Belong is Australia's first certified carbon neutral mobile and internet provider and a subsidiary of Telstra. Developing talent at Belong is a very important part of their employee value proposition.
Sometimes you need to nurture it (leadership), sometimes you need to cultivate it. Jana Kotatko, CEO, Belong
During periods of intense economic and social uncertainty, it is common for organisations to reduce investment in training and development for staff; Belong took a bolder path.
Against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Belong chose to invest in developing their People Leaders. Belong recognised the importance of enabling its talent to help shape and embolden the award-winning telecommunications provider's future business strategy.
In 2020, the University of Melbourne and Belong partnered to create a leadership development program. Designed during COVID-19, this 12-month leadership program was envisioned as a fantastic opportunity for 50 Belong People Leaders to uplift their leadership skills. The aim was to build leadership capability across the organisation and set the team on a path of continuous learning.
The Belong Leadership Academy Program launched in December 2020, with an initial cohort of 25 Belong people leaders. The program comprises eight Melbourne MicroCerts and two masterclasses in financial intelligence and systems thinking. Melbourne MicroCerts is the University's unique offering of online micro-credential, a new type of certification focused on specific skills, knowledge and dispositions that enable individuals to upskill in high-priority areas in flexible increments, rather than committing to an entire degree. The Belong Leadership Academy Program was developed and supported by the Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education (MSPACE).
On March 14, 2022, Belong's first cohort of employees celebrated their academic achievement and successful completion of the program at a dedicated event hosted at the University of Melbourne's beautiful Parkville campus in Melbourne.
Belong's leadership team knew they needed to respond to a changing business environment by providing its People Leaders with opportunities to grow and develop.
"We wanted to step it up in terms of the type of learning and development opportunities we can provide our people," said Belong CEO Jana Kotatko, who's been heavily involved in the project since the outset.
"This type of program (collaborating with the University of Melbourne) is a big investment for us, but one we feel is worthwhile because it emphasises people development and turns that into great results for our business."
Kotatko and her team understood that during a time of economic uncertainty, when many companies are spending less on development and training opportunities, increased productivity and stronger long-term results will stem from investing in people: primarily, through building leadership teams that are diverse, multi-functional, and able to adapt quickly to the challenges business face in a post-pandemic society.
But, for many professionals, leadership is an abstract concept that does not come naturally. Future leaders are rarely taught essential skills in the workplace that will help them effectively lead teams.
This is a challenge Kotatko understands.
"Sometimes you need to nurture it (leadership), sometimes you need to cultivate it, and for me, that is a really important part of our employee value proposition; that we can do that for our young talent."
The University of Melbourne’s partnership with Belong ensures that these exceptional learners will push boundaries, discover new knowledge and skills, and build many new professional and personal connections across the University and Belong as they go on their learning journey.
So, how did Belong collaborate with the University of Melbourne to create the Belong program?
The Belong People Leaders were chosen from across the organisation to participate in the program; the first cohort of Belong employees included representatives from marketing, finance, and digital teams. The aim was to support a diversity of thought, foster innovation, and cross-pollination of ideas. Creating a bespoke learning program that equipped participants with valuable leadership skills relevant to the new world of work was a top priority.
To achieve this and identify the aspirations of Belong's emerging leadership talent, the Belong and MSPACE project team developed a diagnostic tool to capture and synthesise the leadership development objectives that mattered most to Belong People Leaders.
The resulting eight Melbourne MicroCerts, which are core to the Belong Leadership Academy Program, are also available for the wider public to study from the University of Melbourne's Adaptive Leadership and Managing Teams micro-credential series. This includes in-demand courses such as Performance Management, Effective Negotiation, and Leading Change. All eight Melbourne MicroCerts are taught by experts from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) who provide the best-contextualised learning experience for Belong People Leaders.
Edwina Chan, Project Manager at Belong and a recent graduate of the Belong Leadership Academy Program enjoyed working with new people and believes its collaborative nature to be a real asset.
"We got to work in a close cohort where all the participants worked for Belong. We had real-life discussions, took part in polls, and completed surveys around what happened to us on a daily basis. We were able to share our perspectives."
We've been on this journey for a year and we are absolutely thrilled at the results of the team's response to the programme. We're committed to it going forward. Jana Kotatko - CEO, Belong
The first cohort of learners from the program has benefitted enormously from completing a dynamic series of online courses that explore modern workplace leadership and equips learners with unique skills and knowledge that is not always prioritised in business environments.
Adam Edwards, Network Engineering Lead at Belong, graduated this year and sees real value in its delivery:
“It gives you skills you can apply during the training and beyond, once you’re back in the workplace. That's what’s so great about the program; you’re able to work towards something special, learn the theory, and then apply what you learn in a real-world sense.”
The Belong Leadership Academy Program also offers further study pathways that reinforce both the University of Melbourne and Belong’s commitment to lifetime learning. Participants who complete all eight Melbourne MicroCerts in the Managing Teams and Adaptive Leadership series earn academic credit that they can leverage as advanced standing toward studying the University of Melbourne's Professional Certificate in Leadership, which articulates into the Master of Professional Management.
In addition, completion of each Melbourne MicroCert rewards learners with a verified digital certificate, issued by the University of Melbourne, and shareable across multiple social media platforms.
Following a collaborative refinement of the program's delivery model in early 2022, the next cohort of 25 Belong employees have embarked on their leadership development journey. They aim to complete the program by the end of 2022 with equally successful results.