Chalk this up as a first for Dominion Energy Inc.: The energy company participated in an executive roundtable, hosted by the Virginia Chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), intended to promote training, development and career strategy. Seventeen Dominion Energy executives and one Columbia Gas executive sat down face to face with a group of employees to talk about their careers. Members from AABE and Dominion Energy’s employee resource groups were invited to participate.
The executive roundtable was conducted as a speed networking session. Dominion Energy first witnessed the success of this technique in March 2017 during the AABE annual conference in Washington, D.C. This experience gave the energy company confidence in the career development potential of this approach in connecting executives and employees. Broadly speaking, speed networking is not about energy. All companies, including energy companies, must confront the challenge of managing human potential in creative and effective ways.
Picture the setting: a large, bright, high-ceiling room in suburban Richmond, Virginia, U.S., filled with about 18 tables, each with seats for three to four employees and one executive. Two giant video screens projected basic instructions and a stopwatch. Yes, a stopwatch.
Dominion Energy may be a quick-growing, hard-charging, rapidly evolving organization (like many energy companies), but some things do not change. Wanting the session to be organized is one of those things. As with all meetings at Dominion Energy, the session began with a safety message, which was followed by intense networking.
With so many different activities going on at an energy company at any given moment, organizers knew it would be a serious challenge to get 18 leading corporate officers together at one time, in one room, for one purpose. However, because the purpose of this session was noble — to develop excellent talent, increase diversity of thought and culture, and grow employees — doing the right thing was not a hard sell. In fact, it is ingrained in Dominion Energy’s culture.
Value and Fun
The enthusiasm in the room could be felt at the start of the session. There was a sense right away it would be valuable and might even be fun, too. It is a given that the energy industry trends strongly toward a hierarchical structure, so it is no coincidence military veterans find this work to be a natural fit. There are fixed procedures and rules by which to live. Still, the overarching goal is to get the human piece right, so employees know — throughout the energy company — leadership not only cares about their future but personally will invest time and effort in fulfilling that promise.
Was the meeting itself part of the message? Yes. Simply getting this done — an exercise in executive-led speed networking — helped to demonstrate Dominion Energy’s commitment to its employees and their careers.
Ceremony was minimized, and the atmosphere was relaxed and cordial. Employees had assigned seats while the executives moved from table to table. The rotations — this is where the stopwatch entered the picture — were 15 minutes each. Expectations for executives and employees alike were intentionally kept open and informal. Each rotation was intended to develop naturally. Everyone was told to ask questions, offer suggestions and tell stories.
Back and Forth
The questions employees asked were answered. "What do you need to advance in your career?" "What’s the best way to learn?" "What competencies and skills lead to success?"
Executives were urged to seek recommendations on how employees saw long-term growth prospects. There was a desire to learn how individual employees perceive the road forward and their place on it.
Other questions also emerged: "What impediments have the leaders encountered?" "What disrupters do they see?" "What leadership traits will help address the challenges?" "What is the best way to talk about this throughout the company?"
Key to Success
Looking around the room, the lively interactions that had been observed at the AABE conference in Washington now were happening in Richmond. This was a highly workable and engaging technique for probing issues and learning from each other.
Executives were sitting across the table from talented, ambitious employees who joined the energy company with hope and determination. Were those hopes being realized? Did they appreciate the importance of getting results? Has leadership facilitated or complicated their ability to get results?
Steve Wooten, vice president of information technology for Dominion Energy, told one group, "You have to recognize that partnering is a key fundamental to success."
He told them, you become successful by picking up the phone and building relationships. This is an ongoing effort that must be constant and persistent. Wooten also told them that everyone fails at times, but when you fail, it is important to respond correctly. First, be forthright about it, be honest. Do not be defensive and make sure you have a plan. You learn as much from mistakes as you do from successes.
The key to the success of this session was the experience employees were having. They were not getting this advice from a manual, a website or presentation slides. Instead, here were top executives — sitting inches away — drawing on their long experience with the energy company, answering specific questions and talking about what it takes to build a successful career. Employees at the tables were taking in every word and responding thoughtfully.
One of the most memorable moments was when a discussion led to emphasis of the importance of courage and how sometimes it is necessary to get out of one’s comfort zone and discover new motivation by tackling new challenges. How else can a energy company cultivate innovation? What better way to learn? This gets to the heart of the matter. There is so much employees of all levels can learn not only from each other but also from customers.
Energy companies reach into their communities in ways both complex and familiar. Energy is generated and delivered. The lights are kept on. Volunteers help those with the most need. The work is fundamental to life and central to the economy. Communities are more diverse than ever, and the task of building respect and trust is more demanding than ever. How is insight into diversity best gained? By being diverse from within.
"To have an open, intimate, small-scale setting to look at difficult strategies to improve mentoring is extremely valuable," said Morenike Miles, Dominion Energy’s vice president of governance and compliance. "We can take this first exercise and mold it, refine it and adapt it to other challenges facing our growing company."
ABBE took speed networking and turned it into a fast-track toward better understanding. Dominion Energy applied this approach to connect employees and executives. This session likely will not be a one-time deal for the energy company. ♦
Charlene Whitfield is vice president of distribution operations, Power Delivery Group, at Dominion Energy. She is responsible for the construction, operations and maintenance aspects of Dominion Energy’s electric distribution system that supports 2.6 million regulated customer accounts across Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
Sidebar: AABE Membership
The American Association of Blacks in Energy is a U.S. association of energy professionals founded and dedicated to ensuring the input of African Americans and others in the discussions and developments of energy policies, regulations, research and development technologies, and environmental issues. Membership is open to all.
Sidebar: Employee Resource Groups
When a natural disaster hits close to home, it tugs at the heartstrings and emboldens people to do something. Members of Dominion Energy’s HOLA! employee resource group (ERG) did just that last year when Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, leaving behind a devastated island and a devastated people.
HOLA! is just one of Dominion Energy’s employee resource groups aimed at creating avenues where employees can engage, collaborate, network, and contribute to company and community initiatives. The company believes a diverse workforce is essential in fulfilling its core values of Safety, Ethics, Excellence and One Dominion. It follows the guiding principles of respect, fairness and consistency to ensure its work environment is one in which every team member is valued so that the corporate culture attracts, develops and retains the best and brightest employees.
Since the ERGs began in 2014, there are now six groups at Dominion Energy that have more than 6,000 participants in nine states:
• African American
• HOLA! (Latino)
• We3 (Women Engaging, Educating, Energizing)
• Veteran Network
• PRIDE (LBGTQIA)
• Young Professionals
The ERGs are consistently active in various ways, including hosting community and diversity events, holding financial literacy awareness sessions, sharing their experiences as learning tool, and helping with company recruitment efforts.
The HOLA! group, which has members from Puerto Rico, took the sense of community to heart when they set their sights on helping their homeland after Hurricane Maria struck the island last September. Their tireless efforts helped to ship 50 kilowatts of solar panels to Puerto Rico that was used to set up microgrids in communities that lacked power. In addition, they collected goods to donate to those in need by filling three U-Haul trucks with employee donations and shipping them over. Dominion Energy also sent 80 line crew members (along with bucket trucks) who volunteered to work for four weeks to help rebuild the island’s electric grid.
All Dominion Energy employees are welcome to join any one of the ERGs. ERGs bring together employees who share interests; increase opportunities for networking, professional development, education, and idea exchange on common issues of interest that add value to the company and its employees.