INSIGHT OUT: T-MOBILE’S INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc. (NASDAQ: "TMUS") is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services by leading product and service innovation. Our advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 79.7 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on quality and value. Based in Bellevue, Washington, T-Mobile US, Inc. provides services through its subsidiaries and operates its flagship brands, T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile. 

Just as T-Mobile is innovating to bring exceptional value to its customers, the company’s internal focus to bring value for employees is just as intense. T-Mobile brings together a remarkably diverse group of 52,000-plus employees, and inclusion is at the organization’s core. The company strives for an environment where each employee feels a true sense of belonging, and feels welcome, valued and included. Insight Out is T-Mobile’s Un-carrier response to understanding biases, their impact and the power of inclusion by focusing on:  

  • Driving an awareness of bias
  • Creating a foundation of common understanding on inclusive terms and behavior
  • Equipping leaders with the knowledge and awareness necessary to be inclusive leaders 

Insight Out – T-Mobile’s uniquely Un-carrier approach to cultivating conversation that truly can change lives.

This case study represents T-Mobile's submission to the i4cp Next Practice Awards. The awards were presented at the i4cp 2019 Next Practices Now Conference.

Business Challenge 

T-Mobile is America’s most-loved wireless company because, where others see numbers, the company sees people, and puts them first; this applies to both customers and employees. For T-Mobile, 2017 and 2018 were years of unprecedented growth in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) space. One in three employees were actively engaged in at least one of the company’s D&I network groups, T-Mobile became a majority-minority company, and more than ever, D&I became a part of the organizational culture. Within the T-Mobile brand, the focus centered on recognizing the company’s existing diverse customer base and welcoming new customers from diverse backgrounds (captured in the marketing campaign “ Are You With Us?”).  

At the beginning of 2018, the company was ready to take D&I to the next level. Employees wanted real, honest conversations about diversity and inclusion. But at that point a common vocabulary with which to conduct those conversations was lacking. T-Mobile also needed a forum, dedicated time to enable thoughtful discussions, and enhanced skills among people leaders to show up in a way that would build trust and a sense of belonging while tackling topics that some might find uncomfortable. Meanwhile, T-Mobile’s CEO had joined hundreds of others in a pledge to actively support diversity and inclusion as a company. Executive leadership expected to make something happen. A solution was needed.  

Solution 

The expected solution – NOT what T-Mobile did. A one-and-done training focused on a specific type of bias or a specific customer interaction was not going to work for T-Mobile or its company culture. Other companies seemed to be having some success with this type of training, but T-Mobile wanted to tackle the issues and topics its employees were already talking about. An Un-carrier approach was needed – one that is unsatisfied by the status quo typical training programs, unafraid to innovate and unwilling to settle for a solution that did not engage every employee.  

The solution – T-Mobile did not set out to solve a specific diversity-related problem or a singular type of bias related to customer or employee interactions. Instead, the company focused on equipping its incredibly diverse employees with the tools, at both the leadership and team levels, to conduct their own conversations about inclusion. The experience is designed to allow employees to recognize that people have bias (both conscious and unconscious) and give them real tools with which to discuss those biases and see how they could impact decisions on their teams.  

The first phase of this multi-year initiative (called Insight Out) presented challenges the company’s human resources professionals had never faced as a team. The group needed to design, develop, and implement training on an extremely sensitive, difficult topic to 52,000-plus employees, many of whom were already deeply invested in inclusion. Teams were already talking about inclusion; the desire was to drive those conversations in a more structured way. That had to start with leaders—from the most senior vice presidents to frontline managers—everyone took part in Insight Out:  

  • The case: A two-layer case study activity focused specifically on helping employees recognize their biases and explore what those were.  
  • Common biases: A video micro-learning interaction in which participants learn about the most common forms of bias, ways to recognize and counteract them, and discuss them with peers.  
  • Check your lenses: A self-reflection activity in which employees draft a statement of what inclusion means to them.

Keeping in mind that the majority of T-Mobile’s leaders are in highly scheduled, highly specialized roles in retail and customer care and spread geographically across the U.S., creativity was needed to reach everyone within a targeted window. The following are highlights of some of the innovative design and implementation solutions utilized in that rollout: 

  • A blended learning approach on a massive scale:
    As each manager within a specific line of business completed the Insight Out session, a blended, digital experience for their team was delivered. This allowed managers to not only experience the content they’d just completed, but also to quickly begin structured conversations about inclusion at the team level. 
  • Customized content:
    Using as a foundation content and research from leading partners in the diversity and inclusion space (Blessing White and Catalyst), the first phase of Insight Out became four different customizations of a single experience. In order to meet the needs of T-Mobile’s highly specialized lines of business, the HR team created case studies and activities to better align with the types of biases and assumptions seen within that line of business with the participants. 
  • Leadership-led sessions:
    The small (but mighty) HR facilitation team wouldn’t have the bandwidth to single-handedly roll out this initiative to the enterprise. So the team trained highly capable market leaders (especially within the company’s retail teams) to facilitate team discussions and teach the instructor-led session. This required significant planning and preparation to equip leaders who don’t typically facilitate training to run a session with their own teams on a highly sensitive topic. 
  • Extensive piloting & testing:
    Most effective training programs include a single pilot loop to gather feedback from participants, but with Insight Out it was clear that the initial rollout needed to hit the mark across all lines of business and functions. The HR team conducted ten different pilot sessions to gather feedback from employees across the country, spanning every line of business, and after each session the team tweaked the activities. For example, between the original design of the case study activity and the final launch, the characteristics of the fictional sample ‘employees’ were modified more than thirty times. 

Just getting started – At T-Mobile, a “one-and-done training program” wasn’t going meet the needs of the culture or the business. Insight Out needed to be an ongoing experience. The first rollout was simply to get the conversation started. The focus has now shifted to equipping managers with real tools and practice to navigate the most difficult diversity and inclusion topics they encounter on the job today. The second phase is being designed to use virtual simulation technology to give leaders deeper, real-world exposure to some of those conversations so they can practice, get coaching, and be ready if they encounter them on the job.  

Results 

Insight Out has never been about hitting a specific sales revenue goal or increasing a customer service metric by a certain percentage. From the beginning it has been about jump-starting a difficult conversation among team members, not only because research shows it will increase business metrics, but also because it’s just the right thing to do. 

Some early results from the first phase:

  • More than 90% of all people leaders completed Insight Out by the end of 2018.
  • T-Mobile employees have generated over 500,000 social media impressions including the #InsightOut hashtag. More than 98% were neutral to positive.
  • 97% of frontline employees have rated the digital experience as positive.

This powerful and unedited testimonial from a T-Mobile leader also speaks to results: 

“I have been with T-Mobile for 15 years, and I am very proud of who I am – however, I have always felt the need to not advertise who I am regarding being gay. I would go from place to place, never denying who I was, but always speaking of my partner indirectly, using terms such as “they are,” “we,” or “my fiancé,” always intentionally non-gender-specific. Again, I have never been ashamed of who I am, but I did not realize the impact this aspect of my life had not only on myself but also on the people I support. I was recently fortunate to have the opportunity to co-facilitate the Insight Out training with my market director, and during one of the activities people were sharing stories of when they wanted to “fit in.”  

This truly resonated with me, as I moved to the United States (Michigan specifically) when I was 13 years old. It was a small town with a very small school. During that time of my life, I was bullied for my accent and for being different. I often had gay jokes thrown my way, among other jabs. During the training, I referenced that time of my life and shared that at that time, more than ever, I would have given anything to fit in. Being cast as the "gay kid" was very difficult in high school especially in those days in a small town. Well, as it turned out, I was gay – but to have to hide this aspect of my being and not necessarily have the same opportunities to experience high school that others may have makes looking back at this a rather low point in my life.  

I was shocked I was able to be so open about my experiences during Insight Out, but honestly it felt amazing. Sharing stories with others who have experienced similar situations turned out to be extremely insightful, and just saying the words out loud took away the power (and perhaps even a feeling of shame) the words bullies used in high school still had over me without my realization. Since that session, I’ve had employees and colleagues contact me to share how they truly appreciated me opening up and commenting how brave of a story it was to tell. In that moment, I realized how important it is for me to be true to who I am.  

I feel a responsibility being in a leadership role with the potential to inspire others. My team connected with me during one on ones, sharing personal stories and their new perspective on the culture T-Mobile encourages, along with the impact it can have on each of us. T-Mobile has always been inclusive and is one of the only places I have ever felt like I truly belonged. It wasn’t T-Mobile that prevented me from speaking to who I am – it was only myself. I am proud of that moment and hope I can continue to support the diverse and inclusive culture we foster and encourage here. #BEYOU!”  

Conclusion

Insight Out has been a huge success already, significantly surpassing expectations and revolutionizing how the company genuinely talks about diversity and inclusion. The support from T-Mobile leadership teams and frontline employees, alike, has been some of the strongest ever seen from an initiative like this. Beyond the numbers, Insight Out has sparked impactful conversations spanning each of the organization’s lines of business and real stories from employees affirm how valued they feel.

The HR team set out on a mission to bring an Un-Carrier approach to inclusion training, and employees have resoundingly agreed that goal was achieved. This content is only the first part of a multi-year investment in bringing together T-Mobile’s remarkably diverse group of employees—giving them the space, freedom and permission to be themselves at work (and be accepted for their uniqueness) while continuing to deliver exceptional value to the company’s valued customers. T-Mobile is only getting started on its mission of inclusion within the company and is proud of its continued commitment to diversity. Are YOU with us?