Smells Like Team Spirit

Josh Blair stands in the TELUS Garden, a $750 million, 1-million-square-foot development in the heart of downtown Vancouver. The location will include a 24-storey, LEED Platinum office tower, which will become TELUS’s new home.

TELUS’s CCO and executive VP of human resources, Josh Blair, has a plan for creating one of the best workplaces in Canada

TELUS Corporation, the Vancouver-based telecommunications company, has become known for its dynamic company culture where there are no employees, just “team members.” In many ways, the company’s current CCO and executive vice president of HR is a product of that culture. When Josh Blair joined TELUS in 1995, he—like many young recruits—was given the opportunity to move around the company and learn different roles. After stints in engineering, marketing, and IT, among others, he was given the opportunity to lead a start-up incubated out of TELUS, becoming president before it was sold. Soon after, the head of human resources thought Blair’s management and technological background would make a great fit for leading a learning division within the company. By 2007, he was named executive vice president, and CCO in 2012. Here, Blair discusses the challenges of attracting and retaining talent and the specifics of creating a great workplace.

Advantage: In your experience, what is the biggest challenge in attracting and retaining the best talent in the communications industry?
Josh Blair: It’s a hyper-competitive industry that’s always changing and evolving, and because of this, you’re not just battling for talent in the communications industry but with all industries looking for dynamic individuals. It’s a war for talent.

You’re personally responsible for more than 600 employees. How do you ensure you’re creating one of the best workplaces possible for them?
I take a multifaceted approach. The first thing is listening to team members and learning from them. You have to build an employee experience that they want to be a part of. Secondly, you have to enable the team to focus on its clients—make sure its has the processes and tools in place to best serve its clients.

We also focus on career development. For current and prospective team members, it’s important to make sure that they can see a path for development. We also make sure that we have innovative policies and programs in place that our team members can embrace. We have a strong focus on diversity, with 3,200 individuals in our women’s leadership group, Connections. We also have a group called Spectrum for those who identify as LGBTQ; a group for aboriginal Canadians; a group for new Canadians; and one for individuals with varying abilities. It’s important to create a community for team members, and in turn they can get together and contribute back to the company.

We also embrace the importance of giving where we live. Team members, including retirees, have helped give more than $300 million in donations and have devoted 4.8 million hours of their time to charity. A company like Verizon has similar numbers, but it literally has about eight times our staff.

CAREER MILESTONES

1995
Graduates from the University of Victoria with an electrical-engineering degree and joins TELUS

2001
Sells TELUS-incubated start-up company as its president

2001
Takes on first HR role as chief learning officer

2002
Graduates from executive program at Queen’s School of Business

2007
Becomes executive vice president of HR

2012
Is named CCO

Moving forward, what are some of the goals you have for TELUS team members?
We have a goal of equipping 70 percent of our team members to work from home on a part-time or full-time basis by 2015. There are numerous benefits—from not having to commute, to reducing their carbon footprints. We’re very interested in innovative programs and policies, and we believe this will lead to happier employees.

What strategies or initiatives have you put in place at TELUS that you’re particularly proud of?
I consider myself part of a team, and I’m very proud of many of our accomplishments. Through many efforts, our team has returned more than one billion dollars to the bottom line of the organization over the past 10 years. Last fall, we reached an engagement level of 80 percent, and according to the survey administrator, that puts us at number one in Canada and the top one percent in the world for a large company. And in 2012, we were named one of the top 10 HR organizations by the Global HR Leadership Summit. It’s an amazing feeling to have your programs recognized as best in class.

What is your goal when you come into work each day?
It’s always about optimizing the performance of the company in balance with the spirit of the team.

 

A Message from Pragmatic Thinking:
TELUS has been an extraordinary partner for Pragmatic Thinking, integrating the best of what we do into their business, particularly our flagship high-performance thought leadership curriculum. As a behaviour and motivation strategy company, we are passionate about getting the best out of people, and a bit obsessed with removing the predictable human roadblocks to success. What makes us unique is that we combine the best of behavioural science, organizational strategy, and the psychology of excellence to bring companies business ready-tools that get results. We solve problems like “How do you keep your people massively engaged while simultaneously squeezing more performance out of them?”, “How can you turn your operational champions into innovative business drivers for the future?”, and “How do you have effective tough stuff conversations around performance, change and business growth?” We are honoured to be recognized by an exceptional leader like Josh Blair.