As part of the rapidly evolving, ultra-competitive telecom industry, AT&T is challenged to stay on top of employees’ knowledge and skill needs.

Employees are faced with technical trends around wireless technology evolution and virtualization, and software, applications and consumer devices are constantly changing.

New releases of wireless devices are shrouded in secrecy, and it becomes challenging to train AT&T’s retail sales team quickly so they are knowledgeable enough to walk customers through the features on the day of a device’s release.

“In the early planning sessions that occur between our senior leaders and device manufacturers, where the discussions happen about the very fact that a new device is coming out, L&D is at that table, and that is key,” said Scott Smith, senior vice president of HR operations at AT&T.

Being present at the table from the beginning — when the business receives information from customers — and working with business leaders to develop the ideal training for the workforce is critical to ensure the success of any device release.

“L&D addresses this constant learning need of our clients by working with them during the planning phase of deploying a new phone,” said Lew Walker, the company’s vice president of learning services. “It’s only because of this upfront planning that we can meet the challenging release schedule. We determine in partnership with the client the appropriate content and the appropriate delivery method and then proactively schedule this training throughout the year.”

Collaboration also helps AT&T’s learning and development initiatives to increase engagement and ultimately financial performance. The company formed an employee engagement advisory board that identifies opportunities to drive engagement. As a result, in 2011, AT&T articulated a clear set of values owned by the CEO across the company.

“Ultimately, engagement is owned by the business; it’s not owned by HR, but we partner with the business to identify opportunities to help drive engagement, alignment and innovation,” said Debbie Storey, senior vice president of talent development and chief diversity officer.

AT&T conducted its second companywide employee engagement survey last year, and the vendor facilitating the process said it had never seen a company move the needle so much from Year 1 to Year 2 in its engagement survey scores.

Further, during the past 12 to 18 months, AT&T has begun to use Net Promoter Score, a metric gaining popularity in corporate America that is used to gauge a customer’s willingness to recommend the company.

“It’s a measure that we take very seriously, and the learning and development organization has a critical role in ensuring the workforce understands it,” Storey said. “When that gold standard of a measure is in place, the L&D function plays a critical role in helping everyone understand not only what it is, but what they can and must do to help drive more promoters and reduce the number of detractors.”

Meanwhile, AT&T leadership remains intimately involved with the learning and development function. Senior leaders regularly communicate the fundamental role learning plays in the company’s success. They also teach courses and serve as governance council members who provide overall guidance and strategic direction to the learning function.

“Our senior executives challenge us to provide training initiatives to help them meet their business objectives. To do that, we have to continually improve and evolve our design and delivery,” Storey said.

One of the key ingredients for a successful business in the telecom industry is constantly staying ahead of the curve, something for which AT&T strives.

“We’re never satisfied with the status quo, but we are always looking at how we can provide more impactful and efficient training while increasing the learners’ proficiency levels,” Smith said. “We drive for innovative ideas and implement emerging learning technologies to help us achieve that goal.”

Deanna Hartley is associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at


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