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Canadian telephone company enhances corporate dialogue with CEO mailbox.

When CEO Darren Entwistle joined TELUS in July 2000, his objective was to transform a western Canadian-based telephone company into a national telecommunications powerhouse. To succeed, the regional monopoly-era telephone business and entitlement culture had to change. Entwistle sought a competitive, high performance, fast-on-its-feet culture in which employees are engaged, informed and active contributors to the success of the business. Effective communication was essential to this transformation effort.


In his first week as CEO, Entwistle began sending a weekly electronic letter to employees. In concert with the e-letter, a CEO mailbox was established online, allowing employees to respond to Entwistle after reading the e-letter.

The internal communication team immediately began researching culture change factors, electronic media and the reality of effectively using the medium at TELUS. A 1999 internal communications audit had found that only 58 percent of employees preferred to receive information by e mail. Even after the organization was web-enabled in 2001, TELUS discovered that only 70 percent of employees had direct online access; 15 percent shared a computer and 15 percent had no access.

Before Entwistle came on board, TELUS employees did not have a history of directly communicating with the CEO, which brought up several questions:

* Would employee use of e mail change?

* In time, would dialogue begin to reflect the corporate agenda shift?

* Would the concerns, questions and stories that employees voluntarily shared with the CEO illustrate the cultural shift occurring at TELUS?

To answer these questions, TELUS needed to develop a reliable process for tracking, analyzing and using employees' online correspondence.


Analysis reports of employee responses were to be shared with Entwistle and the executive vice presidents of human resources, enterprise marketing, business transformation and corporate development. Secondary audiences included the remaining executive leadership team, the vice president of labour relations and the corporate communication community.


TELUS's goal was to develop a strategic internal communication management process based on the weekly tracking and reporting of employee issues, as articulated in the voluntary submission of letters to the CEO mailbox.

The objectives included the following:

* Formalize the analysis framework to support valid and reliable employee data collection, and standardize the tracking and reporting process.

* Web-enable the process for archival and knowledge-management purposes.

* Institutionalize the analysis process to make it an essential part of strategic communication at TELUS.

* Use the analysis to demonstrate high-performance strategic communication management.


The team developed the tracking system using an Excel spreadsheet, which allowed them to log data and generate weekly graphic summaries illustrating shifts in tone, level of employee engagement and profiles of the issues raised by employees. The reporting, management and display processes were streamlined throughout 2002. The team also created a password-protected web site for the summary analysis report, graphic representations and hot-linked letters from employees.

For reliability and validity, a decision-making tool for tonal assessment of the TELUS culture was developed to standardize interpretations based on three designations:

* positive

* negative

* neutral.

The team developed a similar tool for the employee engagement dimension, with two designations:

* constructive

* critical.


The major challenge with the TELUS CEO mailbox analysis was the lack of a framework supporting management and analysis of audience-generated content. It was also difficult to predict the volume of correspondence that would be directed to the CEO mailbox, because employees also could give the mailbox address to customers, increasing the potential volume of correspondence.

Because the CEO mailbox is available in Canada's two official languages (French and English), the team had to ensure they could interpret and respond to submissions in both languages.

Without a budget for this effort, work had to be completed in-house with no hard costs beyond staff time.


Formalized in 2002, the CEO mailbox analysis process is now streamlined. One person reviews the mailbox daily and forwards letters directly to the CEO or his designee for response. The director of internal communications reviews all messages, finalizes the mailbox analysis and sends the report to all appropriate parties.

The CEO mailbox analysis is integral to strategic communication management at TELUS. The web site functions smoothly and includes a correspondence archive that allows the management team to study shifts in employee perceptions over time. Employees are now volunteering stories of change that reflect the corporate strategic agenda as well as transformation efforts and corporate values.

The TELUS CEO mailbox analysis provides the management team with feedback on corporate messaging, allowing them to gauge how engaged or distant employees are toward corporate imperatives and policies. The analysis has become a catalyst for policy reviews and adjustments.

The analysis project also illustrates the power of integrated media management. Analyzing use of the CEO mailbox led the team to make changes to other employee communication media, including the web site. The opportunity to have open dialogue with the CEO has made employees more comfortable with electronic communication exchange, more positive in tone and more engaged in contributing to corporate objectives.


After two years of developing a process for using e-mail to connect employees with the CEO and effect a culture change, TELUS achieved its goal of providing e-mail access to 100 percent of employees at the end of 2002. A follow-up survey found that 71.4 percent of employees preferred to receive corporate information in e-mail bulletin format.

In 2002, the TELUS CEO mailbox received 1,541 letters--up 17 percent from 2001 annualized figures.

* On average, 30 letters were received per week from employees and 7 per week from customers.

* There was a 21 percent decrease in negative letters in 2002, compared with 2001 annualized numbers.

* Positive letters decreased 12 percent, while neutral letters increased dramatically by 104 percent. (This is particularly interesting given the controversial programs that ran in 2002, as TELUS conducted a major operational efficiency program resulting in significant office closures and staff reductions of 6,000--25 percent of the workforce.)

Mary Pat Barry is director, corporate communications, (aka transformation storyteller) at TELUS. She can be reached at

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Title Annotation:case in point
Author:Barry, Mary Pat
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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