After Cingular Wireless acquired AT&T Wireless in October 2004, it was critical for the newly integrated workforce to understand and align around the company’s three-year business goals. But in order to accomplish this feat in an efficient manner, the organization’s leadership and development team had to put their heads together to create a strategy that could unite both Cingular and former AT&T Wireless leaders together in a timely matter. According to Jim Bowles, president of workforce development for Cingular, the answer was a two-day simulation program.
“Obviously we had a need for speed in terms of ramping everybody up—particularly the leadership team—given the competitive business environment we are in to make sure that we were executing very quickly on what we needed to do to retain our leadership position in the wireless industry,” Bowles said. “After the merger, a number of key leadership positions were filled by former AT&T Wireless employees who didn’t have a good understanding of what our vision was. So in order to align everybody quickly around our business objectives, we felt like we needed to do something unique to drive alignment. So we came up with the notion of using a simulation.”
During 2005, the first year of the integration process, 1,200 leaders (director-level and above) went through this two-day simulation process in stages to drive overall alignment and break down cultural and organizational barriers. The blended instructor-led and computer simulation course focused heavily on what it takes to be an effective leader to drive quick execution so that within three years Cingular could achieve its business goals. The simulation included a human element, which educated senior leaders on how devoting time to direct report’s development affects the business.
“The two-day experience created competitive teams that operated in a learning environment that dead-on matched our current operating environment, which included our limitations, advantages, resources and targeted outcomes,” Bowles explained. “But we brought these folks together at our Atlanta headquarters and mixed them up into teams, and through instructor-led learning and computer simulation these folks made and practiced day-to-day business decisions in an environment that mirrored our work environment. But what was unique about it was that it wasn’t just about allocating resources to purchase equipment. It was about what leaders could do to better prepare their people to execute and reach the set objectives.”
Cingular’s approach cultivated rich discussions among the senior leaders about the importance of their day-to-day decisions and how their individual choices could affect the organization. Cingular’s business goals include building the best network, creating unmatched distribution, providing great customer service and delivering compelling products and services. Because the simulation was the primary mechanism to teach all of the organization’s leaders—not just former AT&T Wireless leaders—about the newly implemented initiatives, this further drove the alignment of the leadership team.
Not only did the approach drive alignment, the organization’s senior leaders were also extremely receptive to the innovative approach. The learning and development team conducted surveys throughout the yearlong process, and the feedback was generally positive. “The feedback that we got suggested that this was one of the best leadership and development exercises that they had ever gone through,” Bowles said. “And it was based on their feedback that we made the decision to roll this simulation in a different way to the next level of management in the company, which consists of thousands of employees.”
According to Bowles, the simulation process will be tailored to fit the requirements of the organization’s middle-management tier, approximately 6,000 managers. “We won’t use the same intimate, computer-based approach. The next-generation version of the simulation will be a board game that will still drive the same kind of experience and allow people to understand in a very intimate way that what they do impacts other parts of the business,” he explained. “The belief is that in 2007 we will be at the point where we have achieved our three-year business objectives, and because of the management-level simulation training, they will be able to convey this information and further drive alignment deeper into the organization.”
–Cari McLean, firstname.lastname@example.org