Agile Telstra allows IT grad to school CEO

Becoming an agile company has allowed Telstra to embrace a culture of open communication between staff from different departments and from different levels of the corporate ladder, according to Telstra CIO Patrick Eltridge.

Telstra CEO David Thodey was recently mentored on the topics of advanced technologies and social media. The person who was teaching him wasn't a elderly veteran or a trained expert; it was actually a young graduate Telstra hired for its IT team.

"The graduate did that for many months; both met regularly," said Telstra CIO Patrick Eltridge. "They both learned a huge amount from each other, and it was quite transformative."

He shared the story at the Agile Australia 2013 conference in Sydney, which spruiks the benefits of agile management, cultivating a culture of open communication and flexible business processes within an organisation.

Telstra is currently an agile company, something that was suggested would have been nigh impossible in the days of Sol Trujillo. The Former Telstra CEO ruled the telco with an iron fist until he left in 2009 . Eltridge joined Telstra in 2010.

Agile management has infiltrated every aspect of Telstra, including its IT division. While agile allows for a lot of flexibility, it's important that the whole company, particularly IT, understands the overall enterprise strategy, according to Eltridge.

"IT plays a critical role in a company's strategy," he said. "We touch every part of the organisation.

"We have to ensure the IT strategy is completely and totally driven by and aligned with the total enterprise strategy — they have to be completely joined."

Telstra has undergone a significant cultural shift since Trujillo's departure, and it's important that the telco continues to sustain an environment that is amenable to change and responsive to the market, according to Eltridge.

"We're creating a team culture and environment that is able to change rapidly and can accommodate change," he said. "It's about helping our team to be the best it can be; to be less fearful of risk taking, to adapt, to develop skills and expertise, and to attract talent from outside."

Eltridge said it helps that Thodey is an agile leader. The recent Telstra asbestos scandal is a good example of the kind of openness and transparency the company exercises internally and externally as part of being an agile organisation, he said.

Thodey and other Telstra executives were swift in publicly claiming responsibility over the workers' exposure to asbestos when Telstra's pits were upgraded as part of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

"It's moments like these where you see people's true values come through," Eltridge said. "It's a serious issue, and when you see a leader like David and a COO like Brendon Riley saying in taking full responsibility in front of the cameras and doing everything in their power to fix the problem, that's representative of the values of the company.

"That's highly consistent internally, as well."