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Innovation Leaders or Assassins Decide Electric Utilities’ Future

Last week, we shared that the key to responding effectively during a crisis is for managers to establish trust with their employees before a disruptive incident occurs. That same trust is also vital for managers to foster innovation that will move electric utilities into the future.

There are four types of workers within electric utilities:

  1. Innovation Leaders

  2. Innovation Supporters

  3. Innovation Resters

  4. Innovation Assassins

Electric utilities must support innovation leaders to continue to provide reliable electric power in a world with climate change, embrace climate mitigation strategies, and promote updates to the grid to better support renewable energy sources and electric vehicles. Also critical is for key managers to be able to identify and resist the influence of innovation assassins. When innovation leaders outnumber innovation assassins within a company, that company is far more likely to lead the way to new levels of industry best.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the four types of workers, as well as the ways in which key managers can encourage their team to become innovation leaders and supporters.

The 4 Types of Workers Explained

On every electric utility staff, there are four types of workers:

  1. Innovation Leaders who recognize that change is vital for the industry to remain relevant, and actively challenge the status quo for the betterment of their teams and the industry as a whole.

  2. Innovation Supporters who are happy to support the ideas and follow the directives of innovation leaders, while efficiently getting their work done.

  3. Innovation Resters who are satisfied with the status quo of standard industry practices. These team members are resistant to change, though not actively.

  4. Innovation Assassins who actively work against innovation leaders. These team members actively promote the idea that change is impossible, and that maintaining the status quo is essential.

Figure 1 illustrates Prescient’s energy-attitude matrix, which assesses these four types of team members in terms of ability to innovate and zeal regarding innovation.

It is important to note that not all innovation leaders will be managers. Innovation leaders can be any staff member, from the newest addition to those nearing retirement. However, all managers should be innovation leaders, or at the very least, innovation supporters, in terms of both management and industry best practices.

Industry Best or Bound to Fail?

For any company to become industry best, innovation leaders must outnumber innovation assassins on all teams. Industry best is a moving target, and innovation leaders are likely to have frequent ideas that keep the wheels of innovation turning. Table 1 illustrates the percentage of each type of worker on a team and the level of achievement that Prescient predicts for that team.

There is a strong relationship between the percentage of worker types, their attitude and energy level, and the likelihood of a team to be industry best, average, mediocre, or bound to fail.

Managers Facilitate Their Team’s Success

Managers can increase their team’s ability to innovate by setting clear expectations, following through on their commitments, and rewarding their team for their ideas or successes. Managers can improve team members’ attitudes by listening to their concerns and addressing them promptly or encouraging the group to work towards solutions together.

However, the opposite is also true: by not setting clear expectations, procrastinating on team concerns, and not following through on commitments, key managers are likely to establish a team of resters who do not have a strong drive to contribute to the team. A team of resters is far more likely to be swayed to resist change by an innovation assassin.

Innovation assassins exist within every industry but are particularly vocal in the electric utility industry. They have a strong drive to resist change, and often rise through the ranks of electric utilities to become high level managers themselves.

Tools for Improved Team Energy and Attitude

Every innovation leader’s goal is to encourage high energy and good attitudes. To do this, they must rely on personal integrity and thoughtful recognition of their employees, which will fuel and support innovative leadership.

Personal integrity is evident when managers keep their promises, fulfill team expectations, and take time to understand each team members’ values and concerns. Managers should lead by example by upholding their own personal integrity.

Thoughtful recognition can include one-on-one meetings away from cell phones, email, and chat services. Handwritten notes or thoughtful emails show staff that their manager cares enough to take a few minutes out of their day to recognize their employees. Personalized rewards that reflect an individual’s values show the recipient that their manager understands what is important to the individual staff member.

Lead the Way to Industry Best

Key managers who wish to encourage their staff to become innovation leaders and supporters must embrace change and actively challenge the status quo for the betterment of their team and the electric utility industry. Leading by example will encourage staff to innovate, grow, and share their new ideas. When innovation leaders and supporters make up 70% or more of a company’s staff, that company will lead the way to industry best.

To learn more about Prescient’s ideas for the next generation electric power grid, which includes updates to electric utilities’ management best practices, contact us. We are happy to schedule a presentation or webinar on innovative management practices for electric utilities.

This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.

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