EEC Perspectives

Employee Communications: Showing Your True Colors on Day 1

Credit: iStock

Sometimes Saturdays come on Thursdays. When you own your own small business, you have to flex around client needs/crises, deadlines, business development, client management and lots of other to-dos. Going hard for three or four days in a row sometimes means your brain needs a day off. There are times my brain can’t wait until Saturday for a day off. When that happens, I’m glad I don’t have to fudge an excuse for my boss.

I wouldn’t trade owning a business for anything. Eight and one-half years into running my writing and consulting firm, I’m working harder than ever. But I am also happier and more fulfilled than ever.

One source of my fulfillment comes from learning new things by talking with whip-smart people in the electricity, natural gas or oil business. I feel re-energized when I speak with people who are taking a fresh, creative approach to perennial challenges, like employee communications.

I had plenty of opportunity to do that recently when researching an article for Public Power magazine. Although the article focused on best practices in customer service, a lot of the interviews ended up touching on organizational culture or employee communications, to one degree or another.

Employee Communications Reflect Organizational Values

Credit: EPB

Although I interviewed a number of people for that article, my interview with Karen Thomas (left), assistant vice president for customer relations for the Chattanooga Electric Power Board (EBP), a public power electric and telecommunications utility, really stood out.

A good bit of our conversation focused on EPB’s organizational transformation and the importance of clear and consistent communications.

It took EPB’s leaders years of concerted effort to become more customer-centered, Karen recalled. “It all starts with culture, and it has to start at the top. We looked at every business process we had and asked, ‘Do we do this for our convenience, or our customer’s convenience?’ If it was for our convenience, we changed it.”

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“Holy Kilowatts, Batman!” So What’s Your Story?

Credit: John Egan

Have you ever left an energy conference and run into a life-sized Pikachu Pokémon©? How about coming face to face with a Star Wars stormtrooper©?

I recently encountered those and many other colorful characters, most of whom I didn’t recognize, when the energy conference I was attending, HydroVision International, was ending while Denver Comic Con was starting.

Credit: John Egan

Both events shared the same space, in the Colorado Convention Center, for a few hours on a recent Friday morning.

The co-location of those two very different events helped explain the 150% increase in parking I had to pay for that one day—from $12 per day to $30 per day. Apparently, Batman© needed the space to park his Batmobile©.

Talk about two really different ships passing in the night: 3,000 hydroelectric experts were exiting the convention enter while roughly 115,000 comic-book character aficionados were starting to stream into it. Each member of each community was immersed deeply in their own world. Each a bit insular, even quirky.

Credit: John Egan

As I took in the performance art that was Comic Con, I realized our industry’s stories aren’t quite as colorful as the Batman creation myth, or the back stories that inform the Riddler©, Penguin© or Mad Hatter©, villains Batman and Robin© opposed on a weekly basis in the campy 1960s TV show (right). So be it. That just means we have to try harder.

Part of the title of this post came from Robin’s fevered expressions whenever he or Batman were threatened by the vile villains in Gotham City. In fact, there’s a website that catalogs all 368 of Robin’s “Holy ….!” exclamations from the “Batman” TV series. You can’t make this stuff up!

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Utility Communications: Don’t Overlook (Or Shoot!) The Messenger

When I write or speak about utility communications, I tend to focus on the “message” part of the communications process, i.e., which words should be used and which ones should be avoided in order to achieve a desired result. Like this post. And this post. Last month, when I spoke at the American Public Power Association’s National Conference, I focused on messengers, and I learned a lot.

I started my talk by reducing the communications process to its most elemental pieces, “message” and “messenger.” At a high level, everything about communications fits into one of those bins. Like the two interdependent pieces of the yin yang symbol (above),“message” and “messenger” fit together to form a whole. They can’t exist on their own. They gain strength from the other.

Think about it. A bad message can’t be effective regardless of the delivery system you select. And a bad message-delivery system will undermine even the best message.

Credit: Toby Sellier

In speaking to the APPA audience, my co-panelists and I focused on the messenger, specifically how utility retirees, employees and members of the community could be effective messengers for points a utility may want to make. The degree to which these messengers would succeed depended on their credibility and the quality or believability of the message.

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