EEC Perspectives

Battling for Employees’ Hearts and Minds? Don’t Lead with “Reliable, Affordable and Safe”

Credit: Pinterest

Those words might have worked as a rallying cry 75 or 100 years ago, when the U.S. was electrifying (right). Back then, working in the electricity business was a leading-edge, change-the-world endeavor, like working in the space program was in the 1960s or the perennial search for a cure for cancer.

But today, many utility employees need a more current, vibrant and relevant sense of purpose. “Reliable, Affordable and Safe” doesn’t stir anyone’s heartstrings. That’s not to say utilities should abandon those attributes and become, instead, unreliable, expensive and unsafe. But touting reliability, affordability and safety is akin to Southwest Airlines having a motto of, “Not crashing planes since 1967.”

Meaning at the Heart of Employee Engagement

Simon Sinek has been adroitly beating the drum for jobs with more meaning, inspiration and purpose for more than a decade. His book, Start with Why, and his TED Talk, which has been viewed over 36 million times, are powerful statements about people’s search for purpose and fulfillment.

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Effective and SUCCESful Messaging for Utilities

Credit: Random House Publishing

Our challenge as utility communicators comes down to two separate yet interconnected things: Messaging and Messenger. That’s the Alpha and Omega of communications. You need to craft a message your audience can grasp and you need to deliver it cost effectively. A great message can be undermined by a bad message-delivery choice. And even the best means of delivering a message won’t work if the message being delivered is weak. If you are inclined to sports metaphors, think of messaging and messenger as hitting and pitching, or offense and defense. Teams need both to win games.

Longtime readers know I am a fan of Made to Stick, a clear and powerful guide to creating messages that stay with a reader. Powerful messages follow a formula. According to authors Chip and Dan Heath, powerful messages are:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

Those tips create the acronym SUCCES. To start you on your own path to SUCCESful messaging, here are some of my favorite messages along with a brief explanation of the message and what makes it powerful.

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The Simple, Enduring Truths of Crisis Communications


Listening to Bruce Hennes’ talks on crisis communications for utilities, I was reminded of a long-ago quip attributed, as best as I could recall, to Pierre Salinger (right), former press secretary to President John F. Kennedy and a print and broadcast reporter.

“The truth can be complicated,” I remember reading him saying. “Sometimes, it’s easier to lie.” He was reflecting, many years after the fact, about his work as the White House press secretary when confronted with questions about JFK’s health, the president’s extra-marital affairs and the Cuban missile crisis.

Salinger died long ago, but the sentiment animating his wisecrack apparently is alive and well, judging from the recent lie-driven scandals that have engulfed prominent individuals like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, among others, as well as organizations like Uber, Fox News, Volkswagen and Wells Fargo.

Utilities also have had their share of scandals and crises, probably no more and no less than other businesses, but the localized nature of utilities typically keeps those scandals from going national. One exception is the natural gas pipeline explosion that rocked San Bruno, California, a few years back, and the subsequent assertions that Pacific Gas & Electric scrimped on safety in order to hit its earnings numbers.

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