Telus Lean Leadership: Push To Innovate Is Only Half The Battle

Source: Lean Leadership at Telus - Creating an Innovation Culture

By Brant Cooper on February 25, 2015

Last year I was fortunate to hear GE’s Chief Learning Officer, Raghu Krishnamoorthy, speak on company culture. GE, along with Intuit, is probably the furthest along in not only implementing Lean Startup, but also changing the culture that empowers it to succeed (one of our 5 ways to spark innovation). This is where Lean Leadership comes in.


The chart above is my version of one that Raghu shared. (It’s not an exact copy and I’m still noodling over it.)

The point is that organizations often talk innovation and the need to think boldly, but without leadership “walking the talk” and “having the back” of innovators, you’re unlikely to have a serious impact on “real” innovation.

The point came up again in our recent conversation with Shawn Mandel, VP of Digital, and Carlos Oliveira, Senior Strategy Manager for the Canadian Telecom, TELUS.

TELUS is one of the largest telecommunications provider in Canada. Several years ago when their quality, speed, and delivery were faltering, they hired Shawn to bring Lean Innovation to their enterprise.

Below are the 3 keys to lean leadership and creating a culture where innovation is likely to occur:

Begin Your Journey With the Customer

“The journey actually begins with the customer,” Mandel said. “Customer behavior was changing, and the needs of customers were changing. They were telling us we were too slow. Quality was not where it needed to be. Cost wasn’t where it needed to be. Delivery cycles weren’t where they needed to be. The answer was to do a complete 180 on everything from our priorities, our strategy, our technology, our communications.”

Doing a complete 180 on so many fronts was hard work, but at the core it was guided by a simple principle, according to Mandel: Put the customer in the middle of everything you do.

Mandel’s mission was to implement Lean Startup in the enterprise Enterprise Lean Innovation Bootcamp . He went through a series of painful meetings to persuade TELUS leaders to adopt Lean Startup methods.

“I still remember walking out of that last meeting when they said, ‘Okay, Shawn. You can go do that,’” Mandel said. “I don’t think they knew what they really signed up for two-and-a-half years ago, but today they have a much better idea of that.”

With Strong Leadership, the Rest Is Just Details

“A mandate came from the top down, that our mantra is: Customers first,” Mandel said. “We have 42,000 team members galvanized around one cause.”

However, employees often need to be convinced that they have the power to experiment and take risks.

Mandel told a story about partnering with an EVP of technology to discuss with their team that we want them to take risks and pave a new path.

“Half of that room didn’t believe us,” Mandel said. “Don’t make the assumption that just because you say ‘You’re empowered,’ that they believe you.”

Empowering people is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing attitude. For teams to be truly empowered, their manager has to be their teacher, mentor, and advocate.

“The notion of the courage to innovate, embracing change, passion for growth and learning—a lot of that is baked into the TELUS culture,” Oliveira said. “A lot of what managers do now [with Lean Startup] is help employees to build capacity, help them understand how to experiment. It has been a cultural evolution.”

A recurring theme that we’ve seen with Moves The Needle clients is that using Lean Startup to transform business practices requires strong leaders at the top of the organization to give cover to teams while they are experimenting.

“With strong leadership, the rest is just details,” Mandel said. “Strong leaders create the environment. Strong leaders shelter their team members from noise and destruction, [which allows] that empowerment.”

Organizational Transparency

The typical pattern of a company introducing something completely new is to “do a big reveal after a huge capital spend only to get feedback from your customer when it’s too late—on the other side of that delivery cycle,” Mandel said.

“Everything’s very secretive. Everything’s about a big reveal. But the game has changed. Things are changing and evolving, and transparency becomes your ticket. That transparency is what drives the momentum.”

These days, Mandel said, “We spend a lot of time building in public and in open beta with our customers.”

It’s similar internally. We don’t want to fail, so we spend time building and overbuilding before releasing to customers. Internally, we shield “failure”, when the data and insights of failure will actually benefit the rest of the organization. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, exposing failures increases the safety of being bold.

Transparency drives change, empowerment, and momentum. It’s scary to practice transparency in an organization, but it shouldn’t be. High levels of transparency elevate the quality of innovation and has a large impact on an organization. When an organization has a culture of transparency, it operates and competes on a higher level. The alternative is giving up that opportunity for greatness.

Mandel posted their version of experiment posters (like our MTN experiment loops) on walls in conference rooms and encouraged anyone who walked by to take a look at the progress of their innovation projects, from the idea stage all the way through to the results of experiments.

Watch the entire discussion below. Would love to hear your thoughts on the graphic above, too!