Shaw Communications is one of Canada’s largest Telcos. The Calgary-based provider delivers provides telephone, Internet, cable and satellite video and wireless services across Canada and, with their 2016 acquisition of Wind Mobile recently rebranded to Freedom Mobile, has begun to converge their network to offer seamless connectivity in and outside of customers’ homes. Shaw was founded by JR Shaw in 1966 and, to this day, the Shaw family remain active owners and operators of the business with Brad Shaw the current CEO of the organization. 

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jim Little, Shaw’s EVP, Chief Marketing & Culture Officer, Dan Markou, SVP, People & Culture and Manoj Jasra, Director, Digital & Ecommerce to discuss how an organization in one of the toughest competitive business sectors imaginable is able to execute a digital transformation and still nurture a much-admired culture.

HB: Thank you all for sitting down with me today. Judging by your titles alone, you really do cover the key parts of the Digital Transformation agenda at Shaw. Can you tell me a little about yourself and your mandate?

JL: I’ve been CMO at Shaw for about 5 years now. Prior to that I’ve held senior marketing roles within the Financial Services and Aviation sector as well as time within the Omnicom Group. In the last year, our role has expanded considerably to now include responsibility for Culture, as well as Marketing, which is a phenomenal alignment to drive the type of Digital Transformation we’ve undertaken here at Shaw.

DM: I’ve been at Shaw for over 10 years during which time I’ve held a number of senior HR roles across several of our operations and prior to Shaw, worked in different industries including aerospace and consumer packaged goods. Like Jim, my role has also expanded considerably in the last year beyond the traditional domain of HR. It now also includes internal communications and the environmental and physical component of our operations too. As we began creating a world-class employee experience, Jim and I realized that having these aspects of the employee experience within my mandate made tremendous sense.

MJ: I’m a relative newcomer to Shaw having come over from a similar role at Westjet, the Calgary airline, in the past 17 months. My title says digital and ecommerce but the reality is that I’m responsible for creating the optimal customer experience, whether that is sales, service or support. I paraphrase it as being where our customers want and need us to be, rather than forcing them to come to where we are. That means a pretty significant move to new tools, applications and platforms so we can truly deliver that great Shaw experience.

(l-r: Manoj Jasra, Director, Digital & Ecommerce , Dan Markou, SVP, People & Culture and Jim Little, Shaw’s EVP, Chief Marketing & Culture Officer)

HB: I’d love to level-set our readers if I can. Digital Transformation seems a dangerously amorphous term in the business media. How do you define Digital Transformation here at Shaw and how do characterize the objectives and outcomes of a Digital Transformation?

MJ: For Shaw Digital Transformation, at its simplest, really comes down to delivering the most efficient and effective service to our customers we can, using the digital channels and devices that are such a critical part of their lives today.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, it is about rigorously looking at our customer experience and looking at how to make it as efficient as we can. But that means investing in new technologies, new capabilities as well as new talent, new skills, that’s where it gets very very interesting.

DM: That’s the external promise. But it’s the internal changes required to make that a reality where the true Transformation takes place. Everybody says they have no issue with change, until change comes knocking on their door. It’s that requirement to break down silos, to operate and think differently that is the tough part in many ways. Building the internal mechanism of leadership, talent and capabilities is where Shaw is focusing much of our executive attention. The new business models and the new requirements those models have.

JL: Manoj’s point about efficiency and effectiveness is bang on. The ability to use our rich data to create a genuinely personalized experience – for each and every Shaw customer – is the ultimate expression of that. Personalized experiences, which we now have the ability to genuinely deliver, are what wins and retains customers. Just like your favourite restaurant where they know your preferences and your favourite menu items, it is that personalized experience that makes you come back.

HB: I certainly get the requirement of delivering genuine personalized experiences as an objective of a Digital Transformation, but is there more to it at Shaw?

JL: Absolutely. For us we look at the opportunity that lies between two extremes on a spectrum of experiences and transactions. In that way I think we have a very similar POV to companies like Starbucks and others.

Experiences will always be very people-intense and high touch where we try to build that relationship and connection with our customers. And we’ll invest accordingly. Conversely, transactions should be hyper-efficient, cost-effective and, ideally, low touch. If we can get the balance right on those two dials, through our operations, our people and our technology then we believe we’ll win. Getting the balance right is the tricky part.

 HB: That’s a great metaphor. So how is the journey unfolding at Shaw? How are you having to adapt the organization to deliver this?

DM: Actually this is where the Culture part and the new organizational structure has really come to life.

The merging of HR and Marketing reporting up into Jim has had a very profound affect. It really highlights our recognition that, if we’re to deliver on this fantastic customer experience, we have to be equally focused on attracting the right talent and having an equally fantastic employee experience. Customer experience and employee experience are two sides of the same coin.

Being able to achieve that really does need all the skills of Marketing and HR being co-joined in creating a consistent employee and customer experience.

JL: We completely agree. Having been a marketer my entire career but having the opportunity to work through our largest initiatives with Dan as a colleague inside the same team has been amazing.

We are seeing great logic for Marketing and HR, or Culture, being wrapped together because we’ve seen how powerful that combination is first-hand.

This really has been one of the most exciting and fun periods in my entire career.

MJ: I’ve certainly benefitted from this merging of HR and Marketing and its subsequent impact on the amazing story I can tell regarding our Shaw strategy and our new refined Values. Attracting talent to Calgary is a struggle unfortunately, but I’ve certainly seen more candidates, more top-notch talent, be interested in an opportunity at Shaw today. I do credit the efforts of this group to be able to build that story – and for that story to feel genuine to potential candidates.

HB: You’ve all referenced new, or evolved, Values here at Shaw. Can you talk to me about what those Values are and what motivated you to refine or update them?

JL: I would say we’ve always prided ourselves on having a very family-oriented, warm and paternal type culture. Which isn’t that surprising when you consider that our Founder JR Shaw is still very involved in the day-to-day of the organization. Our CEO Brad Shaw is absolutely the same, he is a very people-oriented leader. This has always been a place where we use the term “we” versus “I” because that’s just how JR and Brad are as people and as leaders.

Brad Shaw, CEO

We were great at delivering on empathy, just not as good on measuring individual impact. We’ve now become relentless in determining that balance of “Head” and “Heart”. Where we wouldn’t lose the caring aspects that made Shaw a very special place to work, but ensure that our employees had a very clear and unambiguous sense of what we expected in terms of contribution, of performance and of delivering on the business. That was a key part of the refresh of our Values.

DM: We travelled extensively across the country, interviewed hundreds of employees and asked them what made this organization unique. It took us more than 6 months but worth the time and effort. Why did they stay and why would they encourage people to join Shaw? It was illuminating because it highlighted some real opportunities to refine our Values. Both for the realities of a new millennial workforce but also to ensure that our people understood that contribution is an incredibly critical criteria. In the past we may have equated fairness with sameness, or treating everyone exactly equal, and that’s just not appropriate anymore. It also doesn’t bring out the best in our people, who expect to see a directly correlation between their contribution and their advancement at Shaw.

Jim mentioned that our customer service model is moving toward a highly personalized one. In the same way we’re retooling many of our processes and employee-related systems to be similarly personalized. We’re looking at investments in our employee experience and asking, can this investment deliver the same ROI to the business as an investment in our network or in some of the technology that Manoj keeps asking for (smile).

It’s no longer appropriate for HR to be a cost-center. It is this type of focus on “Head and Heart” that drove a revaluation of our Values and lead to us crafting a new set of Values we believe will move our people and our Culture forward. We are committed to making Shaw the place where the best people choose to work.

JL: A key realization for us has been the critical importance of our “First Leaders” and getting that key group galvanized around the new Values. And acknowledging the importance of their role in propagating those Values. At Shaw, our First Leaders are the Supervisor level and, as you’ve likely seen in countless reports and surveys, they really are where the Culture needs to be nurtured and modeled. People seldom leave because of a poor organization but they often leave because of a poor Boss or Supervisor. We’re paying particular attention to that part of our team because having them as proponents – and examples – of the new Values is paramount.

HB: Fantastic examples. You also have a unique advantage in that your Founder, the living embodiment of your Culture, is still so active in the business. Can you talk to me about the impact of having JR and now Brad here?

JL: It’s true, we’re very fortunate to have our Founder literally come in to the Calgary office whenever he is in town. He and our CEO Brad Shaw are very similar; they are remarkable operators but they’ve not lost that “owner” mentality. A lot of organizations talk about retaining a start-up culture despite their size or success. At Shaw I genuinely feel like that is the case.

JR Shaw, Founder of Shaw & Executive Chair

JR (Founder of Shaw) often says “I never dreamed this big” and I think he sincerely means that. There’s no doubt he’s as driven to succeed today as he was when he started Shaw.

That drive is something we absolutely benefit from. I can say that the Shaw mentality has been to never trade a quarter for a year, or trade a year for five. When we decide to move forward on something, we always take the long-view. That’s unique in my experience, particularly in this sector.

DM: Having been here over 10 years, I’ve seen the family truly exhibit that entrepreneurial drive countless times. They remain as genuinely excited about acquiring new customers today as I imagine they were in 1966 when JR started Shaw. They also have an amazing impact on the Shaw culture as we discussed earlier.

JR, and now Brad, really are the exemplars of our Values and that paternal, empathy we talked about earlier is very much their style and does come directly from how they act, how they interact with everyone at Shaw. We really are very fortunate to have them so active in building the fabric of our culture.

HB: Wow, that is quite remarkable. With all that you’ve gone through in the past 18 months – a re-org, defining a set of new Values, merging Marketing and HR – what lessons have you learnt? What advice do you have for your Digital Transformation peers?

JL: For us, it has been the confirmation that speed is more important than perfection. To put it another way, action modified always beats perfect inaction. That’s a very “digital” concept but, personally, that’s been the biggest realization. “Get it done” has always been a very Shaw attitude, its served us well in the past and, particularly, in the last 18 months.

MJ: For me, the critical lesson is the need for alignment on direction and what success looks like. Particularly when there are so many potential areas to re-tool or new investments you could make. I’ve been amazed at how little “trading” we do when we make a decision here. Historically I’ve seen situations where a decision is made and then everyone starts trading or subtly changing their position. You don’t see that at Shaw. When we align, we align and just get it done as Jim says. That purposeful action is critical for a Digital Transformation in my opinion.

DM: On the Culture part, I’d say I’ve been reminded about how critical consistency is to get people aligned to a change and to get behind it.

That means more than just consistent messaging, the easy part, but the consistency in how we act and behave. Consistent behaviour is always how Cultures are built, or evolved, so being relentless in that consistency has been crucial for us. Particular in this new chapter at Shaw.

JL: All great points, let me just say this has been one of the most intense and difficult periods in my career. But it has also been incredibly rewarding and, more importantly, incredibly fun. That really is classic Shaw.


This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation – and the challenges organizations face when those two forces meet. This challenge will shape the business agenda for the next decade so we all have a lot to learn. 

If you’d like to share your story, please DM me on Twitter @ZimHilton or reach out via LinkedIn.

Want to find out how Starbucks, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and other organizations are tackling the intersection of Digital Transformation & Culture? 

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