Verizon’s performance management innovations in 2010 kept pace with the growth of its brand.
By Margery Weinstein
There aren’t many people who don’t know what Verizon is. Many of you probably are customers of the company’s services. What’s less known to the public is the consistent quality of Verizon’s learning and development programs. A regular on the Training Top 125 list for the last decade, Verizon has proven once again it has what it takes to make it into Training’s top ranks. Enhanced use of social media, along with updated change management and sales training, makes Verizon’s strength in performance management a clear connection to success.
Maximizing Social Media
Verizon made a leap in 2010 in the use of social media to train employees to support new product and device launches, says Lou Tedrick, vice president, Human Resources, Verizon Wireless. The organization, she says, employs three social media approaches to support these launches: Device Blog, Device Forum, and Learning Communities. “These approaches help ensure our employees are ready to support customers at launch, as well as increase multigenerational employee engagement, leverage emerging technology, and increase peer-to-peer learning,” says Tedrick.
Device Blog was launched in November 2009 to support the company’s DROID launch, and has been used ever since to support key wireless device launches. “It is modeled after the external tech blogs our employees visit, and houses general information and updates on our key devices, FAQs, how-to videos, trouble-shooting tips, and ‘hot topic’ polling,” Tedrick explains. “During a typical launch, the site receives thousands of hits per day (even during non-launch periods).”
Device Forums launched in January 2010 for Verizon’s retail employees. These virtual forums enable learning from peers company-wide, product experts, and device manufacturers. Reps ask and answer each other’s questions, share issues, post tips, submit suggestions, support each other’s findings, and serve as a crosscheck. A key success factor is the participation of wireless device manufacturers, Tedrick points out. “This gives employees access to subject matter experts,” she says. “Plus, our Device Team and manufacturers benefit from early insight into potential customer issues.”
Tedrick says the Forums average thousands of views and user posts per month. “Our partnership with device manufacturers has shortened the issue reporting and resolution learning cycle,” she says. The solution has been so effective, a pilot of the Device Forums program has been rolled out to the company’s customer service teams.
Another key social learning endeavor for Verizon last year was the creation of learning communities to introduce employees to operating systems, says Tedrick. Developed in-house and accessed through the Device Blog, one of Verizon’s earliest learning communities included video blogs (vlogs), message boards, links to online training modules, and product demonstrations. Eight reps (representing the target customer) were given pre-launch devices and a flip camera to record and post vlogs every two days. Topics mirrored the customer experience. Employees completed an online device training module and received instructions on how to participate in the Learning Community, including practice assignments, guidelines (do’s and don’ts), and posting directions. More than 20 percent of employees use these Learning Communities; 90 percent say they’d like to use them more.
Sometimes innovation means jazzing up traditional training, rather than reinventing the training wheel from scratch. Tedrick and Al Torres, vice president, Human Resources, Verizon Telecom & Business, say faced with geographically dispersed learners and the need to keep travel costs down, the company has used “a number of innovative instructional design strategies to maintain an instructor-led environment virtually.”
Verizon’s Video Trainer (VT), for example, brings a trainer to a retail store virtually, with initial training on a new or difficult skill introduced by the VT. The VT then is supported by Info|express, a document completed by the learner and used as job aid reinforcement; a discussion guide used by managers to discuss examples, ideas, content, and activities after viewing the video; and Demo|express, a scenario and coaching form that provides the opportunity for learner application of skills post-training.
Another example of Verizon’s updated classroom approach is the training it delivers to support its Business Customer Service Required Billing Process. This training combines leader-led discussions with interactive assignments including the use of virtual breakout rooms, where participants work on group assignments. Webinar features such as online polling and white-boarding are used to keep participants actively engaged. The company also offers multi-day IT training classes for domestic and international employees that include remote labs and simulated technical equipment for practice via instructor-led virtual classrooms. Cisco Certified Network Associate certification training is offered to its global workforce through vLab technology, which provides access to a virtual environment for IPv6, client-server labs, and to a live Cisco production environment. “Using vLabs,” says Torres, “learners practice skills, make mistakes, and gain practical experience, without risking damage to Verizon equipment.”
While Verizon is changing its classroom approach to suit the next generation of learners, it also is preparing its leaders to serve as vehicles of change themselves. Last year, Verizon Services Operations (VSO), its 26,000-employee global shared services business unit responsible for Verizon’s Global IP Network, Supply Chain, and Real Estate functions, faced a steep challenge. The organization was tasked with driving unnecessary cost out of the business in 2010 and, to do so, the leadership team determined it would require transformational change, explains Magda Yrizarry, vice president, Corporate Human Resources. Verizon partnered with Duke Corporate Education, Cambridge Leadership Associates, and the VSO president (with her senior team) to introduce Adaptive Leadership (AL), a multi-channel change management framework designed to drive transformation.
VSO’s operating principles were reframed to reflect AL language and principles, says Yrizarry. During VSO’s Senior Leader Conference in January, a “riveting” business case for transformation was made to 350 of VSO’s top leaders, she explains. These senior leaders participated in several Webcasts featuring an AL expert; read “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World” by Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linsky, and Alexander Grashow; and developed a personal accountability plan to drive transformation through his or her organization.
To drive AL throughout VSO, the company created three learning Pathways. In Pathway I, hundreds of global VSO leaders participated in Webcasts over a series of months. Each received books (authored by Cambridge Leadership Associates) prior to the Webinars. Using a structured peer consulting model and live case studies, virtual Balcony Coaching sessions were held with these leaders. For Pathway II, role model leaders volunteered to teach AL and serve as change champions. Using the “leaders developing leaders” model, Verizon created a three-day AL experience to prepare them. Today, each conducts Balcony Coaching sessions and partners with Learning and Development to deliver one-day AL sessions to employees. For Pathway III, the company licensed the AL IP and created five customized e-learning modules (including videos of senior leaders discussing AL principles and the importance of transforming Verizon’s business) for first- and second-level employees. Year-to-date, the VSO organization has been exposed to AL through 5,000 hours of customized training, says Yrizarry. “And a number of large-scale projects are underway linking Pathways I, II, and III.”
In addition to the company’s new use of social networking to train employees on new products and devices, employees across the enterprise use Verizon’s Social Networking platform, MyNetwork, for peer-to-peer collaboration; knowledge and document sharing; asking and answering questions; and creating working groups, say Tedrick and Torres. Instructors utilize it to post supplemental content for participants’ use during computer system analyst training, with curriculum developers and SMEs sharing and reviewing files via MyNetwork during the development process.
The company also has created a Sales Transformation Network where sales employees post and access research, presentations, and tools. They access links to resources such as books, whitepapers, podcasts, and blogs from both internal and external resources including Harvard Business, Forrester, and Accenture.
Verizon also is utilizing mobile learning (m-learning). Telecom and Business’ Solutions Training Podcast Series, offered via Blackberry Mobile Access, consists of more than 18 podcast series representing more than 163 episodes. Topics range from functional-specific (i.e., sales and sales engineering) to general productivity, product information, and communication skills. New topics are added monthly. Worldwide, employees access them through a learning portal that offers multiple ways to listen to podcasts: download the MP3 file directly to PCs; subscribe to podcast channels via an RSS feed; download to BlackBerry devices; or listen directly on the Webpage via an embedded Flash media player. “Employees rate and comment on podcasts on the Website, helping us improve content,” Torres explains.
Wireless has piloted several m-learning courses with its business-to-business sales employees, launching a new platform in October to enterprise business-to-business and government sales employees. Offerings include audio and video podcasts, as well as interactive training with assessments.
“In 2011, we intend to expand the offering to Retail employees,” says Tedrick. “Our m-learning platform is connected to our learning management system and learning content management system. Feedback from employees is that this is an exciting, engaging, and effective means for them to learn in the field.”