TJ Interviews: Telenor’s Cecilie Heuch

Conor Gilligan interviews Cecilie Heuch, chief people officer at Telenor Group

Reading time: 5 minutes

Tell us about your background and how you arrived at Telenor as chief people officer

Previously, I worked for other international companies headquartered in Norway – Hydro Aluminium, Yara and DNV GL. In the latter, I was chief human resources officer for 11 years before coming to Telenor two years ago. I was attracted to the vision, international footprint and telco business, as well as a great opportunity to learn about a new industry, new countries and people.

In your opinion, how has the L&D landscape changed in recent years?

Within Telenor, L&D has been given priority due to the pace of change in our industry, digitalisation and evolving employee needs – and of course customer and partner needs.

It’s linked to how we can develop our employee base and continue to build and enable services that matter to people in our markets. 

L&D has become a much more strategic tool for Telenor to build skills critical to business and to create winning teams. It’s now much less of a “nice to have” to engage employees, and much more of a must-do.

Many companies experience a scarcity of skills linked to their transformation and digitalisation. At the same time, employees are concerned about not being relevant, not having the required skillset. We meet this concern at all levels and across geographies.

We also see more focus on how L&D is delivered. This means finding the right blend between online and classroom learning, and cutting out unnecessarily expensive formats like destination trainings or training as a reward.

Technology has changed the online offerings to be more user-friendly. Online learning also seems more relevant, as some of the future technologies are hard to learn in the current on-the-job-training.

At Telenor, how are you approaching learning in the flow of work?

New digital tools and online learning allow for just-in-time learning. We try to link learning as much as possible to job roles and desired career paths.

Early in 2018, we presented our employees with what we called the 40-Hour Challenge – asking leaders to allow employees to set aside at least 40 hours per year during work time to learn new things. Last year we achieved 47.5 hours per employee of online learning and, as of August this year, we are at 22 hours per employee.

L&D has become a much more strategic tool for Telenor to build skills critical to business

We have identified seven critical competencies for the company, such as data and analytics, cyber security, and cloud and virtualisation, and we encourage employees to upskill in those when relevant to their role. Our L&D people have curated content to meet different levels of proficiency. 

We have asked our research department to find out what practices we need to implement to encourage online learning. Our business units used different methods and we wanted to know what works.

One example is that the local CEO or the country manager sends out a calendar grabber in Outlook, e.g. Thursdays between 14.00 and 15.00,  to all employees. In that way you get a regular reminder and colleagues will not book you for a meeting during that time slot.

Beyond this, we select talents and leaders and offer them coaching and mentoring to ensure systematic ‘reflection on action’, thereby enhancing learning from on-the-job experiences.

When it comes to your call centre operation, how are you reskilling these employees and connecting them to new opportunities?

They have an extensive training programme with continuous development of the products and services that they need to grasp.

They have access to our global online learning portal and also take part in the 40-hour challenge, with some adaptations for their work schedules.

For many, their workday has also changed as they spend more time selling as opposed to solving customer problems. This shift needed the support of training.

As you are planning your strategy for the learning ecosystem at Telenor, recognising a common problem is tool fatigue, what are your plans to combat this?

We continuously look for the optimal blend of online and classroom learning. We believe the mix of these two offers effective learning journeys and accommodates employees’ schedules and preferences in a practical way. 

In our education journeys that last from eight to 10 months, our learners combine an extensive online learning programme with physical bootcamps including practical application of what they have learned online. They also participate in webinars and other arenas where they can interact with peers and experts.



We are also continuously exploring different methods in our online programmes. In the programmes we have run together with INSEAD, for example, we encourage people to collaborate across borders and conduct peer reviews. We also see interesting developments of methods such as simulations, gamification and virtual reality as tools to achieve a more diversified online experience.

How are you measuring learning that happens outside your ecosystem, for example, employees finding content on TEDx or Google?

Employees can register learning activities they have completed in our common HRIS system and get an approval from their manager. We also encourage classroom learning and that employees also register this as part of their personal development during the year.

We also include learning happening outside our ecosystem to be as valuable. A relevant TED talk could be included in the 40-hour challenge.

Change management is a huge component of any digital transformation, what practices is Telenor adopting to support this?

We train our leaders to ensure a good understanding of our strategy and the rationale behind it. Having leaders who can communicate a strong “why” to our employees is key to successful change.

We further emphasise that a good strategy in 2019 is not a plan or a fixed destination, but rather a direction with continuous learning and experimentation along the way. This requires flexibility, agility and open minds. 

Change has become a constant process, and is no longer planned with a clear start and end. Training our leaders how to understand one’s own and others’ emotions, motivations and strengths to draw upon during such times is key in our leadership development and key to building strong teams.


About the author

Conor Gilligan is a director at Degreed


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