Getting the message across is not only a description of Verizon Telecom’s services; it’s part of the company’s approach to talent management. Verizon’s Accountability Model ensures all employees commit and deliver on the business imperative. As a result, a high performance culture thrives.
In return, Verizon delivers its employees opportunities for personal development. The total Verizon employee development and training investment reached $371 million in 2007, and employees logged 11.5 million training hours in 2007, an increase from 8 million in 2006. Training covers everything from compliance issues to management techniques, but the increase in hours largely was driven by employees improving broadband-, mobile- and IP-related skills.
Connia Nelson, senior vice president of HR for Verizon Telecom, supports approximately 124,000 employees. She took time out to discuss the company’s talent management and workforce performance strategies.
TM: Describe Verizon’s approach to talent management.
Nelson: With us, talent management begins at acquisition, and we really focus on building leaders at every level. As we bring people in, we look to really develop them and manage them. We have a complete talent management system. We do traditional called succession planning, but we don’t just do that on an annual basis. We do that consistently throughout the year. In addition to that, we focus on replacement planning. Particularly this year, we are stepping that up even more in our Accountability Model.
TM: What processes or programs have you established to improve workforce performance?
Nelson: We hold leaders accountable for driving performance management. It is embedded in our culture. We definitely have a performance-based culture. We focus on what we call performance agreement. At the beginning of every year, every employee throughout the entire organization receives a performance agreement, and we believe that helps build a high-performance culture.
In our business, that helps us deliver growth, customer excellence and profitability, and it is linked to our overall strategic imperative. Every employee knows the business imperative for our company, and it’s no mistake that we call it a performance agreement. We want them to commit and to agree to deliver on that. It’s all a part of our Accountability Model. That’s embedded in our values, as well. One of our core values is personal accountability. Performance excellence is another one, along with respect and integrity. So it is in our very fabric to deliver what we promise.
We have leaders meet with their employees on a monthly basis to discuss how they’re doing on performance. And then, quarterly, you see written assessments or feedback and coaching based on where they are on their objectives and the measures within their agreement. We actually have a system that’s online to manage that and ensure that it is not just done, but that it is done in a quality way. It’s very rigorous.
TM: How is performance management linked to Verizon’s strategic objectives?
Nelson: We have six strategic objectives that include increasing revenue, taking share from the competition, increasing productivity, improving profitability, providing the best customer service and creating a performance culture. Every employee understands those and can tell you what they are, and they are committed to having their own personal objectives linked to the strategic imperative. We use that in our performance management process to really help drive a high-performance culture.
TM: What challenges impact talent management at Verizon?
Nelson: In our world, we are in the technology age. We are a high-tech company. Technology is changing all the time, so [challenges include] making sure we have the talent today that cannot only meet the technical demands, but the creative, the innovation demands that we have, provide the best customer experience and be able to create what customers want for the future — even before they know they want it.
Finding that high-tech talent in an environment where the competition is looking for the same type of talent can be a challenge. And it is one that we focus on at all times.
TM: How does Verizon work to change or create leadership and management behaviors that lead to optimal workforce performance?
Nelson: How people behave really says how we can achieve within the organization and how we create not only great leaders, but optimal work performers. We do that through what we call our “edGe” behaviors, which stands for energy, drive, engagement and execution.
You have to make the “G” big in engage. We want employees with high energy who are passionate about our business. They come to work every day saying, “I am focused on the business. I am here for one reason and one reason only, and that is for the customer. I am here because I know I have the talent that can give the competitive edge and beat the competition.”
Drive really speaks to how you get the job done. Are you engaged to the point that you know what the imperatives are, have your own personal commitment and you’re driving that accountability to make sure you’re doing all the right things to make it happen? Engagement is about passion. Do you have a passion for the business? Do you own this business, and do you treat it as if it were your very own? When you execute, are you doing that to create the best customer experience possible?
TM: How does Verizon use learning and development to manage talent?
Nelson: We focus on innovative technical training, diversity/culture training, leadership training. We have a technical and managerial-type training, both in the classroom, as well as a very extensive Web-based, self-service focus. We have gained a lot of recognition around that as the best company to work for.
As far as our technical training is concerned, for our frontline employees, one of the things we focus on is really optimizing training and making sure that training is delivered in an efficient way. From the time the person comes on-board, we on-board them through a stellar orientation process so they immediately get the keys to success.
They understand what our values are. They understand what the right behaviors are. Then they learn the technical competency level that they really need.
TM: What processes or programs have you established to attract, recruit and retain top talent?
Nelson: We use a variety of programs for that. We are on college campuses, and so we recruit in that space. We also do a career fair. A significant amount of our recruitment is done in the Web space. We have a clear branded strategy where you can go to [the] “Careers for Everything You Are” link on the Verizon site and find out about all of the opportunities that we have available, and what the benefits there are to you becoming a Verizon employee.
Recruitment is something that, not only do we do in the traditional ways, but we expect all of our current employees to really be ambassadors and to tell people why it’s so important to work here. We think that’s why we get recognized in so many spaces about being the best company to work for. Our best recruiters are employees who work here already.
TM: How do you measure workforce performance?
Nelson: It’s measured directly, personally, in response to your performance agreement and the measures that are established there, but it’s about clear results. In our world, you’re either making them or you’re not. We hold people accountable for that.
From an operational perspective, we do operational reviews based on our core measures, and, at the end of the day, it is really about the quality of what we deliver, whether or not we meet the targets that we set out in the beginning.
TM: What compensation and incentive practices do you employ to help manage talent in your organization, and what results have you observed?
Nelson: We pay for performance as well as pay for market; that’s our philosophy overall. And we really focus on total rewards, looking at the complete package from the standpoint of base salary, as well as our competitiveness to the marketplace.
We have an incentive awards or a short-term incentive process. In addition to that, we provide a long-term incentive plan for certain career positions. So all in all, it’s a pay-for-performance system that has total rewards, but also clearly includes our benefit packages, our savings plan, our flexible spending accounts, and we offer tuition reimbursement, as well. We believe our pay-for-performance approach directly goes along with our performance culture.
TM: How have your workforce performance management activities contributed to Verizon’s bottom line?
Nelson: Directly. For example, in our call centers, we conduct individual performance coaching for employees. They have a specific objective called average canceling time, which basically means how long they stay on the telephone. The work that my team does and the focus they provide, in clear partnership with the leadership team, can help to drive down those results and improve them significantly.
TM: What’s next for Verizon in terms of talent management and workforce performance development?
Nelson: First and foremost, as far as workforce development is concerned, it is a process that we keep ever green. We are constantly looking at what’s happening in the marketplace, what’s happening from a technology perspective. What is the next best thing there, and what do we need to do to step up our game?