Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Branding Update
December 11, 2013

Holding an Annual Efficiency Summit

Since most utilities are part of municipalities or are public agencies, people are often suspicious that they are not very efficient. This categorization occurs for a variety of reasons, one being that most utilities are monopolies, so they don't have a strong competitive incentive for increasing efficiency. Utilities do pay attention to efficiency, but it's difficult to benchmark. And having the lowest rates does not mean you are the most efficient. A "you're not efficient" brand is definitely a problem when it comes time to propose higher rates.

So, utility managers need to demonstrate to policy makers (and anyone else who is paying attention to the utility's finances) that efficiency is a core commitment of the organization. A good way to do this is to hold an annual efficiency summit. This meeting/workshop should focus on the status of current efforts, brainstorming new ideas, and setting goals for the upcoming year. This approach has several benefits. It helps to ensure that the organization is expending sufficient effort on efficiency improvements. It institutionalizes the process of increasing efficiency, which communicates the organization's commitment. And it will be a breeding ground for efficiency case studies. The summit should be billed as one of the year's most important events. This will generate publicity, and publicity builds brands.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Branding Update
December 4, 2013

Practicing Transparency

Most utilities are not trying to hide information. But despite their best intentions, they may appear to be holding back because they do not understand how to be meaningfully transparent. In past Branding Updates we have discussed the need to share the motivations and standards driving the activities, decisions, and proposed investments of the utility. This is especially true with respect to planning and finances.

However, in many cases standards are sprinkled throughout the strategic plan or other policies and procedures. Major standards may be called core values or goals. Standards can even be found in lists of activities. One way to facilitate increased transparency is to compile the important standards in a single document so they are readily accessible to the staff. The process of listing and reviewing the standards forces the organization to reconfirm their commitment to the standard, or revise it. It also reinforces the need to share these standards when communicating and making the case for needed investments. It is very difficult for utility managers and staff members to be transparent if vetted standards are not easy to find and use.