Implementing Lean IT Jumpstarts Telecom Transformation

Integrating a talent management strategy that drives growth


A few years after its privatization, a major European telecom company sought to compete with global media and technology companies by embracing the internet telephony revolution and building businesses in both mobile networks and digital television. But the company recognized it would have to recruit and develop large numbers of highly skilled managers and specialists to deliver on this vision. The human resource director therefore asked Burk to help shape a comprehensive talent and leadership strategy.


The work began with a detailed diagnostic, which revealed that the company faced a serious shortage of both leaders and technical talent such as information technology specialists. Further, silo thinking hampered the cross-division collaboration needed to foster growth and develop talent. Finally, line managers doubted the human resource function’s credibility and were likely to resist any talent initiative it proposed. We worked with the human resource director to create a three-year program to turn the telecom company into a people leader. The program refocused the company’s recruitment process to hire better people more quickly and at lower cost; deployed the best talent to the most critical positions; made people a key focus of board meetings and business reviews; and introduced a “successor key performance indicator (KPI)” by which line managers were evaluated for their effectiveness in mentoring future leaders.

To close the leadership gap identified in the diagnostic, we helped the company shape an “action-learning intervention” rooted in the business (proven to be a much more effective approach than traditional training). This approach was built around intensive forums to develop the skills managers needed to drive growth, and fieldwork where they put this learning into practice through real projects to shape strategy, tap cross-division synergies, and grow revenue. We also guided the board in mentoring high-potential managers to build leadership capabilities. The program built the effectiveness of the human resource function by focusing it on achieving business impact as a strategic advisor to the board and the line. Solutions to key talent issues were co-developed by human resource and managers of particular divisions, thus overcoming historic mistrust between the line and human resource.


The program’s impact was dramatic. Recruiting time was halved—and in the critical area of information technology talent, one hundred new recruits were signed on during the three years of the program. With the completion of the program, the company’s talent and leadership pipeline was sufficient to fuel growth for the following five years. The program also helped human resource boost its impact: in its customer satisfaction score relative to peers, the function moved from the last to the first quartile.