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General Motors’ Vice President of Global Human Resources Cindy Brinkley (formerly AT&T senior vice president and chief diversity officer) screened an amusing video clip of comedian Stephen Colbert at DiversityInc’s learning event in Washington, D.C., to illustrate a point. In the clip, Colbert traces history of the telecommunication giant over the last 20 years, through deregulation when the U.S. government broke up the firm in order to promote competition, to its eventual reconstruction following a number of very high-profile mergers.
Colbert compared AT&T, No. 4 in The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, to T1000, the character in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” joking that “no matter how many pieces you break it into, it always comes back together.”
“We have a 138-year-history and we’ve been around for a while, but in reality, we are a pretty new company,” Brinkley told a DiversityInc audience of more than 200 federal-agency and corporate leaders attending our diversity event. “And now that we have the pieces put together again, the challenge is to leveraging all those strengths.”
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Brinkley, who is in charge of all the talent development, workforce planning and training, said she has “the best job in the company.”
“It comes down to the people,” she said. “The people are the ones who develop strategies. They are the ones who make it happen, so retaining and developing the talent is very key. It’s job No. 1.”
Brinkley said that while working at AT&T, she sat down with Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson, who also spoke at the DiversityInc event, and his direct-report team quarterly to review AT&T’s diversity scorecards. “We measured this very carefully … to see how everyone was doing,” she said. “I didn’t come up with the goals. The business units come up with them. So it’s all coming from within.”
Brinkley said every year the company identifies top performers at each level of management, including officers, vice presidents, general managers and first and second line managers, focusing on training, mentoring and building critical leadership skills.
This training occurs largely through AT&T University, or T University, as it’s called, which is designed to train managers both online and in learning centers.
Since the opening of T University two years ago, more than 100,000 managers have participated in a robust blend of learning opportunities including e-learning and virtual and traditional classroom training, she said.
AT&T University’s main campus locations are in Atlanta; Bedminster, N.J.; Hoffman Estates, Ill.; Irving, Texas; and San Ramon, Calif.
“I like to think of it as a metaphor about how we view learning and development,” Brinkley said. “It is within us. AT&T uses senior leadership to teach. It’s a part of what they does day in and day out.”
She said the company recently partnered with Harvard Business School to offer content including web-based training, leadership transitional information, and manager and mentor resources.
“Establishing common systems is important and T University drives that strategic change,” she said. “It took AT&T two years to get all officers, senior managers and general managers through [the leadership] course, just because of the sheer volume of people. The company brought them in 50 at a time. It was important for people to get to know one another and to see the company was committed to their development.”
Following the success of that leadership-development program, AT&T started a new management-development program in February designed to increase the knowledge and skills of nearly 105,000 high-potential first- and second-level managers, she said.
“It’s a great way to push this learning out there and work against a common set of objectives. The pay-off is well worth the investment you put into the effort,” she said.