Lumen Technologies spreads nearly 30,000 workers around the United States and another 10,000 throughout the world, so leading human capital in the era of Covid is a demanding task. Add the fact that the Fortune 500 telecommunications giant (known as CenturyLink until last year) employs thousands of in-demand technical and skilled workers in areas ranging from network services to cybersecurity, cloud solutions, voice communications and managed services.
But Scott Trezise, executive vice president of human resources for the Monroe, Louisiana-based giant, believes he can rely on a new staff-deployment structure and six leadership principles to help his colleagues keep Lumen’s talent engaged, productive and loyal as the company attempts to move past the pandemic.
The new structure divides jobs into three categories—“work from work,” work from home and hybrid roles—with relatively rigid parameters but gives Lumen employees flexibility to move over time from one of the three groups to another. “Creating flexibility in our workforce is a key engagement and retention strategy,” Trezise told StrategicCHRO360.com.
While he believes that substantial change will help Lumen with its human-capital strategy in the months and years ahead, Trezise also will be applying several principles and working with the company’s other leaders to apply them as well:
The Izzo approach: Trezise’s favorite coach is Tom Izzo, the accomplished and excitable icon at Michigan State University who is known for his ability to dig for every ounce of ability and commitment his basketball players can give to the team—while also putting his arm around their shoulders and standing as a champion for them.
Business leaders need to do the same thing today, Trezise said. “In this environment, we need to operate as a coach versus a boss. Our job is to assess talent and help each one of the individuals on the team to reach their maximum potential and, ultimately, put them on the court together and hope the parts are greater than the role of individuals.
“The boss role was to dictate assignments. That’s gone. It’s another era. You have to be more of a coach to help talent reach its full potential.”
Connectivity uber alles: In today’s “more distributed” work environment, connectivity is “really important. You’re not necessarily going to see that person at the water cooler tomorrow or in the next couple of days anymore,” Trezise said. “So you have to be more intentional about creating connectivity.”
For example, Lumen stresses the importance of leaders conducting one-on-one time with their reports, but internal data tells Trezise that “there are still a significant number who don’t spend one-on-one time with employees on a recurring basis. We think each leader should be spending at least one hour with an employee every two weeks.”
And that doesn’t mean just exchanging quick pings. “Don’t over-rely on e-mail or texts. Pick up the phone or set up a Teams or Zoom session. With technology, this [practice] is easier and easier to do.”
Inclusion is crucial: With employees now formally sorted into the three location-related categories, Lumen faces built-in obstacles to creating the cohesion crucial to its corporate culture.
“So wherever they’re working, you need to make sure people’s voices are heard,” Trezise said. In particular, “high-caliber employees want their voices to be heard.”
Making that happen could involve the use of new technology for conducting meetings that make every participant more or less equally visible no matter where they are physically. “You need to keep an even playing field in a meeting where you have some people there and others not there,” he said.
Emphasize recognition: Lumen employees who’ve been formally recognized for some sort of achievement “are much higher-engaged employees,” company surveys have found, “and a more engaged employee is a more productive employee,” Trezise said. “We talk to our leaders all the time about using recognition as a key tool. You can’t overdo it.”
One thing Lumen does is designate employees as Lumen Stars, rewarding them with “points” that can be redeemed for money or merchandise.
Focus on individual development: “One of the key reasons people will leave an organization is a lack of development opportunities,” Trezise said. “If you want employees to feel connected and included, developing them is a key opportunity. Talk with them about how you can help them grow their career in the short term and the long term.”
This practice includes using part of regular one-on-one meetings to discuss development as it applies to short-term tasks and longer-term career plans. “We encourage managers to have development conversations and provide continuous feedback on a regular basis,” he said.
It’s one life: Covid—including how companies and employees have responded to it—has broken down many barriers between work and personal life. “We encourage our leaders to remember that it’s hard to draw the line and to step into that and recognize the influence they can have on people’s lives 24 hours a day,” Trezise said. “So, empathy and caring are really important, when it comes to employees’ total lives.” This consciousness, he said, should extend to “the growing challenges around mental health in the workplace.” To that end, Trezise said, Lumen has a program called Navigate Together to help its leaders navigate their increasingly holistic interactions with employees. “It’s always about the basic concepts of empathy and caring.”