1 P8 A6398

Prioritizing Your Vegetation Management Program

Dec. 21, 2020
Utilities can engage, educate and excite their employees about their vegetation management program.

I often get asked, “how do I recommend prioritizing my vegetation management (VM) program?” The context in which this is asked has always interested me. Typically, it is referring to how to best spend the finite amount of budget dollars for the greatest return of safety and reliability.

However, there is an alternative context to the question, specifically, “what are you doing to prioritize the VM program in your organization?” This question is sometimes answered with silence, blank stares or a defensive response about operations and limitations. After all, the VM professional operates in a truly thankless realm. When things go right, the lights stay on and no one gets hurt. The typical measure of effectiveness for VM programs is failure indices. 

Most VM managers know firsthand where their programs stand during lean years and budget cuts. They feel helpless and typically accept it as a part of the job. However, they are not helpless. They often have the tools available to them to change this narrative, but they do not realize it.

While utilities commonly conduct town hall meetings and deliver direct mail materials to educate their customers regarding the VM program, how often does the VM manager provide direct education to utility employees? When is the last time a town hall was held at a linemen’s meeting? Unfortunately, this is often overlooked.

All members of the organization must understand the needs and functions of the VM department. A great way to create internal advocates is to utilize the three E's – Engage, Educate, and Excite. Every employee of the utility is a potential advocate for VM and is customer-facing. Not only at work, but in the public.

Some positions have more customer contact than others such as call center representatives and servicers. But we have all been asked questions as a utility employee about various programs and initiatives outside of our departments. When non-VM department employees can answer questions regarding the tree work being conducted in their neighborhood, it generates trust and provides credibility to the program. These questions may be asked while attending church, checking out at the grocery store or even at a child’s birthday party. 

Increased support from within the organization will go a long way with the public. Increased knowledge and trust of the VM program will foster support at all levels throughout the organization. It will increase the level of collaboration across departments and may keep your budget from being the first on the list to be cut when the meters spin a little slower than normal. 

Internal town halls are a great tool and use of VM managers’ time. All departments have small meetings periodically. Get on their agenda and customize the message to your audience. Be prepared for tough questions and focus on spotlighting the hidden positives of your program. Be empathetic to their own experiences and develop rapport. 

Internal organizational newsletters are great for communication. Offer to become a regular contributor. Give updates and tell your success stories. Offer tree-of-the-month articles. Stay in the view of all your coworkers.

Create reports and share them above you in the organization, educate and demonstrate changes within the industry regularly. Become a subject matter expert rather than just another employee. Challenge yourself to become integral within the organization and when you have a need or an idea, it will not be the first time you are heard from by the leadership team.

Prioritize your program, within the utility.    

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