Who wants to work for a towerco?
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Who wants to work for a towerco?

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Towercos have been described as “the best business in the world” but what can the industry do to make towercos the best employers in the world too?

TowerXchage ​has charted the rise of the industry over the last 10 years, and many people have made careers building towers and building up towercos, but as the industry expands and becomes more established the industry has to move on and think more about how it treats its people. People are often described as a company's biggest assets, and given the difference between well-managed and poorly-managed towercos we have to agree. TowerXchange will be running a "Talent and Manpower" focused working group for towerco people and HR professionals this October in Johannesburg as part of TowerXchange Meetup Africa, and in the run up we have spoken with the Working Group's convenor, Ramon Chelvarajasingam, Chief People Officer at edotco about how they manage their talent, and why he wants the rest of the industry to work together on this important topic.   

TowerXchange: Why do you think the “people” element has historically been overlooked when talking about the success of towercos, and why is this becoming ever more important to focus on?

Ramon Chelvarajasingam, Chief People Officer, edotco:

In my view, the “people element” has been historically overlooked when talking about the success of towercos because the industry was not perceived as “sexy” compared to other industries, such as financial services, technology, or start-ups. Companies operating in those industries have taken proactive steps to establish themselves as a branded “Employer of Choice” to attract the best talents globally.

Furthermore, given the nascent stage of the towerco industry in the past, our business was perceived as “transactional” in nature – focusing on financial growth, M&As and portfolio size. From an identity standpoint, we also identify ourselves from a product perspective: “Tower Companies”.

These implications have resulted in a divergence in employee-employer expectations. Workforce today is demanding more “relationship-based” interactions with the organisations they choose to work for. They expect higher quality of work-life balance, continuous opportunities for development and good compensation. They place stronger emphasis on the intangibles beyond financial/monetary recognition. By driving the right people-focused values across the organisation (e.g ESG, DEI), towercos can start attracting the younger generation and obtaining access to fresh talent pools.

In the future of work, I believe the emphasis on people will become ever more important to the success of our industry – where the war for talent will only be accelerated. Organisations globally are looking for the best talents at the most optimal cost to maximise value.

Over the past 3-4 years, the towerco industry has developed at a rapid pace, especially post-pandemic, where the spotlight on connectivity has accelerated. This has improved the presence of the towerco business (who we are and what we do). While companies in other industries were laying off their workforce to stay afloat, the towerco industry was in a much better position financially. In edotco, we continued paying full salaries and fair bonuses to our employees with no layoffs.

In edotco, we are also firm believers that people are our greatest asset. Over the past 3 years, we have taken active steps to participate in numerous people-related awards and being recognised in the process - competing against leading global organisations.

Research has also shown that the quickest way for companies to improve profits and growth is not through acquisitions of physical assets — but by treating employees like owners. Unlike physical assets that depreciate over time, human capital appreciates over time – growing stronger and increasing in value as more investments are accrued in developing people.

TowerXchange: How is the changing shape of the towerco model changing the type of skills and people that towercos need?

Ramon Chelvarajasingam, Chief People Officer, edotco:

I believe the evolution of the towerco business model from a passive into an active one will place higher emphasis on the workforce to continuously learn new skills and adapt. The skillsets requirement for the future will cut across various pillars (beyond just technical), encompassing Cognitive thinking, Interpersonal, Leadership and Digital.

Cognitive thinking

1. Critical thinking and problem solving

2. Mental agility to adopt different perspectives and increasing capacity to unlearn and re-learn

3. Communication, storytelling, and active listening, including asking the right questions and synthesising messages in a concise manner

Interpersonal

1. Empathy and humility

2. Inspiring trust 

3. Teamwork and collaboration effectiveness

4. Developing win-win situations and stronger partnerships to move the industry together in a collective manner

5. Harnessing collective wisdom via diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

Leadership (self and others)

1. Self-awareness and self-regulation: Understanding own strengths, weaknesses and blind spots

2. Entrepreneurship: to encourage risk-taking and drive innovation

3. Championship and ownership mindset: Taking ownership and having the grit and persistence to bounce back in the face of challenges

Digital Quotient and Literacy

1. Digital fluency and ways of working (e.g test-and-learn mindset, digital collaboration, digital ethics)

2. Advanced software use and development (e.g data analytics, programming, coding, algorithmic thinking, UI/UX design)

3. Cybersecurity

In edotco, we have anchored our people strategy around these pillars, coined as the “Bionic Organisation”. Under our tenet of “Supercharging Future Workforce”, we are focused on building technical and digital Academies to catalyse competency development of our workforce for the future.

TowerXchange: What more needs to be done to enable the tower industry to compete with other leading sectors to attract the best global talent?

Ramon Chelvarajasingam, Chief People Officer, edotco:

From the towerco standpoint, given we are mainly a B2B model, awareness and branding are crucial to attract the best global talents. We are competing with a wide array of industries given the pace of digital transformation ongoing globally today.

Some initiatives we have embarked on internally that worked well for edotco in attracting global talents are:

1. Creating brand awareness through social media: Leveraging on popular sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are visible places to showcase our distinctive organisation culture, company events, highlight employee testimonials, and connect with top talents. We have recently strengthened our Group Corporate Communications and Branding team to elevate our presence in the digital world.

2. Standing out as an employer of choice: In a world where information and reviews are in abundance, organisations/industries that stand out will win the talent war. One opportunity I see in the towerco industry is stronger participation in various “Employer of Choice” awards to get us known in the market. We have been focused on branding ourselves to top talents, competing against the best-of-the-best organisations globally and across the region. In 2021, we actively participated in numerious HR and people-related awards. We have been recognised by Kincentric for 2 years running as a “Best Employers” status in Asia Pacific and Excellence Awards for Employer of Choice in Asia by HRD Asia. To differentiate our industry from the competition, we must collectively showcase what makes our industry special and unique. One of the most authentic ways is to feature the words of who knows our industry and organisation best: our people.

3. Stronger focus on professional leadership development – beyond technical and functional. In edotco, we place a strong emphasis on a “hiring for behaviour and training for skills” approach. For all positions from the lowest level right up to the C-suite, we focus on culture-fit and building leadership skills in line with our core values. This is reinforced through our in-house Championship barometer tool (as an enhancement of 360 feedback). We use professional sports as an inspiration for our leadership development programme, modelled after the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team.

4. Education and community outreach programmes: We find partnering with local communities, universities, vocational institutions, or schools is a great way to demonstrate our company’s core values and cast a wider net. In collaboration with our parent company, Axiata, we have a robust internship and graduate program for aspiring graduates to immerse themselves in the towerco world. This will help break down the barriers to entry for graduates who are unfamiliar with this niche industry. We find that specialised opportunities will attract candidates who are willing to learn about our organisation, core values, and goals at a more intimate level. We also conduct frequent partnerships with local education institutions, be it by raising awareness through career fairs, providing career advice, or hosting competitions to raise the interest of the industry. Recently, our “edotco Infrastructure Design Competition 2021” garnered strong interest from top university talents across the region (Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Cambodia, Malaysia).

5. Engineering a distinctive employee experience and value proposition (EVP): We believe by engineering a distinctive employee experience, we will gather strong interest via word-of-mouth and referrals, especially through friends and families of our people. In edotco, we are in the midst of engineering distinct employee experience across the employee lifecycle via our in-house “Returns on Experience (ROX)” strategy. We are leveraging on predictive AI-powered insights across the various employee touchpoints to detect potential employee disengagement on a real-time basis. In edotco, we also place stronger focus on the intrinsic elements of human nature, namely providing a stronger sense of purpose, higher levels of autonomy, opportunities for capability building and fostering meaningful connections in the workplace as our Employee Value Proposition. This strategy has worked out very well for us, with our Employee Engagement scores consistently at world-class levels (average of 94% over the past 3 years). In edotco, we have the highest levels of engagement between the leadership team and our people.

6. Creating a robust talent pipeline: We believe it is essential to consider reaching both active and passive candidates in our industry. We are constantly finding ways to build relationships with passive candidates even before they consider looking for a new position in our organisation. We leverage on a “recruitment crawler” to identify top talents within and outside the towerco/telco industry based on skillsets. With a push of a button, this crawler will be able to filter top 10 passive candidates who match the skillsets and competencies required. We are continuously building our talent database to strengthen our talent pipeline. Today, we have more than 10,000 top talent resumes in our database – with zero reliance on external search agencies to attract the best global talents. We also utilise a mix of job boards such as LinkedIn, Monster, Job Street etc and employee referral programs to extend our talent reach.

TowerXchange: What is some of the best practice that you have seen in other sectors that is missing from the towerco sector?

Ramon Chelvarajasingam, Chief People Officer, edotco:

Some best practices that I have seen in other sectors that are missing from the towerco sector are:

1. Compelling employer branding and Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to attract the best talents to our industry (e.g participation in Employer of Choice or Best Employers Award programmes). Based on my observation, there are opportunities for towercos to participate in these people and organisation-related awards to pique the interest of our industry.

2. Collaborating to deepen the talent pool. Individual towercos acting in their best interest trying to grab the biggest share of the skilled talents available will only result in a shortage for all. In a fast-evolving environment, towercos will have to work together to upskill the wider talent pool to ensure it is constantly refreshed and updated.  This will mean teaming up with other towercos in the industry to identify relevant skills, jointly developing curricula and providing on-the-job training via Centers of Excellence.

3. Stronger talent development partnerships with universities and education institutions. To build a robust pipeline of future talents, we can start co-creating curriculum with education institutions and tapping into talents from vocational institutions.

4. Stronger focus on innovation, business partnerships and sales. Although we are rooted in engineering and operations, I believe focusing on these areas will propel the industry forward.

5. Stronger diversity of experience beyond the towerco and telco world. Today, I see most talents in the towerco world are from MNOs. I believe there is a lot of value in integrating past experience and good practices from other industries especially if the industry is moving away from a “grass-and-steel” model to one that is heavy on digitalisation and data analytics. Learning new ways of thinking and working is crucial for innovation – so that we do not get trapped in “group thinks”.

6. Knowledge sharing and collaboration across organisations: Today, most of the knowledge sharing practices are done via TowerXchange. I believe there are opportunities to foster greater active collaboration and knowledge sharing among towerco’s continuously. This will propel the industry forward and help us solve industry-wide issues (e.g decarbonisation of towers). Having a common open-source platform and framework that allows various towercos to collaborate on a common project and share insights / lessons learnt will be critical. Creating repositories of training information/ introductions to the industry basics (towerco 101) will be a good start to indoctrinate new joiners to the towerco world.

TowerXchange: What are some of the objectives/ projects that you have underway at edotco?

Ramon Chelvarajasingam, Chief People Officer, edotco:

Our focus over the past year was on building an “Entrepreneurial Championship Mindset” with an elevated sense of emotional collaboration, belonging and purpose – given that the pandemic has changed the way employees view why, where, and how they work. We have crystallised this via our “Bionic Organisation” people strategy.

Given our aspiration of becoming a global Top 5 Tower Company, we were focused on getting our employees to think and act like owners of the company – always acting in the collective best interest of the organisation towards a common goal.

Our key people focus areas included:

1. Enhanced organisation’s value system to create greater alignment on meaning and purpose. Since the pandemic, employees are re-evaluating the relationship and the company the work for. As such, we took the opportunity to enhance our 6 core values (namely Uncompromising Integrity, Exceptional Performance, Sustaining for Life, Innovating for Tomorrow, Ownership Mindset and Emotional Collaboration) to better reflect our aspiration of becoming the Top 5 Global Towerco, co-created with our employees. These values are strengthened via our regular townhalls, All Blacks Leadership Summits and all hands sharing sessions. Employees are kept abreast on organisation development and align their day-to-day work with the organisation’s broader mission.  We believe in leading with a compass and context, equipping employees with information to make the best decisions for the organisation. Clear value system enables distributed decision-making with a high level of clarity, aligning resources to what matters most and accuracy to the corporate mission. We also embarked on an exercise to enhance our compensation strategy with heavy emphasis on self and organisational empowerment.

2. Developed an in-house “Championship Barometer” tool as an enhancement of our digital 360 feedback tool to gauge where we are today against where we want to be for continuous progression. Given the solid leadership values we have today, the main objectives of this tool are to assess the Championship drive across our people, “ONE team” mindset and alignment to our Championship vision.

3. Appointed Gilbert Enoka (New Zealand All Black’s Rugby team’s Leadership Coach) as our leadership mental coach. Gilbert is responsible for instilling championship mental models and motivating our people towards our Global Top 5 aspiration. He consults all 323 of our Middle and Senior Management team on a quarterly basis.

4. Provided opportunities and platforms for employees to explore their diverse interests. We worked with different employee groups to set up various employee resource groups (ERGs) that represent diverse interests and goals (e.g ESG, DEI, wellness). This provided our people the freedom to explore and create their own experience in the workplace. We also institutionalised a practice of employees dedicating ~10% of their time on innovation projects to help them discover their innate interests. As part of our Performance Management system, employees have the opportunity to achieve stretch targets by working on 3 innovative ideas on a yearly basis, on top of their day-to-day responsibilities.

5. Developed next-generation competencies by job levels (leadership, behavior and technical) and upskilling our people in line with latest technology trends. We recently developed in-house technical and middle management academies to give our people the opportunity to take charge of their career path, learn something new and sharpen their craft.

6. Leveraged on our >300 people managers as an extension of HR. We provided various upskilling avenues to help our people managers manage more effective in a hybrid and dynamic environment, such as:

a. Providing mentoring capabilities across >320 of our people managers

b. Certified >30 in-house coaches

c. Specialised training on HR-related areas (e.g performance management, rewards, workforce planning, recruitment etc)

d. Career conversation/development guides and training 

e. Accelerated upskilling for our high-potentials by partnering with Melbourne Business School

f. Partnering with Franklin Covey for leadership upskilling across the general population

TowerXchange: What value could be brought from bringing together Chief People/ HR Officers from the towerco community?

Ramon Chelvarajasingam, Chief People Officer, edotco:

By bringing together the various CPO and HR professionals from the tower community together, I believe we will tap into our collective wisdom to propel the industry to greater heights.

We can definitely tap on the growth engine too many organisations overlook: the people aspect.

Some tangible benefits I envisage from this initiative are:

1. Improving towerco’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from a people standpoint and harness the power of collective wisdom.  At present, majority of the workforce in the towerco world is still male dominated. I believe there is an abundance of unlocked value by attracting more highly skilled females into the industry to gain broader perspectives. We can also pave the way forward for other industry by improving female participation into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) area. Workforce today are placing more emphasis on organisation’s purpose and stance, especially on topics related to DEI and ESG. 

2. Sharing best people practices beyond the towerco industry. To be world-class from a people perspective, knowledge sharing is crucial. This will help us to attract best talents globally against the likes of big techs such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft etc.

3. Keeping abreast of macro and megatrends impacting the future of work and how the industry can adapt moving forward. This should be aligned to the wider people agenda, not only from a business perspective, also from a people and culture perspective.

4. Leverage on past lessons from our peers to increase effectiveness of our people strategies (What worked well, what did not work well).

5. Having richer data set and insights from a people perspective (e.g benchmarks). Given the niche industry we operate in, valuable data may not be available. I believe having stronger focus on people-related benchmarks can help us move the industry forward competing against the best companies globally – similar to how PwC leveraging on Saratoga human capital benchmarks to make more informed people-related decisions. By having robust people-related benchmarks, towercos can learn from one another and accelerate the maturity of industry collectively.

6. Jointly develop global towerco Centers of Excellence. Towercos can work together to identify what jobs and skills the industry will need for the future, figuring out how to create a talent pipeline to meet those needs and working together to build this pipeline.

TowerXchange will be running a "Talent and Manpower" focused working group for towerco people and HR professionals this October in Johannesburg as part of TowerXchange Meetup Africa, please email matthew.edwards@towerxchange.com for more details on how to take part.

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