Today’s utility customers have expectations that will challenge businesses still operating under antiquated processes. Many organizations have specialists working in department silos: finance, customer service, field crews, engineering, information technology, human resources…the list may be even longer at your utility. Yet, “it’s not my department,” is no longer an acceptable excuse for not delivering for your customers. And for utility executives, allocating resources and managing risks are nearly impossible when employees who lead business processes and capital projects don’t understand all the factors that go into companywide decision-making.

Meanwhile, customers’ options for alternative energy providers continue to grow. If your company had to compete for customers in the same environment that mobile phone companies now operate, how would it hold up?

With a silver tsunami of older ratepayers on the horizon, and waves of new employees joining our industry, five years ago, WEI saw a need to speed up the onboarding and development of workforce talent. WEI has since created two classes that address this need: Electric Utility Fundamentals + Insights, and Gas Utility Fundamentals + Insights. These courses, offered to WEI members onsite or in Portland, Oregon, at the WEI office, bridge this gap with a core curriculum that covers the history, basics of operations, how utilities make money, and emerging and customer issues. By the end of fiscal year 2018, these classes will have educated nearly 1,000 WEI members to help improve their understanding of the energy utility business.

By discovering how their roles contribute to success in a rapidly changing industry, employees can find passion in their work and better appreciate delivering outstanding service to internal and external customers. But leaders also must do their part. Silos need to be leveled and separate groups or departments need to be integrated, so that all departments in the organization have a better understanding of each other’s functions. That includes streamlining processes and bringing more inclusion of women and minorities into departments. But promoting a more-diverse workforce is just one step to embracing cultural change. Leaders also must encourage and create space for new ideas and methodologies. By fostering an open and inclusive environment that supports cross-functional collaboration, creative productivity can flourish.

If your company had to compete for customers in the same environment that mobile phone companies now operate, how would it hold up?

That’s where WEI’s Business Acumen for Emerging Leaders program comes in. For the past 13 years, Business Acumen has helped our emerging leaders become tomorrow’s executives. This application-based program takes an employee’s area of specialty and introduces them to broader functions and industry challenges. By helping employees understand how independent groups work together to make companywide decisions, students of this program are better prepared to catch the opportunities that are missed from lacking a holistic perspective. Business Acumen also facilitates a culture of change by helping students see how leaders lead across different functional areas. Participants interview executives and work directly with peers from across the region and the industry to complete capstone projects. This expands their perspective and helps them see beyond their own business to learn how their role — and their company’s — fits in the energy landscape.

With everyone on the same page and working together to provide excellent customer service, your company can prepare its workforce to better meet tomorrow’s challenges.