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Everything Everywhere: An open letter to Olaf Swantee — from a senior executive

I was contacted recently by a senior executive at Everything Everywhere in the wake of the announcement of Tom Alexander stepping down. The executive detailed mounting frustration from across the business at the lack of progress under Tom’s leadership — and some dismay that the new chap taking over from Tom, Olaf Swantee, doesn’t quite know how bad things are.

The executive also pointed out that there’s quite a lot of hope that Olaf will change things, that he’ll ‘get’ what needs to be done, that he won’t keep the company chugging along in first gear.

“Why don’t you put it down in an open letter then?” I said.

The executive gave this some thought and, on condition of anonymity, sent me this text. I’ve personally verified his position and identity at Everything Everywhere.

Here we go:

Dear Olaf,

Today you start officially as CEO of Everything Everywhere.

This letter should help you understand what many of the Everything Everywhere employees think and offers some advice to help Everything Everywhere regain its’ rightful position as the UK’s leading mobile operator.

Lets start with where we are today.

Everyone knows it but no-one says it: we’ve lost our way. We spend too much time with our heads in the sand. We’re hugely internally focused, top heavy and far too bureaucratic. It takes too long to complete even simple projects and we’ve lost of sight of why our customers choose us. Despite what the corporate PR machine says, it’s clear to most that we’ve not truly integrated the Orange and T-Mobile teams or made enough improvements to our greatest asset: The network.

When the name Everything Everywhere was announced, I think it’s fair to say that we all thought that it was a bit of a mouthful but were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The general sense was (and still is) that the name signifies something ambitious and exciting that could really make a difference to our customers lives. We felt that we could achieve something special in a commoditised and cluttered market.

But there’s one major problem – it’s just a name. We don’t have a clear, compelling strategy that explains what Everything Everywhere stands for, what our vision is, how our customers will benefit or what we need to do. At the moment ‘Everything Everywhere’ is grey, vague and ambiguous and means little to employees and nothing to our customers.

We know that we need to change from being a box-shifting telco and that Vodafone, Telefonica and Three are targeting our customers. We know that our margins are being undercut by everyone from Tesco to Lebara and we know that we have dynamic new competitors, particularly from the US and Silicon Valley. And we know that to prosper we need to offer our customers great, distinctive, personal, reliable services at the right price.

And that’s the most disappointing thing about the first year of Everything Everywhere. Twelve months ago we were warned that during change processes major organisations tended to focus in on themselves rather than the competition. And guess what happened? We focused on ourselves. We missed the opportunity to make a difference. We’ve not created a grand vision or supported it with groundbreaking offers and there’s little evidence on the ground that we recognise that the world is changing.

And as we’re a company called Everything Everywhere we need to be able to deliver on the promise implied in our name.

So here’s some advice:

1. Improve the customer experience of the network

Olaf, the network sucks. If you need proof of this try and make a call in a busy city centre or on a train. Try and get a reliable data connection or better still ask our customers about their experiences. The feedback isn’t going to be good.

Our primary job as a mobile operator has to be to help our customers communicate – to make a call, send a text or use their data connection. If we can’t do that then what are we for? This isn’t a complicated ambition – we need to improve the basic day-to-day performance of the network so that it works wherever and whenever our customers need it. If this needs more investment, more people or more projects then so be it.

Our network is the very foundation of our business and if it ain’t working, lets fix it.

2. Explain what Everything Everywhere is and it’s strategy

Any new business has a big job to do to explain what it does, what it stands for and why it exists and Everything Everywhere is no different. It’s just that most new businesses don’t have 28 million customers.

What we need is a strategy that articulates what Everything Everywhere believes in, how we’re different and that sets an ambitious direction for the business. The strategy must be exciting, creative and distinctive and fire the imagination of staff, customers and external stakeholders. The strategy should go into some detail. Not too much, just enough to help us understand what needs to be done — and to buy in to it.

If you need some advice on how to do this, just watch any of the recent Apple keynotes. They’re a great mix of product launch and future ambition, sprinkled with some Apple magic.

3. Is it one brand, two brands or three brands?

At the moment we have two and a bit consumer brands – T-Mobile, Orange and a fledgling consumer brand Everything Everywhere being launched in a limited number of retail stores (Read: Everything Everywhere to launch 30 new stores this year).

There’s plenty of people who think that trying to establish Everything Everywhere as a consumer brand will be tough but clarity on the brand strategy would allow the business to focus on what we’ll be doing in the future.

4. Innovate to compete against Apple, Google and Sky

In the 2010 at the launch of Everything Everywhere Tom Alexander identified Apple, Google and Sky as evidence of a new form of competitor. His message was clear – we’re no longer ‘just’ competing against Vodafone, Telefonica or Three but also against dynamic new companies who are faster, more creative, more confident, more willing to experiment and backed by enormous resources. Tom told us to “rampage and innovate”. Super words, unfortunately the result of this was nothing different, just more of the same.

So this time lets make a difference and actually innovate! Lets use our brand, our network and our technology to create compelling experiences that make a difference to our customers lives. We have enormous resources at our disposal – we have strong brands, great knowledge about who our customers are, what they do and where they are, we have large direct customer support and retail networks, we have a billing relationship and we subsidise huge amounts of the technology that our customers love.

We must be able to create something special from these starting points.

Yes it will be hard as we have tight budgets and our competitors are vibrant but lets ruthlessly focus our resources on a few high value, distinctive offerings that are really great for our customers and take the fight to Apple, Google and Sky.

5. Sort out the bureaucracy

Please, please do something about the bureaucracy. There’s no doubt that Everything Everywhere is a big business and needs the proper checks and balances, but the business is being hamstrung every day by the inability to get things done.

For example, even the smallest project, change or improvement has to go through ridiculously convoluted processes before anything gets done. This affects our ability to get projects to market quickly.

We certainly need to ensure that we focus on the important and most valuable projects but does this have to be at the cost of acting quickly and decisively?

We need to retain flexibility to back different ideas and we need to have the confidence to become more creative and back more horses.

We need to get a little bit more ‘Silicon Valley’ in our approach.

6. The leadership team

The top of our business is too big. There’s far too many senior managers, many of whom have overlapping responsibilities. You know that, you’ve already said it (Read: Telegraph interview). So hopefully you’ll streamline responsibilities, be clear on who does what and then let them get on with it.

Ideally we’d also bring in some fresh blood. Many of the top team are mobile operator or telco people who’ve been internally promoted. Although this is admirable we should stimulate our business with some of the worlds best talent bringing new perspectives, fresh ideas and different experience.,

7. Be visible and accessible

We’re coming out of several years where the only time anyone saw the CEO was on his way to his office or staring out of one of the companies’ many magazines.

Olaf, please be visible and accessible to your employees and allow people to have their say without feeling like they were stepping out of line. If you and your top team have the confidence to engage with employees personally you’ll be rewarded with insight, support and appreciation and they’ll follow your lead.

8. Have confidence

Everything Everywhere has many great assets. We have fantastic staff, brands that many of our customers love, customer support and retail networks that Google or Apple could only dream of and we’re highly profitable. That’s a great starting position for us to innovate and excel.

A touch of humility doesn’t go amiss. We can learn from our competitors and customers but lets back ourselves to succeed. Lets be confident, portray our ambition and excitement at the possibilities open to us and have faith that we’ll succeed.

Finally Olaf we’ll look forward to joining you on the road to Everything Everywhere’s success.

A Senior Manager

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