Peter Wilson: Congratulations on winning the inaugural National AHRI-CBA Diversity Award for CEO of the Year. Why is a positive performance in diversity so important to Telstra, its brand, and to you as its CEO?
David Thodey: In truth, the award reflects the efforts of the great Telstra team who are so committed to making us a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. Diversity and inclusion are part of the foundations of who we are and how we choose to behave. Diversity and inclusion are integral elements of the culture we are creating.
PW: What have been the main drivers for your own work on diversity and what are the critical diversity priorities for Telstra in the next three years?
DT: I believe that deep biases and prejudices hold us back as individuals, communities and as businesses. At Telstra, I see our diversity as an asset. Our customers are very diverse so it is important that our workforce reflects this composition. We still have many issues to address, but we want to take meaningful action, not just give the issue lip service. We expect all Telstra leaders to be diversity champions.
PW: You hail from IBM, which has a renowned set of human capital models, philosophies and programs. What were your own key learnings as a leader from your time at IBM and how much of these philosophies have you carried into your work at Telstra?
DT: IBM provided me with a strong foundation in business. IBM has a very strong focus on people but also has a deep commitment to excellence in everything it does. And of course, values and beliefs are what make great companies.
PW: What is the role of HR in assisting that mantle of assessing your own performance as CEO?
DT: The HR team plays a critical role in assessing the performance of the CEO. They are an invaluable counsel and I look to them for objective feedback on all people issues, including my own performance. I also look to HR for an accurate reading on the sentiment of the organisation. Our people are critical to our business and their level of engagement directly links to our success as a company.
PW: What expectations do you have of your own senior HR team through its group managing director Tracey Gavegan?
DT: A few short years ago not only was our customer service at an all time low, but our people didn’t feel good about working at Telstra. We also knew that morale in the workplace was directly influencing our customer service. These were two of the major challenges we addressed with Tracey and the HR team. I am delighted to say that our engagement levels now exceed the Australian national average.
A good example of HR’s work involves our focus on customer service. We have introduced a new Net Promoter System, which we refer to internally as The Buzz. The program seeks to create customer advocates. We provide staff with real-time customer feedback and benchmark our performance against other companies. This means our HR team needs to play a critical role in educating our people, managing expectations, providing the training that is required to support excellence and rewarding staff who are performing well.
PW: How much time does the board spend on people management issues? Which ones in particular?
DT: The board spends considerable time on these issues, as you would expect. And it’s not just the discussions and decisions that take place in the boardroom that are important — it is also the face-to-face time with our people, which is important to our board, as well as our management team. In fact, the senior team regularly visits our people right across the company.
PW: During your career at Telstra, you have been active in negotiating the company’s arrangements with the national broadband network (NBN), through NBN Co. How will the NBN affect the workplace and
how we work in the future, and what expectations does that place on the HR profession?
DT: This new paradigm presents wonderful opportunities for the HR profession. The HR function is increasingly valued for its ability to forge relationships with employees and broadband technology can be used to create new communication channels, establish innovative educational platforms and support flexible working arrangements.