Leadership is a tricky thing. You may have the best idea in the world, but if no one stands with you, the idea has no power.

Every year we develop new messages for utility programs. But sometimes in our rush to get a message out to consumers, we forget to start with staff. Does everyone at your utility share your vision?

Train Local Leaders

Vision EMC logoThis spring I was invited to speak at Vision EMC, a staff leadership program at Coweta-Fayette EMC in Palmetto, Georgia. More than 200 employees serve 77,000 electric and gas utility members.

I’m a bit partial to Coweta-Fayette EMC; it’s my hometown co-op. I remember my mom paying our bill at the Newnan office. As a teen, I saved a newsletter article about a friend on the Washington Youth Tour. They say you never forget your first co-op. Coweta-Fayette EMC set the tone for my cooperative-driven career.

I jumped at the chance to see how the co-op engages staff.

“How can we be better at what we do?” asks Coweta-Fayette EMC President and CEO Chris Stephens. “I don’t care if it’s people, experiences, or technology. How can we be better?”

To strengthen the utility, Vision EMC brings together 15 staff members from every department at the utility, including billing, SCADA, member services, accounting, and operations. They spend one day together each month learning about their history, current challenges, and efforts to improve service.

To help Coweta-Fayette EMC staff learn about different types of cooperatives, Pioneer’s Megan McKoy-Noe, left, shared co-op chocolate, cheese, juice, and coffee.

When I joined Vision EMC, I shared the history of the cooperative movement and how Coweta-Fayette EMC was formed. (Want to share a co-op 101 session with your staff? Download my presentation and customize it for your utility.)

Then the CEO, vice presidents, and the president of the board of directors shared personal career stories—what they went to school for, how they got involved with the co-op, and how they rose to their current roles. To wrap up the day, Georgia EMC Community Development Consultant Carrie Barnes walked employees through building a personal mission statement.

Chellie Phillips, vice president of public relations and communications, created Vision EMC. She says the most important goal of the training is to forge new relationships and stronger communications between departments and with senior management. And it’s working.

“I want to learn to be a better leader,” says Steven Robinson, a Vision EMC member, and lineman who has worked at the co-op for 11 years. “I want to be a better asset and be able to move up at my co-op. Hearing the vice presidents talk about the way they started was really helpful. Nothing happens by accident.”

The leadership and career training side of Vision EMC offers a solid incentive for staff to join the program. At the same time, Chellie can educate a diverse set of staff about co-op messages and get their help and insights to connect more effectively with consumers.

The program runs for a year. After the first 15 employees graduate, the co-op will encourage a new set of employees to apply for the training.

“Everyone here wants to take a chance to learn more, not just about the co-op but about themselves,” says Chris. “Not only will Vision EMC make you a better person—it’ll make Coweta-Fayette EMC better.”

Show Staff We are More Powerful Together

We want to help consumers realize the strength we have when we work together. But the message must start with staff.

We created staff-focused flyers, talking points, and internal newsletter stories for More Powerful Together, Pioneer, and NWPPA‘s award-winning consumer engagement campaign. New resources were added this week.

Too often we focus on connecting with consumers through big social media or print ads, and forget to engage front-line staff with our messaging. They are the people answering the phones, talking to consumers in grocery stores and on baseball fields. For any message to be successful, your staff must both understand and support it, first.

Share Your Efforts

How are you engaging staff in your utility’s vision? Share your best practices here so we can learn from each other!