When I Felt Compelled to Write About My Former Employer I Hesitated…

When I read that Vodafone and Sky are set to merge here in New Zealand, I had mixed feelings. As a former employee of Vodafone, I am familiar with acquisitions and mergers, in fact, I used to describe Vodafone as a ‘Pac-Man’ of sorts, that goes around the world gobbling up other telecommunications companies.

Publishing something could be a big mistake I thought, but what I learned as I wrote was worth it, reaffirming the journey to becoming yourself. Only by becoming more of who we were born to be will we change and thrive in tomorrow’s world.

For those unfamiliar, Vodafone is a global telecommunications giant. In the US it previously owned a big chunk of Verizon Wireless, which it then sold for a cool $130 billion in 2013.

As a CE, Russell Stanners was the first one I hadn’t really got to know when working in an organisation. He’s more of an outward facing kind of guy, perfect really for the mergers and acquisitions game. I must admit I’m somewhat impressed by this latest move, it makes good sense.

Working in Vodafone, you couldn’t help but be awed by the Group’s beginnings. But that was a long time ago, when mobile telecommunications was a sexy game to be in. In New Zealand it started by acquiring Bell South (the contender to the incumbent mobile operator) in 1998, then iHug (fixed line and broadband) in 2006, and Telstraclear in 2012, making it the country’s second largest ISP.

From the inside, it felt nothing short of frenetic. A heck of a lot of activity, not only disjointed, at times pulling in opposite directions. There was always the usual hordes of projects planned, or on the go, to streamline all the internal systems and processes. The legacy systems inherited with each acquisition largely remain, making the serving of customers an act of navigating spaghetti junction. Customer facing staff needing to perfect the act of swans on water.

Many of the original Vodafone employees were still there, many still in sexy start up mode. Many more feeling our way through this culture that seemed entrenched in the past, wondering when we were going to either up the ante or take becoming more of a ‘utility’ at bit more seriously. Mobile isn’t sexy any more, it’s a necessity, and it’s what we do with it, those possibilities that are important.

“a bit of a coup for survival in today’s world “

That is why the Sky merger could be a good move, for both companies. I know little about the inner workings of Sky, but as a customer it’s blatantly obvious that something has to change. No longer the consumer’s only choice, many are opting for viewing content via other means.

So a bit of a coup for survival in today’s world, with opportunities to woo customers with some leading edge products and services. New Zealand is a fairly small market, and with increasing competition there’s certainly little left to milk in the telecommunications world. Change is necessary for survival, so well done on that score.

“to survive is one thing, but can it thrive?”

My forte is change and transformation, inside out. While on the surface it might seem that someone in the change game would excel at Vodafone, there was one big problem; Pac-Man is an outside-in game. 

In this changing world where, yes, there is an insatiable desire for the media and technology that this marriage promises, there is also born a desire for more meaning. People are tiring of the relentless nature of technological change and choice, the clambering for our attention in a fast paced world that many just wish to slow down, just a bit, to smell the proverbial roses.

To thrive, I can’t help but still feel this new partnership will have to take a hard look inside itself. Start to figure out the deeper aspects of its meaning and purpose. With over 4000 employees involved in this merger, that’s a heck of a lot of potential to create something really special. But if the past is any indication of the present or the future, the merry go round will just keep spinning.

My hope is that the company will take on more autonomy away from Vodafone Group, although it will still remain the majority shareholder with 51% of the shares. Not that I particularly found Vodafone Group a bad corporation to work with, but with its heritage, trying to maintain brand consistency and a call to its vision is a bit like herding cats.

If this marriage has the freedom to reinvent itself completely, take on its own vision and purpose, I think it’s got a shot at creating something leading edge beyond just the products and services it might offer. Of course that will require more than just bringing in a brand agency, creating a vision and throwing money at a leadership development programme.

With so much history, entrenched behaviours and cultures, it would require an act of deliberate creation, determination and tenacity to work on stripping back the layers and layers that stand between it and a simpler, cohesive and more consciously aware version that would thrive in tomorrow’s world.

Companies that start to really leverage the locked potential in their largest operating cost, their people, will be the ones who thrive in the cultures of tomorrow. Think about it, does your company recognise you as a whole person? One who runs a household, leads a family, maintains a budget, makes decisions, builds relationships, or are you subject to the usual rigors of delegated authorities and privy to only a small percentage of the information flowing around the place via official channels and water coolers?

The sad state is that most people don’t even recognise their own potential, they sense it, but can’t articulate it, lost in their own layers and history of often well meaning advice and expectations. Yet there is a definite shift, the yearning for meaning growing stronger among the masses.

“companies who survive today will only continue to survive and thrive tomorrow if they start allowing for the potential within”

The companies who survive today will only continue to survive and thrive tomorrow if they start allowing for the potential within. Will the new Vodafone/Sky merged company do that? Who knows, but there’s hope. 
What of you, the reader with your unlocked potential? Well it’s up to you to start exploring it, to start becoming more of who you were born to be.

Remaining shackled by company convention is a choice to remain locked in the past, reaffirming the voices in your subconscious planted there at childhood, many versions of why you are not worthy.

You are no longer a child, stop allowing yourself to be treated as one. I’m not suggesting you start fighting against company rules or societal laws. Instead focus on what does lie within rather than what doesn’t.

You are worthy, you were born knowing it, and society just did a good job of helping you cover it up. The more you unlock your own potential, become the person you were born to be, the more these companies will change from the inside out, becoming places of meaning and purpose rather than just ambition and profit. For what are companies, what is Vodafone and Sky?

They are people like you and I, and it starts with us.

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