The turnaround in Telia Enterprise – A learning story about self-confidence, structure and interaction?

– 6 out of 10 managers feel that their employees are unable to free up time for the most important goals in the organisation, a manager survey from Purpose AS showed in January. With such a starting point, it is extremely time-consuming to implement strategies and achieve goals through motivating leadership with a high degree of accountability, as many managers want.

What can be learned from some key managers in Telia and their turnaround in the corporate market in recent years? Here follows a short review that may be useful for many, especially those with an interest in inspirational leadership, broad interaction or the target management method OKR.

Telia logo

Society needs leading technology companies, such as Telia, who dare to challenge the status quo and solve important challenges with communication technology.

Back in 2017, the situation at Telia Enterprise was dark. Ambitions were high, but several years of negative results had left their mark. There was a big gap between ambition and reality.

The Norwegian top management therefore took several strategic measures to reverse the trend.

Jon Christian Hillestad, leder Telia Bedrift
Jon Christian Hillestad, leder Telia Bedrift

Jon Christian Hillestad, who had previously been Chief Technology Officer, was appointed as the new head of the division. Growth, the willingness to change and the ability to quickly implement were put at the top of the agenda. No dramatic change, perhaps, but clear messages were reiterated and concrete actions were taken in a somewhat boring “steady-hand-and-stone-on-stone” strategy. Gradually, more and more ambitious strategies were also to be introduced, but at the start it was about making sure that the most important things were actually carried out instead of running into the sand.

Be transparent about the realities

What was the situation that Telia Bedrift wanted to get out of?

– At the start, there was a clear need to gain transparency about the internal challenges. We urgently needed to resolve several internal issues that were affecting customer satisfaction, financial performance and our culture. At the same time, we had to convince those around us that we had a plan for short-term measures that would have a substantial effect going forward, says Jon Christian.

Because the job was not only characterized by short-term challenges. Telia also focused on exciting long-term strategic opportunities. New technologies, committed people, predictable income streams, an award-winning mobile network, willingness to invest in the group, and a brand that customers perceived as flexible and pleasant.

Many opportunities for increased value creation
Bjørn Martin Worsøe, strategidirektør i Telia
Bjørn Martin Worsøe, strategidirektør i Telia

– We needed to build trust internally throughout the company. We were impatient and wanted to implement activities quickly, but we also needed patience to see the results of the activities. It is a demanding balance, says Bjørn Martin Worsøe. At the time, he was a newly appointed director of strategy. Before Telia, he had just spent 3 years around the technology communities in Palo Alto, California, and he was full of inspiration.

– There was no lack of good ideas, but we needed a clear focus on the most important things first. We therefore wanted to increase the operational implementation capability across the departments in the organisation, and we wanted to break down the barriers between the head office and the rest of the country.

That's where the values ​​come into play: Dare - Care - Simplify

These are the values ​​that are almost impossible to forget if you have worked at Telia in these years. They have been visible in the premises and in the digital work surfaces. The words have been communicated and followed up in many arenas.

– We must dare to challenge established truths, we must always care about our customers and colleagues and we must constantly look for improvements that simplify what we do. This is how one of the major internal leading stars described the values ​​at a large strategy meeting, for reflection by everyone in the room.

Guiding stars with confidence

It is in adversity that you need guiding stars who lead the way with confidence and vision.

  • Visions that make sense.
  • Visions that motivate.
  • Visions that awaken the will to work in many.

At the same time, it was important to create security and provide responsibility and predictable rules of the game.

Jon Christian’s first ambition was clear: Now we must first implement what we say!

– Coping gives self-confidence, and with increased self-confidence we could turn adversity into success, he says today.

The changes in Telia Bedrift were also on the agenda of top management. A strategic ambition was clearly communicated: We must understand our customers and create completely unique customer experiences for them.

With this guidance, everyone, from the top management to the part-time employees, got a common goal that made sense.

Jon Christian and his management team also gained a common enemy around which they could rally: The bad customer experience.

With that enemy, the interaction for the good customer experiences could start in full. The management group stood together, the directors were ready to take their share of the responsibility, and now it was a matter of mobilizing the people in the right direction.

Structured focus on common goals

In an organization with 300 people, there will always be a need for some structure when new and ambitious goals are to be achieved. At the start, the structure was simple, with traditional organisation, “bad customer experience” as a common enemy, and a clear message to carry out what they say they are going to do.

The simplicity produced results and the structure was then expanded with a major investment in competence development, with a particular focus on customer insight, value creation and customer-driven product development.

Several new learning arenas were established over the course of two years, with the learning app Motimate, 3-hour ByteSize training sessions and self-training with dice and playing cards being the most popular. The entire organization should understand that it is not the technology that is important to the customers, but the value they can create with technology from Telia.

In 2019, the time had come for OKR. OKR is a method of goal management that has become world-renowned, partly because Google and other American tech companies have used it successfully. OKR was not unknown to Telia, but several teams had explored it internally without reaping the big rewards. – Let’s see what we can achieve with OKR in our division, said Hillestad. – If we are good and learn along the way, then OKR can create even more commitment, ownership and enthusiasm for our strategy. After the kick-off in May 2019, the people at Telia Bedrift have learned a lot about ambitious targets, the “journey with the numbers” and rapid adjustment from one quarter to the next. Increased ability to implement has been documented, commitment and ownership have increased, and the search for broad enthusiasm continues.

Med OKR vil vi få strategiene til å skje - sammen!
Med OKR vil vi få strategiene til å skje - sammen!
Cross-functional interaction creates results

With self-confidence and a common structure, the interaction grew slowly but surely – across departments, subject areas and locations. Where previously people had pointed at others and made harsh demands on each other, they more often invited dialogue and told others what they wanted to achieve through openness, insight and interaction.

Behind the scenes, key people worked to break down the classic change barriers that slow down development. At the same time, Jon Christian took the lead with the management team, sharing responsibility, asking good questions and supporting those who needed it.

We see the results today. It is not only the internal interaction that has improved. Openness and the sharing of insight and inspiration have resulted in innovative collaboration with customers in the private and public sector. In addition, Telia has gained a reputation as start-up companies’ best friend, for example through the Telia Startup mentoring programme.

Now what?

Technology can do amazing things for society. From the UN’s perspective, everyone is in the same boat, with 17 global sustainability challenges and an urgent need for partnership in many areas. The climate crisis alone will have a great need for completely new, open and innovative forms of cooperation. Many people who today do not speak together must dare to challenge established truths together, care for each other and explore possible improvements. Let’s hope that Telia does its part of the job, and that many others are willing to do their part. Then we can make wonderful things happen – together!

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