Powering Strong Communities

Learning from Change - Expected or Not

Change has been a constant topic of focus for utilities in recent years. Looking through past issues of Public Power magazine, we have been talking about the unprecedented pace and scope of changes facing public power for at least a decade. That focus is not unfounded. Since 2010, our generation mix has nearly doubled its use of natural gas (16% to 29% for public power and 24% to 39% nationally) and more than halved its reliance on coal (from 45% to 22% nationally). Wind and solar facilities supplied more than five times the megawatt-hours in 2021 than they did in 2010 (see more of this kind of data in the Public Power Statistical Report). The changes go beyond generation. Retirements of long-time leaders have ushered in new faces to our industry, the pandemic led many workplaces to redefine their policies and norms, and a host of technologies have modified how we can do our jobs, share and analyze information, and interact with our customers.

When the theme for this issue was selected, I didn’t anticipate how much the idea of managing change would resonate within the American Public Power Association and for me personally. It is one thing to talk about things like succession management and change — and quite another when you are going through them. There are people throughout APPA performing functions that they didn’t anticipate five or six months ago, myself included.

When you see this change in action — it cements a lot of the ideas talked about throughout this issue around organizational culture and change management.

In order to effect change, organizations need to be always looking forward, not back. Thanks to our committed membership and board, APPA is doing just that — looking forward. We are working to ensure that we remain in good standing and making the right decisions. It helps that we have a clear purpose, mission, and vision.

When you talk about going through unanticipated change, it is important to have an anchor. You can just wipe the slate clean, but it isn’t to your benefit. You need a foundation from which to work. We’re guided by a business plan that allows us to stay focused on what we want to implement and what change we want to see. That is powerful. Some of the momentum we have gained through this process will make a difference when the next CEO takes the reins.

Change also depends a lot on your people. I believe in a servant leader model. It’s about we, not me. Relying on the abilities and capabilities of your colleagues is leadership 101 and working toward common objectives is paramount to success. Any manager could benefit from letting their employees rise and getting out of the way. Jack Welch, the late CEO of General Electric, said it best when he opined, “No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

I’m taking on a lot of information about the industry in a short time. Chances are, you are or are working with others who might find themselves in unfamiliar territory and need to get up to speed quickly — such as your board members.

As one example, it is evident that while public power supports the “energy transition,” there are numerous challenges standing in the way, and some hesitance on our part is required. Our challenges to bear include significant supply chain constraints, lengthy transmission siting and permitting requirements, stranded costs and other cascading effects from retiring baseload fossil-fuel generation, pending environmental regulations, and beyond.

Finding effective resources to inform decision-making is important, because we only have so much time and capacity. One of our goals is to provide our members with these resources, or curate them for you. In addition to the resources brought up throughout this issue, we encourage you to take advantage of your membership and peruse the resources we have available on our website, store, and through our various community groups.