Rewire the Workforce to See Big Picture

Kathleen Weslock knows that empowered HR teams can steer the conversations needed to build a collaborative culture at Frontier Communications

From party lines and pay phones to call waiting and wireless connections, the ways in which people communicate have changed dramatically over the past fifty years. Kathleen Weslock has enjoyed a front row seat to this technological evolution beginning with her first job as a switchboard operator in 1977, and now as executive vice president and chief people officer at Frontier Communications.

Kathleen Weslock, Frontier Communications
Kathleen Weslock, Frontier Communications

In between the bookends of her career up to this point, Weslock has held a variety of roles in human resources. After a stint with the US Chamber of Commerce designing and running programs to teach business executives how to lobby in Washington, DC, Weslock realized she had a knack for labor relations and earned her master’s of industrial and labor relations degree from Cornell University in 1983. That education was enhanced when she took a job at GTE Financial and completed the company’s “fast track” HR program. A few years after that, she earned a JD in employment and labor law. She began working as an HR consultant for Mercer, traveling the world as a specialist in the firm’s international HR practice.

Several years later, when her then three-year-old son turned to his friend and explained, “My mommy works in Mexico every day,” Weslock knew it was time for a change and leapt wholeheartedly into the corporate side of human resources consulting for an impressive lineup of Fortune 500 companies. She was particularly drawn to the pace and energy of growth companies, but noticed that while many seemed to like the idea of human resources leading their organizational transformation, few really meant it. So when she received an opportunity at Frontier Communications in July 2015, Weslock saw her chance to be part of both a growth organization and one that was serious about transforming.

Frontier has been actively acquiring for many years, but in 2016, the company took growth to another level. On April 1, Frontier doubled in size and became the eighth largest cable player in the United States by acquiring Verizon wireline operations in California, Texas, and Florida for $10.5 billion. In what seemed like a flip of a switch, Weslock and the team at Frontier welcomed about 9,500 new employees and simultaneously transferred all 9,500 pensions, 401ks, and labor contracts. “Our slogan for the merger was ‘better together,’” says Weslock, taking “better” as a nod to the Verizon slogan and “together” because as a landline company, the addition of so many physical connections has literally brought two groups together.

In preparation for the merger, leadership-development training was offered to Frontier’s top one hundred managers primarily focusing on their ability to scale talent and operations. The training team also built and launched more than 1,000 online training courses that have been completed 214,000 times in less than a year. More than 40,000 views and 100,000 hours of training have been logged. “We dedicated our efforts to not only acquiring but developing and training our talent,” Weslock says. “My training team did amazing work, and I am so proud of their herculean effort.”

“We are like The Little Engine That Could—‘We think we can, we think we can, we think we can’—and we did.”

Since April 1, Weslock has hosted many town hall meetings and seen a great level of enthusiasm and excitement generated by the partnership. “It has truly been a feat of excellence,” she says, celebrating her company’s commitment to growth, innovation, and changing the workforce. “We are like The Little Engine That Could—‘We think we can, we think we can, we think we can’—and we did.”

Studying human resources means learning how to mediate, analyze facts, and inspire a vision, according to Weslock. Of course there are technicalities to learn as well, but the dynamic HR leader doesn’t make a decision without considering organizational behavior and development. She is driven by an eye for talent and analytics, and a brain for labor economics. The combination of these skills is essential for a transformational leader, but for true transformation to occur,  she says organizations must also lead from the top. Senior executives must trust their HR team and be in complete alignment on goals and vision. In Weslock’s experience, inviting a third party to provide an objective outlook also is essential for success.

Fortunately, Frontier’s leadership team has been incredibly intentional about placing humans at the top of their priority list, and Weslock is able to think creatively about acquiring and investing in human capital. “I created a new position called head of talent and transformational HR,” she says. “This person will be responsible to lead all learning initiatives and training development, and will monitor organizational effectiveness.” For Weslock, dedicating staff time and energy to transformation is the most effective way to influence the trajectory of the future.

Having occupied virtually every chair around the HR table at one time or another, Weslock has developed the ability to see the big picture and connect dots in the long view. It has taught her to embrace risk and reject “subject-matter silos.” It also has raised the importance of humility and immense gratitude for her mentors. As a result, she prefers to hire people who leave their egos at the door in order to work hard as members of a team. “My ultimate guiding principle is that the needs of the team come before the needs of any one person,” she says, adding that it means cultivating open communication and clear expectations.

Along with that philosophy comes accountability for mistakes, but not blame. Instead, Weslock says her team learns and moves forward together, asking for help, listening, and having each other’s backs. These characteristics are what human resources can help shape in any organization. For Weslock and the leadership team at Frontier Communications, success is about much more than expanding the business or the bottom line—it’s about creating an environment where leaders can grow, teams can collaborate, and every employee can thrive.