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The Power of Motivation

Discerning what utility employees consider important.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2012

recognized the value of providing leadership skills training. For more than 10 years, BPA has successfully prepared leaders of the future by providing pre-supervisory workshops designed to help employees determine whether they want to move into a leadership role or to remain an independent contributor. Most participants find such workshops to be a valuable opportunity to not only learn important leadership and teambuilding skills, but how to target career choices in the future.

Steven Theobald, safety and training consultant for Xcel Energy, says the utility also has provided leadership skills training and tools for more than 1,200 field and support personnel. “Providing workshop participants with an opportunity to share ideas, practice key skills and learn how to build a collaborative relationship with management is important to more effectively motivating crews and teams,” Theobald says.

Improper Tools & Equipment: Try writing a report without paper, completing a budget with a broken calculator, or engineering a project with an obsolete computer. The same irritation and frustration is shared by employees who lack essential equipment to complete assigned tasks. One operator speaks for many when she says, “Inefficient radios and cell phones, incomplete procedures, and outdated equipment make it hard to do our job.” Another forcefully states, “How can management expect us to work safely and provide exceptional service without proper materials?”

Appropriate tools and equipment have the potential to motivate employees as a physical example of management’s willingness to provide necessary resources. Further, if managers don’t regularly solicit input and take action, poor quality materials translate into a serious demotivator and prime source of negative attitudes among those who feel powerless to make changes.

Randy Williams, a field operations supervisor with Dayton Power & Light, says, “Proper tools and equipment promotes operational effectiveness, personal health, safety, property protection, and cost effectiveness.”

DP&L provides another best practice example, as the company actively promotes employee involvement through its 24x7 safety committee process, made up of union and management personnel. Williams says, “All tools start with this committee. If the committee decides to test the tool, then it goes out to the field for trial testing.” Field employees report back to the committee for a decision to purchase. DP&L employees are involved throughout the process and have a sense of ownership that shows respect for their opinions.

Micro-Management: The majority of utility employees are highly trained and personally motivated. They have the skills and experience to perform at extraordinary levels, when given the opportunity. However, as a senior line crew leader says, “The last thing we need is someone constantly looking over our shoulder and second guessing our decisions.” Employees in the field call it “bird-dogging,” and it clearly communicates a lack of trust. Not only is micro-managing a key demotivator, but it comes across as disrespectful, with an emotional impact that limits creativity, discourages teamwork, and becomes a prime source of apathy.

While meaningful involvement and trust are powerful motivators for improving individual and team performance, employees have real concerns about their supervisors closely controlling and critically assessing every detail of projects and job