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Code of Character – Field Report #2

At the NERC workshop, the attendees recognized that it is not possible to achieve workplace mastery without developing a strong workplace character.

Following our invitational speech during the general session of the 2019 NERC HP conference, we conducted two separate, well-attended workshops. The workshops were designed to inform, engage and solicit input from each individual such that we could begin to construct an electric utility code of character, one word at a time.  This is not unlike building a modest cathedral, stone by stone. It is our intent that the code, like the cathedral, will stand the test of time.

Freshly inspired by Chief Pfeifer’s description of the NYFD firefighter response during 9/11, we started the workshops with industry-specific, but related parallels. Unlike the fire department, we are not charged with conducting heroic acts like charging into burning buildings to save the lives of others. Rather, we are charged with doing the correct thing, every time, even if we don’t want to. Our reasons may be informed or uninformed, conscious, subconscious or unconscious, well-intended or not, but nonetheless still require disciplined, careful thought, every time. 

We started our workshop by first reviewing the DOE’s Five Principles of HP, Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, and then in more detail, Bloom’s Taxonomy. We then focused on the Affective Column of Bloom’s Taxonomy, recognizing how a strong, developed workplace character can manage and train our emotions and by extension, the quality and safety of our decisions. 

We also recognized that it is not possible to achieve workplace mastery without developing a strong workplace character. We agreed that we must train our emotions by strengthening our character in a deliberate, industry-specific manner.  We further discussed that it was essential for us to learn how to detect, identify and manage our moods, attention and focus in order to achieve mastery. Next, we saw how character development can literally reprogram our “Thinking Fast” thinking.   

We illustrated how the definition of character-based decision-making evolves over time, using motor vehicle seatbelts as a case in point. For example, as a nation, we initially scoffed at seat belt use, but now only the rare person will not wear a seat belt.   Most of us will not even put the car into drive unless all passengers are securely belted.

We also discussed how character strengths,as defined by the VIA Institute on Character, was different from the ethical notion character (i.e., whether or not someone robs a bank).   Workplace character points to one’s “strength of character.”   These are deliberately cultivated, essential habits and ways of thinking that ensure we make accurate decisions when under pressure, when the environment is new or confusing, or when existing processes and procedures are no longer accurate or sufficient.

We explored the codes used in other industries, including the military, the aviation community and the medical field. In particular, we carefully reviewed the Hippocratic Oath and the Navy Seal Ethos and Codes and used language from these existing codes to begin developing our own.

We saw that is not possible to grow our character in an industry-specific manner without first defining the anchor or bedrock code.  If we don’t have a code, we can’t be industry specific.  If we’re not industry-specific, then we can’t prepare for those personal and organizational challenges that will surface in the future.

The next step in the workshop was to explore our own deeply held character strengths.  We did this by taking the values in action character strengths assessment, which can be found at http://www.viacharacter.org.  While there more extensive paid options available, we found that the free version was sufficient.   

After we completed the assessment, we charted our top five character strengths, looking to see if there were similarities between the two workshops.  We asked ourselves if the pattern we detected was significant or unique to electric utility workers or consistent with the general population. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have the answer but we’re hoping to have a response for Field Report #3.

Lastly, each table team was challenged to brainstorm and produce two lines of code specific to the electric utility industry. After intense brainstorming and debating, no one was disappointed with the results! In addition to answering the above question, our next Field Report will share results from the two workshops and include a skeletal framework based on a careful examination of other example codes. Thank you for staying connected while we collectively build this code. If you have any additional thoughts or perspectives, you can reach me at [email protected].

Take care,

Tom Cohenno, EdD and Anna Campbell, MA

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