An Interview with Slađana Đurović, HR Director at Crnogorski Telekom
Crnogorski Telekom is the largest telecommunications company in Montenegro that provides a full range of telecommunications services to business and residential customers. They are part of the Deutsche Telekom Group, the most valuable telecommunications brand in Europe and one of the world's largest companies in this field, present in over 50 countries around the world.
Telecommunications has always been their core business, but to stay on top, they have had to evolve from a traditional operator to a company that highly values innovative ideas to improve consumer everyday life and improve business.
Thanks to this, today they provide customers with connectivity, partners with safe, proven and reliable new technologies, and local communities with the opportunity to bridge the digital divide together. They are a team of 500 employees, of different profiles and generations. We spoke with Sladjana Đurović, Director of their Human Resources Department.
Can you describe the vision and mission of your business and explain how your employees contribute to their realization?
The vision of our Company is to be the first choice of users for a digital lifestyle in a world of rapid change.
We are guided by the desire to win the hearts of users, which is our main strategic orientation for the future. That is why the last few months at Telekom have been marked by the design of a new company strategy together with employees and the introduction of a regular feedback culture. Our goal is to create an environment in which feedback on employee contributions is not a taboo topic. This will become a regular topic that encourages development, because exceptional results are recognized and appreciated, and the less good ones are analyzed. Both the leaders and the employees will work together to find solutions that will motivate the employees to contribute in accordance with the expectations. We based this cultural transition on the introduction of a management by development approach, with the basic idea of the company’s progress through encouraging individual employee contribution. The essence of the approach is transparent communication of expectations from the employee through clear presentation of tasks and clarification of their connection with the strategy, on a quarterly basis, and then evaluation of achievements with transparent feedback to the employee. We have not neglected the development of employees' potential, because now the individual contribution to Telekom's progress is more visible, and the chances are higher because in addition to operational goals, employees receive development goals related to company culture and behavior we want to encourage in the Company.
We believe that only by building relationships that win the hearts of both our customers and our colleagues, thinking about their needs and improving the way they live and work, can we achieve the ultimate goal - creating added value to (and in segments where we have not yet) become leaders in the field of user experience and innovation.
How do managers at Crnogorski Telekom motivate employees, especially in this period of the pandemic? What opportunities for development and advancement are provided to your employees?
Crnogorski Telekom has always had the ambition to be among the most attractive employers in the country. The package of benefits available to our employees is diverse and includes not only benefits prescribed by law and industry collective agreements, but often in a significant amount or scope and other benefits that are not specified in collective agreements, so that employees see us as their first choice in the long run.
As a technological leader, it is important to us that even in times of reduced opportunities, development has not stopped. Digital training through flexible and easily accessible formats is now in our special focus, so we provide digital platforms and mobile applications that provide employees with the opportunity to work continuously on themselves, choosing training topics according to their specific needs. An example of such a platform is Coursera, promotion of which raises awareness of the need to take personal responsibility for personal growth and development and brings employees closer to the concept of lifelong learning.
Yet caring for employees is what makes the biggest difference in times of challenge. That is why in the age of new normalcy, we are very committed to encouraging management through various trainings (from supervisor to CEO) to constantly improve their emotional intelligence in managing people. We insist that despite working conditions, relationships of trust are built and teams are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and work together to find solutions to challenges that are new to everyone. Thus, employees feel greater support even in conditions of general uncertainty, but also involvement in events at a time when many relationships are drifting apart due to physical distance.
In what ways do you promote the balance of private and business life of your employees?
Employee health is our highest priority. We have free preventive examinations for employees and children of employees, programs of periodic and specialist medical examinations. We also tried to anticipate the tension related to coronavirus, paying for quick coronavirus tests and covering the costs of treatment if employees went through the coronavirus experience. In the midst of the pandemic, we approved paid leave for risk categories of employees. And we also organized a survey among employees related to attitudes about immunization, and then we organized vaccinations. Despite the drop in revenue, we cared about the overall satisfaction of employees, so we did not reduce salaries, we even rewarded the entire company with bonuses several times for outstanding contribution, we preserved job security by giving up on announced layoffs and preserved every benefit throughout the period. We continued to fund sports and recreational activities, subsidize summer and winter vacations for employees and their families, and placed special emphasis on encouraging awareness of the importance of regular preventive checkups by supporting a campaign dedicated to reducing the incidence of cancer in women.
That work-life balance is important to us is evidenced by regular surveys on employee satisfaction, in which special attention is paid to health, as well as the issue of work-life balance, where we record results above 80 points among 80% of employees surveyed. It is important for us that we support employees in challenging times, but also that in specific life stages we show small signs of attention, for example, that we provide parents of first-graders with a day off, colleagues who want to be vaccinated with a day off, and similar.
A cheerful spirit is important to us. We have fun spreading the virus of enthusiasm, by participating in the world-famous dance challenge (Jerusalem dance challenge). We played together in the offices, but also on the balconies, as well as in front of the administration building while the citizens in passing stopped to watch us, smiling.
What were the key challenges for Crnogorski Teleko last year? What do you expect as the main challenges this year?
Changing the work model in record time - from the traditional to "work from home" modus operandi. In February last year, when there were no positive cases in Montenegro, we were the first in the country to introduce a system of rotations and work from home in almost 80% of company and adjust the way of doing business so that we remain a stable support to customers, while protecting the health of our employees. In addition, we are advocates of flexibility in organizing our work, because we are focused on quality and not on strict time control. Working from home with young children, for example, is a challenge in itself, but it meant to colleagues that they could do their work for more than a year at a time that suited them, and, on the other hand, help their children with their online classes.
Soon after a year of separation, we will return to be one team, so we will work in focus groups with employees on creating ideas for a productive and innovative work environment, the so-called "Hybrid" mode. It will be challenging to devise, as Montenegrin legislation is not adapted to that framework. In the "high-tech" future that we all create together, we want to contribute to the realization and application of the "high-touch" HR approach. This is not just one of the options, but it is the only way for every leader when it comes to leading people and teams in the post-corona period.
Your company joined the Employer Partner Certificate this year. Where do you recognize the value of the Employer Partner Certificate?
The Excellence During Challenges recognition that we received as a confirmation of the quality of employee management in times of crisis made us very happy and additionally motivated.
But even in regular times, we try to set high standards in work and employee management, which further improve business results and quality of work. CEP is just an external confirmation of the good path we have chosen from the inside and we are proud that Crnogorski Telekom is the first company in the telecommunications industry in Montenegro with this recognition. What is especially valuable for us is that during the complex and demanding certification process we received a detailed analysis of 45 HR processes, and an objective and structured overview of the situation, recommendations and advice, which we will use for further improvement.
We are an example of a stable and reliable partner to our employees, but what makes us even happier is that we are among the first, but not the only employer in Montenegro with this recognition. That is why we will use our example to influence the expansion of the network, because the more of us there are, the more we support the national economy and a healthier business environment.
What are the main strategic projects in focus to you in the coming period?
The new business environment requires from companies high adaptability to changes, rapid implementation of new ideas and solutions in response to market demands, as well as continuous improvement of business processes.
That is why the development of proven digital solutions that we offer to customers remains in our focus. We are proud of our direct contribution to the digitalization of private sector business. Cloud Call xenter as a professional solution for small and medium business, is just one example of support, as well as new tools such as applications for digital accounting and digital document management and archiving. As a company, we remain a stable support to the society in the fight against coronavirus, by providing a platform for the national Call Center for Vaccination 1717, with communication infrastructure and technical support in the implementation of the solution.
We also make an immeasurable contribution to a complete solution for electronic fiscalization, currently the most modern on the market. We are the only telecommunications operator in Montenegro that issues certificates for electronic fiscalization, offering a solution that allows easier transition of business users to a new way of doing business.
But that is not all. In an effort to animate the entire organization with the goal of winning the hearts of our customers, we are launching a program called In Different Shoes. Everything we do, we do for the sake of the users, but sometimes it is necessary to look at things from a slightly different perspective in order to find answers to their needs. It’s best when we do it together, side by side participating in one ordinary day at a colleague’s job. The program consists of 3 initiatives. The first is the Days at the Front - when colleagues from support functions have the opportunity to spend some time in the field listening to the needs of users first hand. They choose the day and area they want to visit and spend it listening to calls in the call center, sitting next to the operator, following conversations with users live in the shop or even visiting the homes of our users in the company of our experienced technicians. In order not to ignore our colleagues from the front in the whole story, who made a valuable contribution during the pandemic, we devised an initiative by which they can spend some time in support functions to get to know some of the jobs they may be thinking about by watching them from afar. Through an initiative called Front in Back, they will be able to simply choose a job (or colleagues whose job they are interested in) to get the opportunity to have a mentor-guide through a certain job 8 hours a month who will explain the essence of that position. That way, they will be able to find out first hand if this is something that would interest them in the future as a career path. And third, to animate the entire organization, we designed the Front for Management Days initiative, as management will also spend days at the front doing the same things as employees, with the additional obligation to try to help colleagues from the front, with initiatives they will take upon return to their teams. There will also be visits by legal entities, in the company of employees dealing with large companies and small and medium enterprises. The idea is that this program helps us to better understand market trends and customer needs, which are the most reliable guide on the path of transformation of our company, but at the same time to get to know each other, help and express gratitude to each other.