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Recharging Employees

How to make sustainable performance improvements at any utility.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2010

updates and presentations at senior leadership meetings. Strategic initiatives with the potential to deliver significant operational value are reviewed regularly by the senior executive team. At these meetings, the team is sponsored by a member of the senior executive team who can ensure that the team is empowered to deliver candid feedback while maintaining the ability to drive its change management initiatives forward.

A third key to success for an improvement group is an internal communications strategy focused on maintaining the linkage to the front line. For example, the ComEd OSBI team regularly communicated to first line managers and front line employees through monthly articles in the company newsletter. Each article highlighted a key initiative. OSBI also conducted briefings for the company’s key managers that focused on the link between ComEd’s vision and OSBI-led initiatives.

By gaining BU trust, seeking executive sponsorship and stressing internal communications, the improvement team has a much better chance of building buy-in and seeing its initiatives implemented. But once initiatives are implemented, how does the team ensure that changes will stick? Sustainable change needs a comprehensive feedback mechanism.

The feedback and monitoring process is often the most overlooked part of a performance improvement program. From the project team, there often is an over-the-wall mentality after hand-offs are made. From a management standpoint, it’s easy to claim victory and just move on. To ensure accountability, the improvement team should implement a strong feedback and monitoring mechanism. A new initiative should be returned to a BU only after a process is established to monitor the progress and evaluate appropriate metrics. At ComEd, each initiative returned to the business has a BU owner as well as an OSBI team contact. Senior management regularly reviews initiatives that have been returned to the business to ensure the functional management team is sustaining the changes made.

Talent, Trust and Morale

Implementing a sustainable performance team is not without challenges. The three main challenges involve accountability, morale, and talent.

In the initial phases of the project, BU managers often can be reluctant to trust the team with complex, cross-functional projects. The BU leader is accountable for the results of his or her division and bringing in outside challengers is difficult. Interestingly, this situation often reverses itself in later phases of the project. Once business managers begin to trust the improvement team, they often want to assign many of their improvement projects to the team. This can present a resource issue for the improvement team, but is a welcome challenge to address. The team can mitigate this risk through upfront and frequent communication and clear rules of engagement.

Morale also might suffer with the implementation of this type of cross-company initiative. Managers on the team could be seen as special, and with their careers on the fast track. This can lead to jealousy and even outside managers trying to undermine the team. Executive leadership can address this challenge by rotating members of the team and communicating the team’s mission to the entire organization. The performance team should not become a clandestine audit team. If the