At a recent meeting of utility managers we all received food for thought from an unlikely source, a former NFL football player. His name is Eric Boles. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The participants of the meeting came together to discuss common challenges and to explore future solutions.
To be sure, the challenges are now well known and often documented. Changes in regulatory policy, customer choice, increasing system complexity, retirements, harsh outsourcing standards and overall cost containment.
At a proposal meeting in the UK, Eric was asked how he was qualified to talk about improving organizational effectiveness in a traditional business setting. His answer? That the most poorly run NFL franchise was more effective than nearly all businesses. The reason? Videotaped Weekly Feedback. Every Sunday. No hiding. No excuses. Either Win or Lose.
We don’t get this type of feedback very often, but every once in a while we do. In fact, our feedback is usually videotaped too – and on the news, even before the sports updates. Sometimes spectacularly.
Then, like a losing team, we seek to become more effective, with training often a critical component of the solution. We discover that while we thought we didn’t have the funding to ensure full employee proficiency, we actually did. Newsreel coverage of large outages garners intense interest. I won’t list the examples.
He also suggested that “the easier it is to be good enough, the more difficult it is to be great.” And, as we’ll see, therein lies the rub.
Eric shared the story of the legendary coach John Wooten taking notes while listening to a high school coach giving a speech. When asked what he could possibly learn from the session, Wooten answered that “it is what you learn after you know everything that matters.”
We have before us a bow wave of system changes and complexity that will tax the long-term performance of operators, linemen, relay and apparatus technicians, as well as engineers. Eric reminded his listeners – “learners will inherit the world, while the learned will inherit a world that no longer exists.” I believe this perfectly describes our industry situation.
We don’t get weekly feedback, but when we do get feedback we tend to get it over a long period of months or years, even for a single event. Our fans and stakeholders have more at stake than a losing football season. Although, I imagine there are some fans that would rather live through an outage – after the game – than suffer a loss!
This brings us back to what is our dilemma. It is easy for us to be ‘good enough,’ so, we are. See - the lights are on! Nearly every minute of every day. We are good enough. As a result, we get into a cycle where we only build new training facilities and programs AFTER an accident or significant outage. When it is there for all to see on the video feedback.
I’m persuaded that we can lower training costs and improve employee proficiency by focusing on employee development in a consistent manner - year after year - not unlike a winning Super Bowl team. Steadily building proficiency is a mature choice for performance greatness, even if “good enough” is an option. It is how you enable a utility to smoothly and professionally process large-scale technological change and significant changes in employee demographics.
T&D World plans to do its part to help with continuous learning in the future.