Why is Telecom Making 1500 staff Redundant?


telephoneTelecom is once again making a large number of staff redundant. According to Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran up to 1,500 people will lose their jobs. This is the result of a planned restructure, although Telecom is not prepared to confirm the numbers. My question is how did Telecom get to a position where they were so overstaffed? You don’t suddenly find you have 1,500 people more than you need on the payroll, do you? 

I started my career with Telecom as a Technical Service Officer back in the day when they had 26,000 staff and was part of NZ Post, which all changed back in the late 1980’s. I joined them because at school they taught us that the communications age was on us and I had a fascination for the future from the age of 7 or 8, reading the Science Fiction greats.

I went to Post Office Technical Training School on College Hill in Auckland and enjoyed a phenomenal education, covering all elements of technology from engineering and how transistors work, through to how exchanges work, management and people skills and everything in between. My training included working in the different types of telephone exchanges, working with fault-men, linesmen, cable jointers, engineers, radio and much more. I loved my job. I loved learning and was one of only two people over the years to score 100% in most of my exams.

I recognized early on though, that the ‘system’ that provided people with 40 year gold watch careers was fatally flawed and whilst the education was world class, HR was pretty much non existent. Promotion was based on a system called ‘Reporting’ where each year we were asked to rate, rank and comment our colleagues, who spent the month before, almost like politicians going to all the colleagues, saying “I’ll give you a good report if you do the same for me.”

PeterI saw totally incompetent people rise to the top of the flock, whilst others continued to work their 24 hour shifts who really should have been making the move into management, because they had the people skills, experience and the ability to take on senior decision making roles. That was my second experience of the Peter Principle, the problem was that it wasn’t one off, it was institutionalized. Telecom was an old school Government Department and whilst many of us worked very hard, those who didn’t want to, could graze on the effort of those who did. If the organisation was better managed and only staffed by people who wanted to work, we could have easily cut 5,000 from the staff without significant reduction in productivity.

I left Telecom at the time, because I wanted to grow into a management career, but I also wanted to be working in the industry with a company that was forward thinking and fortunately I found  7 year career opportunity at Tait Electronics, who I subsequently left to move to a more senior level in another ICT company.

After I left, Telecom made many of my colleagues redundant. 6 months later they found out they couldn’t function without their skills and brought many of them back as contractors (some of whom stayed for more than 10 years) on a significantly increased pay scale. They did the same jobs, but as self employed people, and it cost Telecom much more.

There seems to be, in my opinion, a major problem that creeps into corporates. The bigger they get, the more politics comes into play, just as it did back in the day. They become inefficient, decisions are often made in the interests of senior people, rather than in the interest of the company. They add on staff to grow empires and create division after division of people to fill roles that aren’t necessarily needed, often at the cost of other areas that are not well served.

Telecom spokesperson Andrew Pirie told Stuff that “while job reductions would occur across the board at Telecom, many of the cuts would be to middle management functions in administrative areas such as finance and human resources.” That begs the question of why there are so many people in those roles in the first place. I can understand that there could be a couple of dozen people in a company of that size that from time to time need to change roles, departments or as focus changes, may find their positions redundant. I have to ask though, how does a corporate get to a position where they have 1500 people more than they need?

Who is responsible to the shareholders and the staff for allowing this to happen? Are the shareholders asking questions as to why their share value is going down, if those staff were redundant, why were they employed? What has changed? The classic result then would be that someone will have to fall on the sword, but I think perhaps the discussion should start with Minister Steven Joyce asking some serious questions. Problem is, he’s still asking questions about Novopay. Don’t get me started on our education system. I’ll leave that for another day’s soap box about how we are paying lip service to the importance of the future of our children, tomorrow’s leaders and the teachers who we have been let down so badly, but continue to serve for the sake of the children.

So the good news is that Rod Drury of Xero and Ian McCrae of Orion Health are looking for quality staff and are struggling to find them here. The bad news is that Telecom is saying that most of the people being made redundant aren’t the ICT people that Rod and Ian want.

Smart Wallet Coming from Google


The Smart Wallet is coming says the Herald this morning.

I’m sorry but I have to laugh. A number of us have been trying to convince Vodafone and Telecom in New Zealand to do this for years. All I used to hear was ARPU and its not core business, while I was saying imagine having half a percent of the revenue. It’s a ubiquitous device people, your mobile is the only thing you always have on you, perhaps besides your wedding or engagement ring.

Ericsson had a proof of concept drinks vending machine in Auckland where you could  text for a drink at least 15 years ago. New Zealand used to be a centre of excellence for Voda back then. NZ was the first to mass adopt EFTPOS in the world, many other firsts, but then we fell asleep. ARPU doesn’t just have to be about data and voice revenue people. Ask eBay what business they are in, its not selling products, its financial services and transaction facilitation, I’m sure they say it better.

Sometimes its hard getting people to listen at the bleeding edge, but imagine if you had listened way back then, which was before Google sets up workspace in Susan Wojcicki‘s garage!

I remember loads of coversations with people like Adam Clark at M-Com, going back even to our days at Advantage back in the late 90’s, along with other members of the Wireless Data Forum where we worked hard to try to drag people into the future such as in this Herald story from the turn of the millenium.

Sorry folks its soap box time. We have so many clever people in this country and yet our leaders don’t recognise the opportunities to cash in on their expertise and knowledge. Years ago we lead the world in many ways including banking  and financial systems, EFTPOS, retail barcode scanning and much more. We still have the expertise, but we seem to have dropped into a spiral of this is the way we do business, its prudent, reliable and safe. Or perhaps they are saying that ots too late because Google is already doing it. But guys, we told you to do it before Google existed. Google isn;t forever and it doesn;t mean that noone can get great ideas of the ground.

If you follow publications like Harvard Business Review, Futurist Magazine and other forward looking publications, they will tell you that your greatest assets are your people, your staff. When was the last time you sat down and asked them what they thought, right down to the intern who’s pushing the mail cart? Why do so many people leave their companies because they feel they can do it better? Recent surveys say half of Kiwi workers want to leave their jobs. It wasn’t all about pay as the following quote shows:

“Asked what they most wanted to improve about their workplace, employees’ top gripes were “systems and processes” (41 per cent), communication (39 per cent), and rewards and recognition (38 per cent).”

There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wondered what happened. There are also those who said it would happen but couldn’t get people to pay attention until after it happened. Of course being first doesn’t mean being best or being dominant.

Now as to testing with NFC. I watched a demo with NFC in the Netherlands in 2009 and it was cool. There were 2 phones in Europe at the time that had NFC, both from Nokia. Now that Vodafone is going to have a look at NFC in NZ, how many models of phone do we have that support the technology today? How long would it take before an early majority of people had a capable device? Just because Google is looking at NFC, does that make it the best technology? Are there alternatives? If we were best placed to implement mass adoption of EFTPOS and bar code scanning, could we be well placed for m-Commerce on mobiles? Ask Rod Drury or Adam Clark.

I’m just saying……………