TDS’ Refreshed Leadership Development Program


At TDS Telecommunications Corp. (TDS®), investing in employees is a priority. It’s been that way since the company was founded in 1969. Today, almost 50 years later, “investing in people” remains a top priority. For proof, you don’t have to look any further than our 5-point mission and shared values star, which states:

“Our employees are our greatest asset. We devote time and attention to education and training and cultivating our future leaders. We work in an atmosphere of open, respectful, and transparent communications. We believe in sharing opinions, acting with intention, showing initiative, and having a tolerance for calculated risk taking.”

Just as they are continuously looking for new ways to engage, motivate, and retain current employees, the Company also monitors employee demographics and the overall labor market.

“Understanding the marketplace and our talent-base helps us recognize when it’s time to re-focus or refresh our training programs,” said Brenda Phebus, Manager of Talent Acquisition and Development. “For example, when the recession hit a few years ago, we adjusted the focus of our programs to ensure employees were equipped to best serve our customers.”

Then, according to Phebus, as the recession ended, the Company recognized they needed to place greater emphasis on training programs aimed at leadership development. She says, “We were hearing from managers who simply wanted more training and leadership preparation, so we began re-evaluating our programs.”

Today, the Company is putting the finishing touches on a new, refreshed leadership development program. They are leaning on the current leadership team and a group of 15 well-respected leaders from across many levels of the Company’s enterprise.

The group is sharing their views on the Company’s best attributes. They are also providing insight into adjustments that could be made within the current training programs to help better prepare more future leaders.

In addition, many of these individuals have taken courses over the years. Now, they are reflecting on what they’ve learned and identifying what’s missing as they think about and begin to prepare for the next step up the ladder.

Figure 1. We are rebalancing our leadership model to equally focus on people results and business results.

Figure 1. We are rebalancing our leadership model to equally focus on people results and business results.

Their insights are leading to changes within the training programs. One major area of rebalancing is shifting to an equal focus on the people results and the business results. Phebus says, “We’re stressing that developing and building a solid team is just as critical as achieving bottom line results. In the long-run, equal emphasis on both sides will position our people, and the company, for ongoing success.” (See Figure 1.)

Another big movement for the company includes assessing employees’ aspirations for leadership positions.
“Rather than assume everyone is looking to move up the proverbial career ladder, we’re asking them,” Phebus says. “What we’re finding is that some who are viewed as future leaders don’t have any aspiration to lead. So we’re shifting gears, getting a better understanding of who wants to be a leader. We’re also looking at their abilities and level of engagement so we can prepare them for future roles.”

Figure 2. We are following the 70/20/10 approach when it comes to preparing future leaders.

Figure 2. We are following the 70/20/10 approach when it comes to preparing future leaders.

The 70/20/10 Approach

“We believe in preparing our future leaders using the 70/20/10 approach,”1 said Phebus, “with most of the learning taking place on the job. It’s an approach that resonates with our group of 15. (See Figure 2.) They’ve told us they need/want new experiences, opportunities, and stretch projects to help prepare them for their next leadership opportunity.”

According to the Center for Creative Leadership (, 70% of leadership skills are developed on the job and include:
• Increasing scope or responsibility
• Taking on new projects
• Onboarding a new team member
• Being a mentor
• Learning and using new tools or technology
• Taking on a new high stakes, highly visible assignment
• Taking on a persistent (and unsolved) problem
• Participating in a cross-functional project or on a special committee
• Community volunteering, including in a board of director or other leadership position

Twenty percent (20%) of learning occurs through coaching, mentoring, and real-time feedback, including:
• One-on-one meetings and 360 degree feedback
• Coaching strengths
• Working with a mentor
• Start — Stop — Continue (a feedback method)

Ten percent (10%) of learning happens in a classroom or through formal training, including:
• E-Learning and self-study courses
• Internal training programs
• External training programs
• College courses and MBA programs
• Conferences
• Membership in professional organizations

“The 70/20/10 model is an industry best practice,” Phebus says. “With this approach, we’re providing employees the opportunity to develop their leadership skills while on the job. Coupled with informal and formal learning opportunities, these highly engaged and motivated employees will be ready to step in to higher level leadership positions, when the time comes.”


About Author

Cindy Tomlinson is seasoned public relations professional. She has been with TDS nearly a dozen years and serves as the Associate Manager of PR at TDS where she focuses on internal and external communications. Overall, she has more than 25 years of communications experience. For more information, visit Follow TDS on Twitter: @tdstelecom

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