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Since much of my current work is focused on energy utilities, I found myself reading a lot over the winter holidays about the future of American sources of cheap and accessible energy. (I have a background in nuclear engineering, so this is my idea of fun.) There were seemingly endless rabbit holes to google down, and I happily consumed many interesting articles as the hours melted away.

I read about innovations for renewable energy generators that can be located adjacent to the communities they serve and operate on much smaller scales than current energy plants. Some of the underpinning technology is new and quite exciting.

I listened to former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold’s podcast, in which he discussed the huge potential of passive breeder nuclear reactors that are ready to provide the world its baseline energy needs. This technology is generally old, but smart ideas tend to find ways to reemerge in new conversations.

As I read thought pieces and financial projections on the future of energy, each idea had some success in making me say, “Yes! That’s part of our future.” With time to reflect, my takeaway is something no article or podcast said on its own, but rather what they collectively screamed: It’s time for a change. Whether driven by a passion for improving climate change or simply by new economic motivations, the energy sector is all in the same boat, dealing with a marketplace tidal wave.

When a new strategy is being implemented or market data is churning for the next big shift, employees cannot help but know change is coming. It’s in the world around us all. There is a lot happening, and since humans are wired to fear change, they need to hear from executives that there is a plan.

Your People and Your Winds of Change

All this is to say, the winds of change are swirling around the utilities industry, and your employees notice. But there’s an inherent challenge when employees begin to suspect change is coming yet nothing is being communicated. The fallout can be very difficult to fix if leaders are not in front of the conversation. Let’s dig into why this is a challenge.

  • If there is no aligned conviction from the leaders and executives about the future of the business, employees will recognize the lack of clarity and make up their own stories.
  • External changes are layered atop a period of massive internal operational changes that are already challenging employees. New technology tools are being introduced to streamline operations and better understand profitability and what customers need, but is everyone being properly trained on these tools before implementation? Are they confident in the new way of doing things?
  • Technology is moving IT departments from a necessary cost to a value-generating engine. Incremental changes to normal ways of doing business without a big picture conversation are often met with skepticism – “What are they really up to?”

These factors culminate in an erosion of trust because the business doesn’t believe leaders are being up front and candid about the future direction.

Three Steps to Prepare Your Organization for Change

How do you get in front of something when, even as a leader, you’re not sure what “it” is yet? And what if you do have a solid direction but still struggle to communicate with your people in a way that gets them on board?

Fortunately, there are things that can set your organization up for success to outpace competition and differentiate your employees’ experience. Here are suggestions for steps leaders can take to mitigate risks while not overcommitting to one strategy path:

  • Establish leadership alignment. Spend serious time focused on leadership alignment, even if that means uniting top-level executives only on the primary trends you’re watching and the ensuing options to your business. You may still be vague on the direction, but people appreciate knowing leaders are attuned to what’s going on and that you’re playing out all the options to determine the best path.
  • Connect to your purpose and culture. Look at the culture – the business strategy beyond six months may appear vague, but the culture needed for success remains steady. A meaningful purpose and values, and the behaviors that breed success, can and must be built today, despite the fact that your strategy is a work in progress. It’s a smart idea to build change as a core competency of your culture, as we all know that change is a constant – and we must motivate our people to adopt this mindset.
  • Share the big picture. Activate the strategy discussion through the workforce. Be sure to communicate and then communicate more, provide tools that help everyone understand the big picture, and connect the dots between day-to-day behaviors and the value you provide customers. Make clear the overarching why, what, and how of change, and empower managers as ambassadors.

From energy utilities to education to manufacturing to retail, every industry must adapt and change to address today’s market, knowing that tomorrow might bring a new set of needs and demands. The ability to change your strategy while remaining true to your purpose isn’t easy. But if you can establish a few core practices, then your odds for success are greatly increased because the fundamentals for a strong business aren’t going anywhere.

January 21, 2021


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