Deregulation and change management in a team environment

Customer service is critical to any business. With deregulation, issues of recovering stranded costs due to public policy changes, new building systems and employee retraining costs are of concern to many utilities. More basic issues of customer service, such as repair, courtesy and rapid response will require new approaches to change management that are normal in most competitive industries.

Product technology, such as the installation of data collection technologies, AMR (automatic meter reading) systems and electricity payment systems will also require changes in management styles and approaches.

Team building is an excellent method for preparing and implementing change in the utility industry. A team is a small group of employees (5-10 people) who define and implement a clear objective for the organisation in a co-operative and effective work environment. Great teams should look and act more like high morale sports teams focusing on a business objective.

Teams empower employees to plan goals on important issues such as customer service and product innovation. Employees on high performance sports teams naturally reinforce values such as trust, communication and respect – values so critical during business changes. As a result of value reinforcement and the successful implementation of team objectives, the overall work environment may become far less threatening during the deregulation process.

Concordance team building

Concordance team building offers a vision of co-operation and agreement. In a competitive business environment there should be concordance among four critical indicators for business success:

  1. Strategic planning
  2. Decision-making process
  3. Recruitment method
  4. Company style/culture

While all four indicators are essential to business, strategic planning is particularly pertinent to the utility industry because it focuses on two specific issues – customer service and product innovation. Any company that believes it will still be around in the long term must address customer service, from billing to rapid response time. As the industry becomes more sophisticated, product innovation, especially in metering, is essential to any long-term success. The concordance vision and its strategic planning indicator emphasises the importance of customers and products in the implementation of company goals.

Concordance team building offers a practical method to actualise the concordance vision in an organisational setting. This unique team approach begins with values and ends with the implementation of a concrete objective.

Most companies want to reinforce values of trust, communication, co-operation and recognition, to name a few. Most, however, do not reinforce these values because employees are not empowered to select and implement them on teams and in the daily work environment. Concordance team building encourages this as the first and foremost team ritual. Values as well as team rules of conduct foster team bonding and high morale.

The focus on one clear objective, within the context of the concordance vision, is another process of the team approach. This is an objective that can be written in one sentence and may be relevant to one or several concordance indicators: strategic planning; decision-making process; recruitment method; and company style. Team members can select their objective based on their understanding and need for improvements in service and product. The concordance vision and team programme work together to give the team a basis for their objective and a practical method for implementation.

An example of concordance team building

I recently facilitated a team for a company that wanted to improve its customer service response time. Each time the customer called in, a customer service representative would despatch a repair person to handle the problem.

This team of customer representatives realised it was possible to address some complaints over the phone; it was therefore not always necessary to send out repair personnel. After selecting specific team values and rules of conduct, the team focused on a troubleshooting objective. They wanted to be trained in the technology and create a troubleshooting manual, which would be used during customer service calls. The ability to solve some problems over the phone might save the company thousands of dollars in repair costs.

The objective was implemented over the course of several months, after the team met each month and then each week to plan their training and troubleshooting manual. The team began to take on the attributes of a sports team. They had their own team cheer, value rituals, team attire and forms of celebration. Despite the sports team appearance, this business team never lost sight of its single objective, which could affect the company’s bottom line: reducing customer service costs.

The concordance vision provided the team with a context to define the team objective. It was relevant to strategic planning, because it focused specifically on the customer and the product. It also affected company style and culture, because team members were changing the traditional way of dealing with external customers, while they were also improving the company’s internal culture through the team process and daily rituals. This type of employee empowerment can positively shape the direction of a changing and competitive industry.

Conclusion

Change management with an emphasis on team building can assist the utility industry to adapt to deregulation. Teams foster the types of value and ritual that companies in other industries are implementing. The importance of a clear vision that focuses on the customer and the product, as well as the corporate culture, allows employees to find the proper context for their objectives.

Concordance team building provides a vision for companies that are implementing AMR technology, meter test stations or new billing procedures, to name a few. Whatever the level and standard of change, empowering employees to define objectives may require a team environment. Teams allow for the co-operative implementation of objectives, and assist in changing industry culture in order to promote important values such as trust, communication and recognition. These are critical skills and processes that are vital to many types of business change, including those associated with utility deregulation.