Growth engine

Responding to the needs of employees is critical during a period of organisational change, says Gery Messer, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific at CenturyLink. We find out how open communication helped the IT services company leap higher after a major acquisition.

What were your key people management priorities when you became the managing director at CenturyLink in late 2013? How have things progressed since?

In Asia-Pacific, our overall management strategy covers five key pillars (the 5 Ps: People, Pipeline, Partners, Platform, and Positioning). People are definitely a top management priority for the region.

I believe in making things happen through our people, and I focus on finding the best talent for specific roles. I am very proud of our team. Every position is filled with the right person in the right role. We have a very diverse team of over 10 different nationalities. Thirty percent are female.

CenturyLink isn’t as well-known as some of the other players in the IT services industry. How is this shaping the company’s employer branding and recruitment efforts?

Following the rebranding from Savvis to CenturyLink in 2014, I’d have to admit that people were hardly aware of us. We then decided to embark on an aggressive public relations campaign in 2015.

Since then, we’ve been featured in the news regularly. This made all the difference because, from an HR perspective, the publicity has made it easier for us to attract top talent. People are aware of the growth potential and want to be a part of us.

Our employee referral rate also went up significantly, and this shows that our people appreciate where they are.

We conduct panel interviews, which provide a great opportunity for people to get to know the people that they are working with. People who interview with me can see the passion and excitement. I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.

You can have the right solutions but it is the right people who make it happen.

CenturyLink acquired web hoster Savvis in 2011. Could you tell us more about the HR transformation in your company post-acquisition? How did you integrate employees from both companies?

In September 2014, the company restructured from a business unit model to a functional model, which allowed greater focus on growth strategies and the Asia-Pacific region. Alliance partnerships are key to this growth outside of the US.

You must communicate to overcome barriers, and ensure that everyone speaks the same language. The global leadership team held townhall phone calls in different time zones to explain the new structure. We also communicated five to six key initiatives, and what we needed to do to be successful.

Internally, we believe that a diverse workforce founded on a culture of mutual respect and collaboration is important to us. We have built an attractive and collaborative work environment.

It is our goal for all employees to feel appreciated, respected and part of the CenturyLink family.

How do you engage and retain talent?

We have good retention rates as a growth company would expect to have, with many staff developing their careers over the last 12 years.

To engage and retain talent, it was important that we created a learning culture that would stay with employees throughout their tenure. Everyone owns their own career. We provide the environment where you can perform at your best.

CenturyLink University (see boxout) was launched two years ago to help sales staff gain a deeper knowledge of their products.

How do you manage employee performance? What systems do you have in place to track it?

We have a robust system in place to track progress, including timely employee reviews and performance recognition.

CenturyLink has a performance management system, called MyLink. It is based on SAP SuccessFactors software. Managers and their direct reports use this tool to input performance goals and update their progress.

We focus on the relationship between manager and employee, and believe that coaching and regular feedback are vital. There shouldn’t be any surprises during a review.

The manager sets milestones to discuss results throughout the year, and evaluates the employee’s annual results against the goals set. The manager also reviews the employee’s results and behaviour in order to determine their potential.

What leadership opportunities do you offer?

Leadership is being cultivated with centralised efforts involving top executives.

In the future, employee resource groups will play an important role in advancing employees’ career development: training them to lead teams, as well as engaging with other employees.

That is something that we’re aiming to push out once details have been finalised.

Currently, we have a suite of developmental opportunities for leaders, from those contemplating a future in management to those already at a senior executive level.

These programmes are shaped by our global HR leadership, in conjunction with (Global CEO) Glen Post and his direct executive leadership.

What are the biggest leadership lessons that you’ve learnt over the course of your career?

  • Be an effective communicator and know your workers
  • Listen, learn and act
  • Get buy-in from your management team as well as from your staff
  • “Speed of Trust”: When you work in a trusted environment, you will make faster and better decisions.

Do you believe in work-life balance? How do you achieve that on a personal level?

I believe in “work-life fit” more than work-life balance. The truth is there is no magical 50-50 split between your life on and off the job.

Could you tell us more about CenturyLink’s family-first culture?

CenturyLink believes that as an employer, we have a role to play in fostering a community of strong and happy families. As a company, we take pride in honouring our employees’ families as well.

With technology, you can’t really switch off. However, I don’t send emails over the weekend; otherwise, people feel obliged to reply.

On the other hand, when there is an emergency, I know I will have a response in minutes.

Bio Brief

Gery Messer

Managing Director, Asia Pacific, CenturyLink

Gery Messer has over 28 years of international experience in High Technology and Consulting organisations, building and directing businesses for global companies across Europe and Asia-Pacific.

He has held numerous P&L and high impact revenue driving leadership positions with industry leaders such as NGA, Red Hat, EMC, Deloitte, SAP and IBM.

Prior to joining CenturyLink, Messer was spearheading NGA’s growth in the region with responsibility for all aspects of the company’s Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa operations including sales, marketing, R&D and customer service.

Messer also led the growth of Red Hat’s Asia Pacific region and the transformation of the EMC Services business across Asia-Pacific and Japan. He led the Southeast Asia and Technology Practice at Deloitte Consulting and had a successful career with SAP, including the founding and launch of SAP Korea. He began his IT career in Switzerland, working at IBM.

Messer is well-recognised within the region as an executive with broad sales and operations abilities. He is a hands-on leader with deep software, services, solutions and systems integration experience across industries from Financial Services, Telco and Manufacturing to Government services. He is very experienced in leading groups across a wide geography and prides himself on building strong teams.

 

Getting certified

The CenturyLink Sales University is an enablement programme, which includes training, study groups, and certification.

All sales professionals in the company need to be certified by the sales university under the year-long programme. It allows teams to collaborate, focus and reinforce skills sets and activities.

The programme focuses on four disciplines aligned to the business: cloud, network, managed services, and co-location. It involves a mix of self-paced e-learning modules and manager-led group study sessions.

The main goal and outcome of the programme is to enable sales professionals to better engage customers, and to also help them navigate the fast-changing technological landscape.

Individual employees work closely with their sales managers to develop their competencies and meet learning objectives. Sales managers lead study groups and have access to guides that serve as coaching aids to help individual team members.

 Upon completion of the programme, all sales professionals receive a digital “certification badge” displayed on their Salesforce profile – which is also shareable via their personal LinkedIn pages.

 

Me  Myself  I

I love: Building and shaping the business and cultivating diverse teams in Asia-Pacific

I dislike: People who miss committed deadlines

My inspiration: To see people achieving extraordinary things in a trusted and collaborative environment

My biggest weakness is: Not taking ‘no’ for an answer

In five years’ time, I’d like to: To have the same passion and integrity in whatever I am doing, both professionally and personally.

 

Training and mentorship

CenturyLink executives and leaders get to touch base with other leaders in the business to provide IT consultation and strategy. This helps other leaders as well as themselves to grow in their roles.

The Executive Business Strategy sessions are part-mentoring session where senior management engage in open discussion with senior IT executives to help them as they speak with customers, allowing them to grow within their own specialisations.

 

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Sandeep Aggarwal, Chief Financial Officer of Aon-Hewitt Asia-Pacific, shares his thoughts on the Workday finance and HR analytics platform. He says the cloud-based system is intuitive and easy-to-use, but still provides powerful insights across the functions.

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