Restoration: Why We’re All In This Business

When you’re in the utility restoration business, you think a lot about things like CAIDI, SAIDI, SAIFI, ETR’s.  You concentrate on developing plans and having enough personnel and effective resource mobilization. And you have to deal with more than your fair share of internal conflict and chaos, constantly worrying about a proverbial bad exchange or process bottleneck. Or worrying about what the utility regulators are going to say.

With so much to do and not enough time or resources to do it, sometimes it’s easy to forget about the real driver of our plans and our work – the customer.

When a customer is out of service, it’s not just a number in the Outage Management System – it’s a person, a family, a business that’s impacted. It’s an elderly man without heat, or a young mother who’s trying to figure out how to heat up the baby’s formula.  It’s a small business wondering when they will be able to use their credit card machine. It’s a manufacturer that had to shut down a line of extruders and is worried about missing an important delivery deadline to a key customer.

When people are removed from the action in the field, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact. It’s different for field personnel.  They usually hear the frustration first-hand when service is disrupted for a long period of time and customers can’t get a good answer about when it’s coming back on. On the other hand, they also hear the thanks, and the outpouring of gratitude when service is restored.

But what about the rest of us? Stuck in our processes, working the numbers, staying up all night, manning the phones.  For those of us in the Storm Room working our second roles, restoration work rides a roller coaster from stress to boredom and back again, with a lot of bad coffee along the way.

As a result, in the field or in the storm room, conflict can result.  Whether it’s personal, task-oriented or disagreement about how to achieve our goals, such conflicts can threaten the best laid plans.  And that might be a good thing.

As Leigh L. Thompson points out in his book, Making The Team, A Guide For Managers, conflict can lead to creativity and greater effectiveness.  In fact, lack of conflict can result in problems being swept under the rug.  Not taking a team member to task for poor performance can lead to the destruction of a team.  Not reporting difficulties for the sake of false harmony can lead to unrealistic plans, broken processes, inadequate resources, or any combination of the three.

Thompson does not offer any easy answers; there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to harnessing conflict.  But it’s clear that it’s good to get out of your comfort zone every now and then, to look at things from another angle.  Emergency restoration provides just such an opportunity.  If we take advantage of these opportunities with good documentation and after-action reporting, we can follow through with better plans and better results.

One key to keeping conflict creative is for everyone to think about the mission – the heart-center mission.  What we do makes a difference in people’s lives. It makes life a little easier, a little warmer, a little brighter for someone.  We keep people working.  We keep the economy going.  And we keep people alive.

Maybe it would be good standard practice to begin every drill, every briefing, every conference call by saying that.  Restoration is about our customers, our neighbors, our friends and our families.

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