How to start your move to the cloud

2021 was the year of the public cloud in telco.

So, what’s next? I’ve convinced a lot of telco execs that they should move to the public cloud. Now, I’m having the next conversation with many of them: how do we start? My answer might shock you. It starts with human resources.

It’s about changing the culture

When we talk about tech and we talk about change, we hardly ever talk about the thing that makes it all possible: the people inside your company. I spent a decade working in human resources (HR) and one of the biggest lessons I learned is that making lasting, effective organizational change often requires an intentional change to your culture.

Changing a company’s culture is hard work. It means you’re changing the implicit contract and expectations about what the company is about and what the work consists of. A change like a move to the public cloud threatens to upset those expectations. If you don’t intentionally prepare your workforce for a change, then expect rough waters through any type of transformation.

Why transformations fail

The biggest mistake organizations make is in the way they communicate the change. Leaders generally do a good job of explaining why change is good for the company. They often don’t do a good job of explaining why change is good for the people in the company.

Employees fight change because they don’t know if the effort required is going to be worth it to them, personally. This manifests itself with indirect excuses about all the things that will go wrong with a move to the public cloud. For example, maybe they tell you how it won’t work. It’s too expensive. The laws won’t allow it. You don’t have the right talent with the right skills. Perhaps your managers are pushing back because a move to the cloud means you likely won’t need as many people as you currently have, and nobody wants to be the bad guy and exit employees. Maybe they’ll resist hiring people and restaffing – it’s so much work! Recognize what’s really going on: people are resisting the change because they don’t know or don’t understand what’s in it for them. So make it clear.

Cascade your message through the org

Maslow's Pyramid

To make a big change like adopting the public cloud and going all-in, you have to get buy-in at every level. Start with your executive team, but don’t stop there. You have to reach everybody, cascading all the way through the org chart and all the way to the entry-level individual contributors. For the average telco, we’re talking about hundreds and thousands of people. That’s a lot of mind changing. You’re going to need to repeat it until you are blue in the face, then repeat it again.

Make it clear why doing things differently will be good for their career, skillset, and pocketbook. How is it going to make their lives better? Until people know the benefits and believe in them, they’ll continue to fight it.

Lead courageously

When you move to the public cloud, you’re going to change how people get work done and how they make technical decisions. Instead of building things in-house, they’re going to use someone else’s solution. The new influx of talent will change the vibe of the company. The pace of the company will change too, as the public cloud accelerates your capabilities. All of these things will change your culture, whether you like it or not. So create a plan.

This is pretty fundamental stuff. Safety is the second level of Maslow’s pyramid, just above the physiological level of food and water. To illustrate the idea, we had a little fun riffing on Maslow to make the “Why I Work Here” pyramid above.

To get people on board, help them see all the positives in the levels of the pyramid. For example, take that paycheck in level one: People with AWS, Google Cloud or Azure skills who don’t already work for those tech giants see a 20-30% increase in pay when they gain cloud experience. If your engineers help with the transition, they’ll build a very marketable skill set. And it works both ways – the hyperscalers are looking for people with telco expertise, too.

Another example at levels four and five: It’s more fulfilling to work on the latest and greatest technology. Engineers rightly see on-premise solutions as old, boring stuff from the ‘90s. For the best and brightest, learning new skills and working on the cutting edge is personally fulfilling. (Inside tip: I hear from telco industry people all the time who want to work for me because I’m working with the “cool tech.”)

Moving to the cloud will change your business and your culture. To be successful, the transformation has to be intentional. You must think through how people’s daily lives will be affected and change. It can’t be a side effect. It can’t be an afterthought. You have to drive it to make it happen.

How do you start convincing people that the change is right?

Leadership guru and SVP of human resources Jim Abolt puts “What’s in it for me?” in the number two position in his five-step framework for change, which I share in detail in my blogs Go Get ‘em (Part One) and Go Get ‘em (Part Two). Follow Jim’s framework for change. (Hear more of his philosophy in my podcasts episodes one and seven.) Or read this paper, which lays out how to trigger your transformation. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions. We can help!

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