Insights From Verizon’s VP of HR On How To Keep Over 160,000 Employees Engaged

05/26/2017 10:54 am ET Updated Jun 01, 2017

Twine HR Expert Interviews: The goal of this series of articles is to help HR practitioners learn best practices from HR executives in top performing companies, and understand the various trends and technologies within the HR and people analytics space. See more posts in our blog here.

We got the chance to speak with Martha Delehanty, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Verizon about what Verizon does to keep their employees engaged, the people analytics work they do, and the various employee retention and internal mobility programs Verizon has and more.

Verizon
Martha Delehanty, SVP of HR at Verizon

What do you currently do as Verizon’s SVP of HR?

Martha: A day in the life requires making sure all actions that we take when it comes to the fancy term of “human capital,” or how people get work done, is linked to the first value of Verizon’s credo: We have work because our customers value the high quality of our services. Every single day, my goal is to make sure that this is something approximately 160,000 people focus on.

I also work closely with our compensation team and our diversity team, and ensure that, again, the energy is really driven around satisfying our customers, approaching everything with a customer first mentality. We also look at obstacles that are in the way of our employees and identify opportunities for them to execute more efficiently

What do you do to make Verizon’s employee experience better?

Martha: First, we have a single employee portal called “About You,” which is where our employee experience begins. It is a virtual hub that is on every employee’s home screen, whether that is a laptop, smartphone, tablet or desktop. This allows our team members to enhance their work, life and employee experience. Critical information is housed on this one unifying site--all the guidelines, training resources, tuition reimbursements, the ability to apply for a career jump and the ability to learn about our employee resource groups, and more.

We also try to highlight the opportunities and experiences available to our teams in a very relevant way. The most important piece is direct connection with the front line supervisor. I believe HR’s job is to create and enhance the relationship between the frontline supervisor and not substitute and replace that. We create space in the day, month and time period for our employees to create these relationships with other people in career paths that may be similar to what they want.

For example, our AOL platform, MAKERS, is just amazing! The platform is built around giving a voice to women’s initiatives, opportunities and experiences. At Verizon, we’ve taken content on the MAKERS portal, and we’ve created a very easy way for a leader to bring 30 to 40 people into a room, show some of the videos and have an open dialogue about women in the workplace which has lead to pretty interesting discussion around unconscious bias: in short, what does it mean to be a man or woman, gay or lesbian, an African American woman, or someone from another country in the workplace. This creates an amazing discussion – and I believe creates an engaged workforce. Sometime the conversations are a little uncomfortable – but everyone always leaves learning something about themselves and the team around them. This makes us all stronger.

What does Verizon do in relation to people analytics? What types of data are being used in HR?

Martha: The people analytics function is interesting. It is about how we can best anticipate things like turnover, promotions, engagement benefit utilization. We have lots and lots of data; the real challenge, though, is what to do with all that information.

Here is a real life example – in training and development, data analytics is a key method to determine our return on investment and secure future budget dollars for investment. But this sounds easier than it is.

For example, we made an investment in a three to four month leadership development program for our store managers. Afterwards, we interviewed and surveyed our employees who worked with those store managers. We asked them questions such as what it was like to work in that store, would they recommend their manager, what the customer experience was like and whether the customers were more delighted. Then we were able to compare this to store leaders that did not have this learning experience. The data showed that employees of the managers who completed the training had a higher satisfaction rating than employees who worked with the managers who did not complete the training – and this satisfaction translated in higher store sales. But that all took effort and proactive planning. I think this is a good example of how we’re using analytics to build our investment strategy because training and development can be very expensive from a business perspective.

What are you doing to drive employee retention today? What have you found most effective?

Martha: I would say the best employee retention is meaningful work, which is connected to doing something remarkable in the communities we serve. I think that is the most important piece, when an employee feels inspired by something greater.

An example is my recruiters and when they are just trying to staff up a call center versus framing it as, “You’re changing people’s lives by opening this telesales center in Dallas.” We’re giving people jobs with fully loaded medical benefits and getting them ready to serve our 100 million wireless customers. In the end, I don’t think employee retention is as important as employee engagement because you can have low turnover and low productivity. The question is how do you have a highly skilled and engaged workforce? The way to do that is to focus on meaningful work connected to a greater purpose.

What are some examples?

Martha: One is called the “Your Voice” program, which are small breakout sessions with our Wireless Chief Operating Officer where we bring in small groups of employees and say, “Hey what is working and what is not working?” We document the feedback and work to find solutions on what we can do from a systems perspective to help our employees deliver a better customer experience. Then we communicate back what is put into action so employees know their input matters.

We also have Verizon’s Leadership University, which has this suite of training experiences that bring people together. This investment is an investment not just in the content but also in the networking capabilities. We also have leadership initiatives for our high potential folks. The 6 to 12 month course includes training sessions that are conducted by district managers. This allows the district manager to learn about the talent, the training is delivered, and you know that the pipeline for future growth is built. In the end, the best source of engagement is the front line supervisor, because people generally don’t quit companies, they quit supervisors.

How prevalent is internal mobility in Verizon today

Martha: Very! I think it starts with what somebody aspires to be. Verizon is an iconic developer of people. We make sure that an employee doesn’t just have a performance plan of what they need in their job, we also have a development plan – i.e., what are their aspirations? Then we tailor that development plan based on what people want. I think the misnomer is that only “high potential people” want a development plan. If you’re a customer service rep and your aspiration is to be an awesome customer service rep, that’s great! And you still need a development plan. Maybe that person wants to get into community service or perhaps coaching other customer service reps in other stores or in the call centers. Hooking in to “aspiration” and then unleashing that aspiration as part of the development is the secret sauce to breakthrough employee engagement.

What are some of the things you are focusing on right now?

Martha: The concept of people being technical and having separate technical talent and operations talent. I think those lines are going to be blurred so we want to make sure that there’s a technical aptitude across our organization as we position for the digital future.

Second, our Chief Diversity Officer Magda Yrizarry has done an amazing job of introducing training about unconscious bias in the workplace. We all have them – and it has been very liberating to have this open dialogue around these unconscious biases and see how they are perhaps holding back our ability to hear all the voices at the table. Just imagine what's possible when all our employee voices are engaged – this is how we actually have breakthrough results.

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About the Author: David Ongchoco is a student entrepreneur, avid storyteller and hustler from the Philippines studying at the University of Pennsylvania. He currently works as the Chief of Staff for people analytics startup Twine. He is also an investment partner at Dorm Room Fund, and previously scaled a non-profit organization called YouthHack to 8 different countries. It's David's goal to make an impact in the lives of as many people possible through technology and entrepreneurship. David can be reached at david@youthhack.net.

Twine is people analytics software that helps Fortune 500 companies reduce employee turnover. Twine’s employee recommendation engine algorithmically suggests current employees for new job openings. By doing so, Twine helps employees find more fulfilling roles and companies save millions by tapping into their rich pool of existing talent. Learn more here.

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