Working in the telecommunications industry, people assume that we are ahead of the curve in terms of change initiatives and communication practises. But similar to other companies, we are challenged to come up with our own change management processes within our organization. Our industry is changing rapidly, and that means we need to change too. In this article, I will share how Cogeco developed a new change model quite quickly to respond rapidly and succinctly to the transformational trends in our industry.
Cogeco Cable Canada is a telecommunications company that operates in Ontario and Quebec, and provides residential and commercial customers with phone, internet and cable services. In fiscal year 2015, we created a “Made in Cogeco” solution in response to the need to enhance service, stay competitive and cut costs. There were 3 key factors that helped us toward this goal. The first decision was to hire a Director, Communications and Change Management based in Montreal. Shortly thereafter, we hired a Senior Advisor, Change Management located in our Burlington office. Lastly, the Organizational Development staff was provided with enhanced skill development to become specialized change agents. The result was that the HR department, utilizing this specialized change team was able to create the “Made in Cogeco” change management model.
Developing the Made in Cogeco Model
Applying some of the important principles found in many of the courses at Queen’s IRC such as Change Management and Designing Change, we selected a large project that would impact our business in Quebec and Ontario, and that could be phased in to pilot our approach. Our vision was to transform how we do business in our call centre and with our field technicians, by increasing first call resolution for our customers and enhance their overall customer experience. Customer service has always been a point of differentiation for our customers at Cogeco. We were therefore looking for a new way to enhance that service.
The overall goal of the project was to reduce labour costs while enhancing the service for our customers by focusing on reducing services calls and the handling times of customer calls. It was important for us to promote top line growth and reduce overall operational expenses. As we introduced more advanced products out in the marketplace, such as TiVo, we had to get innovative and more efficient in how we delivered our customer service experience. With the call centre transformation, we wanted to implement a first call resolution program and accelerate our self-care functionality. Out in the field, the goal was to reduce delays to install and improve procedural effectiveness by implementing new standards. In both the field and call centre, skill enhancement was therefore key.
Our experts in HR change management worked with the operations team to make a plan to transform ideas and vision into action. This included:
- Diagnosing the need as well as the team for change
- Guiding the executive sponsor with selecting the right stakeholders
- Developing the methods for communicating the change effectively
- Implementing the change to ensure sustainability
- Assessing and managing any resistance
Tasked with this exciting opportunity to implement the “Made in Cogeco” change model, the team quickly sat down to understand the why, what and how of change. Working with the VP, Customer Experience and the respective operational Directors, the change team built the roadmap for transformation. Most importantly, they quickly developed action plans to get input from the stakeholders to get a more informed approach to the change. In particular, the goal of the combined team between HR and Operations was to erase any resistance, and mobilize commitment to achieve the desired results.
The Communications Framework
A major focus of the change management process was the communications framework. Of particular importance was the method of communication across a big department that straddled two provinces. It is well known, but not often followed, that you cannot over-communicate when you are asking an organization to change. Many organizations come to this realization after the fact, often when it is too late. We adopted a more proactive approach on this part of the change plan. We were also clear that the message had to resonate.
For effective communication, there were some key recommendations that we incorporated into this organizational transformation. The first was to link it to the corporate initiative. All of the communication was geared toward one of the key initiatives that are the pillars in our five year plan. The VP, Customer Experience went on a road show to clearly communicate the vision, mission and objectives of the project. Both he and his Directors, along with the Human Resources Business Partner, worked hard to help people understand how the changes would affect them personally. They conversed in small groups so there could be open discussion and a chance to ask clarifying questions.
Another overriding consideration was that the communication strategy needed to work through any roadblocks – we knew we needed to communicate the why, why now, and the risk to our organization if the change was not implemented. We introduced a way to have information cascading both up and down between the front line workers and management within 24 hours. The first step was to identify a primary sender who represented the corporation direction. In this particular case, the primary sender was two levels up. Next, the change team ensured that there was buy-in of the managers by involving them as the secondary sender of information. In turn, the managers would involve the direct supervisors. The most important piece was to identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me). By doing this, the goal was to solidify the buy-in and mitigate any resistance. The tone and attitude was set at this level because they were the conduit for this directional cascading of information up and down the pipeline. It was identified that managers also needed a vehicle to ask questions. By identifying this need, it broke down barriers and mitigated the noise and rumour mills. The overall effect was that it created transparency.
A change management inbox was also created to receive the ongoing communications and it was accessible to everyone. Training sessions were held with supervisors and staff by our Senior Advisor, Change Management. There were two modules that were introduced: Communicating to Drive Change and Coaching to Drive Change. Reinforcement was done through lunch ‘n learns that were scheduled regularly after these sessions. During these sessions, staff was introduced to this new model for communicating news and information. A template was also created to ensure consistency in the message. In particular, the template addressed the link to the corporate initiative, the back story, the why and the why now, how to get assistance, the timeframe, as well as the benefits to staff, the organization, and most importantly, the customer.
The communication opened up the timeframes and identified how and when the leaders would be available to answer questions. This prevented the front line workers from shopping around for answers and it ensured that everyone was on target with the outcomes of the project. In effect, the cascading sequence for the release was to approve the communication, send it to the supervisors/managers, allow for a call in option to answer questions, release the information to the front line and track and respond to feedback with 24 hours. The result created energy for the change.
Capitalizing on the success of the change management model for the project, we feel confident that we now have a prototype for change. With this initial trial, we demonstrated that we were able to create the acceptance for transformation. We will therefore use our “Made in Cogeco” methodology to apply to other projects and initiatives. Based on this success, we have also developed a change management module to deliver to all of the organizational leaders within Cogeco Cable.
By applying many of the same principles that are shared with HR practitioners through the Queen’s IRC training, we were able to transform ideas into actions that will continue to propel this organization forward.
About the Author
At Cogeco Cable, Erin O’Flynn is responsible for providing the full suite of professional and strategic human resources expertise to the Operations Departments in Ontario. She develops, facilitates and implements HR business plans that align with overall business strategies to deliver superior HR services that enable operating departments to meet their business goals and provide a return on investment to the shareholders. Erin is responsible for developing or coordinating all HR programs such as talent acquisition, compensation and benefits, policy development, HR project management, change management, organizational development, establishment of strategic and operational initiatives, training and coaching for managers and executives, management succession and leadership as well as new initiatives for employee development. Erin has extensive human resources experience in both public and private sector industries. Previously she was the HR representative responsible for Public Health and Paramedic Services in Niagara Region. She sat as a member of the strategic management team and was involved with four bargaining units and one non-union group. Erin has a Master’s in International Relations from the University of Toronto, a Certificate in Labour Relations from Brock University and an Advanced Human Resources Certificate from Queen’s University IRC.
Cogeco Cable Canada regroups the Canadian cable operations of Cogeco Cable Inc. Cogeco Cable Canada is the second largest cable operator in Ontario and Québec in terms of the number of basic cable service customers served. Its two-way broadband cable networks provide residential and small business customers with analogue and digital television, high speed internet and telephony services. Cogeco Cable Inc. is a telecommunications corporation and is the 11th largest hybrid fibre coaxial cable operator in North America, operating in Canada under the Cogeco Cable Canada brand name in Québec and Ontario, and in the United States through its subsidiary Atlantic Broadband in Western Pennsylvania, South Florida, Maryland/Delaware and South Carolina. Through its combined subsidiaries, Cogeco Data Services and Peer 1 Hosting, Cogeco Cable Inc. provides to its business customers a suite of information technology services (data transport, colocation, cloud and managed services, and dedicated hosting), with 20 data centres as well as more than 50 points-of-presence in North America and Europe. Cogeco Cable Inc.’s subordinate voting shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: CCA).