Last month in this space, CSVP encouraged guerilla tactics—suggesting five ways that utility staff could cross departmental divides, in order to launch community solar programs quicker, cheaper, and better for both the utility and the customer. Necessary tactics: Community solar requires broad expertise and collaboration. But staff-level efforts can only go so far. It takes senior-level support to assure that community solar and other future-leaning programs will last and grow. So this month, I was invited to offer some thoughts for the boss.
I’ve followed CVSP long enough to know that many readers are working in mid-level positions. If that’s you, we’re asking you to take this one upstairs. And what if senior management comes back with an answer along these lines: “Sure, we operate in silos, and it works just fine. It's efficient and more than adequate. Why should we take the time, effort, and cost of changing our organization?” That’s a good question (gulp). But utilities change because they have to, not because they want to. The real question is, “Does your organizational structure force processes, like community solar program planning, to generate frustration, replication, risk, lost opportunities, or customer dissatisfaction?” Can we all get more done?
If a few staff leaders need to get the ball rolling, they might plan a brown-bag lunch for people from different siloed teams to meet together. The topic could be process mapping. In April, Jill shared a high-level diagram of a best-practice program-design process. While it was not detailed, it expressed an approach. Working with your brown-bad lunch mates, sketch your actual process on a white board or flip chart, or use colorful Post-It notes and move them around to change your current process into a better one. Show when and why community solar includes people from utility resource planning, market research or customer data, procurement, rates, billing and IT, engineering, customer programs, community relations, communications—including, of course, wherever you find yourself.
If your process is a mess, or if your lunch mates from different departments can’t agree on what it looks like, you know it’s a problem. Ask the boss to come take a look—or snap a photo and send it upstairs along with a link to this blog and the following tips.
Parenthetically, I know how any process involving Post-It notes can get carried away. One company, Ubisoft, with headquarters in Paris, started a small Post-It note teambuilding artwork activity, using Post-It notes as a readily available team-building tool. The employee teams created a multi-floor "fresco" on street-facing windows, and earned the appreciation of their boss. Subsequently, of course, the team was set to prove their collaborative skills in a more focused, business context!
As illustrated in CSVP's April 2017 blog, some mid-level staffers may already be working to take down silos, but they need top-level direction to make effective, permanent change.
Working from the senior level, you can take the lead, by adding this sentence to everyone's performance evaluation: “What have you done improve communications between teams and break down existing silos?” And add this to all group leaders’ job descriptions: “Improve communications among work groups and departments, and break down existing silos.” Then back it up with rewards, ranging from a positive shout-out at staff meetings and sharing of good silo-busting strategies, to chances for a bonus, promotion, or raise.
There are many sources of advice for senior-level management on the topic of silo-busting. CSVP is preparing a short white paper and resource guide, available here in June. One of those sources, from the Harvard Business School argues that, from the company-leader’s perspective silo-busting comes down to these two steps:
- Create a Compelling Case for Innovation
- Create a Fully Aligned Strategic Innovation Agenda
It’s the latter point—the call for leadership—that's striking. According to the author, Vijay Govindarajan, “Most senior managements fear that giving strategic guidance to their organizations will stifle their creativity and their willingness to think outside the box.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Leadership opens the box and frees staff creativity.
Goals, such as launching a highly integrated community solar program by “X” date, while moving forward from several concerted departments, along the front lines of utility innovation, sets up a workable challenge. This is not unlike the iconic Moon Shot of the 1960s. It was not a detailed challenge, but it led to many careful and highly integrated plans–and ultimate success. That is, by the way, the inspiration for this blog-site and the CSVP project, which is part of today’s newly iconic SunShot Initiative.
If you want to be first to receive CSVP’s new white paper and resource guide, coauthored by myself and Jill Cliburn, on Collaboration for High-Value Community Solar, please send us your e-mail address via our Contact page.
Craig Hibberd is a Colorado-based facilitator and consultant, with specialized in working with utilities and stakeholder groups to align and accomplish innovation and customer service goals.