Let a Thousand Deserts Bloom

When I meet people and tell them what I do for a living, I tend to engender a fair amount of envy. Admittedly, I lead a good life, traveling the globe, visiting utilities and seeing the latest in technologies rolled out onto our power-delivery system.

But I also tremendously enjoy working for a company that appreciates its editors. Our parent company, Penton, recognizes that editors are (in essence) the brands.

So let me ask you a question? Does your company value you? Be honest. Companies go through life cycles, and in different cycles, certain skill sets will be more valued than others.

I left Georgia Power after 20 great and two not-so-great years. I know for a fact that near the end of my utility career, I wasn't providing sufficient value. In fact, I was of negative value as I was paid to leave. Not that I was (or am) at all upset. I was quite thrilled with the financial package (those early packages were quite hefty). But in reality, the company was in a segment of the corporate cycle that focused on costs, while my skill set leaned more to the entrepreneurial side.

Would you consider yourself entrepreneurial? A producer? Maybe you are more of an integrator? Or maybe administration is your thing.

According to consultant Ian MacDougall, different skill sets are prized in different life cycles of a company. MacDougall spoke at our Penton Senior Managers Growth Conference in New York this year. He shared how these four personality types work together in winning, high-performance companies.

MacDougall also shared that the mix of these personality traits changes as a company grows from startup through high growth to adolescent phases, before reaching the high performance or “prime” stage. The premise is that dominant companies will have a different mix of skill sets for each stage the company is in, and if that mix gets out of whack, the company will perform at less than peak or prime.

Companies being birthed are entrepreneurially driven. Then, as they grow, companies prize producers. As a company reaches its adolescent years, it needs integrative souls to keep the various groups that have formed functioning together. About this time, founders are beginning to be eased out. A lack of corporate structure in a growing company ultimately results in the first “BIG” problem. It might be an inability to deliver product on time. Or maybe a massive lawsuit. Then the company comes to realize it can't wing it anymore and it needs to “manage” the business. Administrators are hired to bring in much-needed processes and procedures. It is here, if a company isn't careful, that it will find itself sliding into the bureaucratic zone.

See where your utility falls. I expect that 10 years ago your utility could be called bureaucratic, dominated by administrators, accountants and lawyers. But now I am seeing a shift back to the entrepreneurial zone where innovators and producers are prized. Why the shift? We need to adjust our staff:

  • As we rebuild our grids to accommodate two-way power flows

  • As we gain more intelligence on the condition of our aging facilities

  • As we work to integrate wind, solar and storage

  • As we build out demand-response capability

  • As we refurbish our distribution system to accommodate electric vehicles.

Our utility companies find they must take on a more entrepreneurial bent to meet future challenges.

So now let's take time for a little reflection. Do the following statements reflect your company?

  • Political power is in accounting, finance and legal

  • People are kept on for their personalities despite their contributions

  • Everything is forbidden unless specifically permitted

  • Opportunities are seen as problems

  • Success comes to those who avoid risk.

If so, you are working for a company that is functioning in the bureaucratic zone and not performing at prime.

Conversely, in a high-functioning company:

  • Actions are permitted unless specifically forbidden

  • What another company might see as a problem, your company sees as an opportunity.

MacDougall sees conflict as inevitable within companies but that conflicts lead to better health when companies value diversity and demonstrate mutual respect.

When I asked MacDougall whether a company can move back to prime, he made this statement: “All sorts of flowers bloom in the desert after a big rain.”

So let's see a thousand deserts bloom by bringing innovation and short decision cycles back into our utilities. Let's work to remain relevant in the most dynamic period we will ever see in our energy lifetimes.


Editor's note: Ian MacDougall can be reached at [email protected].

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