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The Power of Motivation

Discerning what utility employees consider important.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2012

lost forever.

James Aker, a Duke Energy field supervisor, says “I always try to make my team part of the decisions I make. I feel this shows that I trust their views and gives them a reason to strive to meet our goals.” Building strong relationships, inspiring trust, and gaining commitment doesn’t begin behind a desk. As one lead operator says, “The managers we respect the most are those get out of their offices and spend time finding out who we are and what we need to be successful.” Loyalty and trust are absolutes. Employees who feel genuinely valued become empowered to generate creative solutions and work more collaboratively as a team.

Challenging Work: Similar to meaningful involvement, participants consistently state that one of the most powerful motivators is the opportunity to creatively use their skills and talents. Building a meaningful work environment not only engages employees, but provides a true sense of ownership and pride. Job sharing, job enrichment, cross-departmental training, seminars, and other innovative work methods measurably increase overall job satisfaction.

For the past 18 months, 157 coal yard operations and maintenance personnel at the Sherco plant in Becker, Minn., have learned how to create motivated work teams. With strong support from Plant Director Ron Brevig and his senior leaders, employees share an almost instinctive need to have some measure of control and freedom over their work. They’ve offered suggestions to improve procedures, upgrade equipment, and re-define processes in ways that increase safety and allow them to have a say in how goals are achieved.

Cross-Departmental Cooperation and Training: Unanimously, utility employees say they want to provide exceptional internal and external service. They’re more than capable of exceeding expectations when management supports initiatives for departments to work as a united team.

However, most agree that it’s almost impossible to offer excellent service unless departments have identified ways for working together with their internal customers. Understanding the goals, expectations, and needs of support groups provides a critical foundation for ultimately delivering a level of care and service that personally motivates employees to achieve success.

Tim Burke, vice president of customer service and public affairs for Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), says the utility’s senior management team “knows the value of creating opportunities for departments to share ideas and clarify expectations.” As a best practice example, Burke and his team make sure collaboration translates into a clear set of shared behaviors. They not only meet with every new hire or intra-company transfer, but hold monthly roundtables of 12 to 15 employees from a cross-section of customer service departments to provide company information and business updates, and to address several fundamental questions: What are some of our successes, and why? What are some of our roadblocks or failures, and why? And what could we have done differently?

The next step is for Burke and other senior leaders to actively listen for solutions their employees offer. Management can then use that information for making changes based on the combined strengths of those closest to customers.

Demotivating Factors

If it’s critical to identify