Comfortable with discomfort: how telecoms culture must evolve
Big Interview

Comfortable with discomfort: how telecoms culture must evolve

Carrie Cushing.jpg

Carrie Cushing, chief people officer, Exa Infrastructure believes culture is one of the most prominent factors driving business success

"If you search for articles about culture in the telecoms sector, chances are you will find slim pickings.

"Corporate culture has historically not been our sector’s strong point. Technical expertise, network management, problem solving – yes. But while we may talk about culture being important, there tends to be less of a focus than in other sectors on maximising the value of our people, their motivation and the way that they apply themselves every day.

"Why is this? Many reasons, but here are two principal ones. Some people working in telecoms today began their careers when many telcos were state-owned, and their cultures were quite different to what many industries would consider to be progressive culture today. It has lingered. And while telcos deliver the enabling layer that enables technology to impact our everyday lives, those networks and the people who run them are often very much in the background, so can find it more difficult to attract talent than the bright lights of what is often Silicon Valley-led innovation.

"Times are changing, and culture has become one of the most prominent factors driving business success. As telecoms businesses battle to attract and retain talent, and drive business performance with an engaged and motivated workforce, our approach to culture is having to evolve rapidly - and be more ambitious.

"What’s needed is not just a cultural evolution that allows telcos to keep pace with customer expectations, but broadscale change that challenges the way that businesses in our sector are led, in which teams deliver and in which career horizons are developed.

"Above all, it will need to make people comfortable with being uncomfortable. By that, I mean we need to make teams and individuals curious about trying new approaches, make them more diverse, and get them to shed some of the conventional behaviours that can hold them back. Exa's Talent Programme does just that – encourages and supports our team members in pushing their boundaries, seeking growth opportunities, and bringing fresh ideas to the table.

"In part, that positive discomfort is about being willing to share information about mistakes that have been made, to learn from them and to make both the individual and organisation stronger as a result. This is where senior business leaders really play their part in encouraging a spirit of openness and fairness that ultimately needs to be led from the top.

"None of this has historically come easy in telecoms, or indeed in other sectors, and behaviour is always one of the toughest things to change in any organisation. It may require more self-awareness from those at the top of the company, but nurtures honesty and transparency that encourage a more connected and resilient culture, and a more nimble approach to problem-solving and decision-making that help to drive business growth.

"Through listening, telcos can begin to define their individual corporate cultures, and put it into words that everyone both understands and is bought into. The ability to be ‘ears open’ is fundamental in defining corporate culture, but also in living and breathing it - which has become a precious commodity in attracting and retaining younger talent to the business.

"This doesn’t mean a ‘younger’ culture, but one that is true to the company’s values, genuine and is right for everyone in the organisation, whether they’re in their first month or third decade. There should be no imbalance between the ambitions of the business and the ambitions of its people, and the culture should reflect this.

"If that makes people uncomfortable at first, I can completely understand. But ultimately a culture that enables people to be comfortable with discomfort is one that will succeed."