that leaders are the spine in the organisation.

“Leaders need to connect themselves and keep people connected,” she says. “Leaders need to take responsibility for keeping people close to what’s happening in the business and to help every individual see the role they play in bringing the connected strategy to life. It’s about integrating connection into everything we do across the employee lifecycle – our purpose and values, our people strategy, our potential for leadership capability, all pulled through recruitment, development, performance, talent and reward, etc.,” continues Devlin.

“Our strategy is now very clear,” says Devlin. Everyone can relate to it; everyone has a part to play and leaders need to communicate that,” she says. “‘Connected Leadership’ is a good example of what we are doing to drive the strategy at the senior and executive leadership levels,” continues Devlin. “Leaders need to clearly see, acknowledge and then deliberately reinvent the system conditions that stifle progress. It requires looking on rather than being in the system to see where it is stuck, why, and how we can liberate the system. We are giving our leaders the permission to disrupt,” says Devlin.

“A lot of this starts with the self,” she continues.  “We have to change our perspective and look at the system from a customers’ perspective – ‘what is broken or not working?’” Devlin says.  She notes that doing this changes the quality of conversations leaders are having with everyone, every day.

Telstra’s focus on connection also drives inclusive behaviours.

“Leaders are asked to find a personal and individualised way to connect with their team – creating a more inclusive way of working,” explains Roderick.

“Telstra’s connected strategy enables employees to experience inclusion as soon as they come into an organisation, valuing the differences they bring. We want them to have a personalised experience and feel connected to each other, continues Roderick. 

Telstra strives to deliver integration and connection through everything they do, which is a key enabler for their transformation.

Brown explains, “to be successful, all of the customer initiatives need to be connected and united across the organisation, so it’s the same piece of work. This is the natural way forward,” he says.

3.     How will you measure change?

“Historically, Telstra has not measured all the things that are needed from a customer advocacy perspective,” says Brown. “We have not always asked the right questions that drive lag indicators for example, the Net Promoter System”. 

“‘Do we understand the problem we need to solve? What precisely did the customer ask for? Did we get it right?’” Brown asks.

“We are making significant changes to what and how we measure the impact of our connected strategy,” Brown says. “It’s still early days, but we are seeing changes,” he notes. “We are now asking the right question: ‘What do I need to do differently to get the problem right from the customers’ perspective?’”, he explains. “There is a lot more of this thinking happening in our strategy. This is translating into measurable differences in parts of the business,” he says.

For the Connected Leadership program, Devlin explains that they are looking to see growth across three key areas: Skills – leaders being present, inquiring to connect, and seeing the bigger picture; Commitment in the form of actions – leaders taking personal actions that enable them to be more connected as a leader; and System changes – leaders creating the conditions to evolve the business and making small changes in their system. “We need to be pushing the boundaries,” Devlin says.

4      What are you most proud of?

“We are improving, but we are not done,” says Roderick. He’s proud of Telstra’s focus on creating an intersection between customer, community, and people. This is reflected in Telstra’s diversity strategy, which was re-examined in 2010, and most notably in the decision to make all roles flexible in Telstra. All roles flex has been in place since March 2014.

For Devlin, she is most proud of the Connected Leadership program, where the organisation is truly asking people to think about the type of leader they are, and if they have what it takes to be a leader at Telstra. She says,” it’s not only about hard skills like strategic planning or commercial acumen, but also, ‘Can leaders get people to want to do what needs to be done?’ It’s about having quality conversations,” she continues to say. “It’s about knowing your people and bringing out the best in them. This is the tough stuff”, she says. Devlin highlights that if we want rich conversations with our customers and each other, we need to be innovative and push the boundaries - we need the tough stuff.

In alignment with the goal of connecting everyone, Devlin is also proud that the Connected Leadership program is reaching a blended audience across both leadership levels and business units. She says, “it’s not about where you are from - you are a leader at Telstra and that’s all we care about”.

Brown is proud of three things. First, he says, “I’m really proud that I’ve been able to help the business understand that changing the culture starts with leaders. Second, I’m proud of the language Telstra is using across the business, focusing on building the capability that positions Telstra for the future, rather than a fix-it mentality. We are changing our plans and strategy to reflect this”, he says. “Third, I am proud that Telstra is now making the link between improvements in advocacy and simplifying the business”. He says “these two agendas are now starting to be driven simultaneously, which is exactly how it should be”.


This case study highlights a number of practical business implications for organisations wishing to embark on a greater level of customer-centricity.

Firstly, as shown here, customer advocacy starts with an internal focus on connection – connecting with self, others and the system. Further, like any organisations change, efforts need to be top down: Telstra started with a clear and compelling strategy that has been championed and driven by passionate leaders at every level of the organisation. The theme of connection has run through all aspects of the employee lifecycle – from the types of people they recruit, to leadership development and performance management. 

Organisations need to be prepared to resource the strategy appropriately. Telstra has resourced a number of strategic initiatives including their Connected Leadership program which will roll out to leaders globally, impactful D&I initiatives such as all roles flex, and a broad reaching customer advocacy team. Efforts need to be directed at sustainability; whilst Telstra is drawing on support from external providers in the short term, the goal is to up-skill and leverage internal resources and build a network of champions to drive change over the longer term. 

Finally, ‘what gets measured gets done’. Telstra has increasingly focused on how best to measure change; and whilst they still have a long way to go, their leaders are already seeing changes that suggest they are heading in the right direction.

For further information contact Lisa Gulick or Kathryn Page.

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