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Electric Co-op and Utility "Process Whisperers"

Russ Hissom's picture
Owner, Utility Accounting Education Specialists - utilityeducation.com

Russ is the owner of Utility Accounting Education Specialists a firm that provides power utilities consulting services and online/on-demand courses on accounting, finance, FERC best-practices,...

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  • Aug 24, 2021
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What is a Whisperer?

In the movie, “The Horse Whisperer”, a talented trainer has a remarkable gift for understanding horses, nursing them back to health to run at peak performance. The trainer does this not with exotic tools or analysis, but with a feel for the situation and a “sense” of the inner workings of his subject. 

The Process Whisperer?

The Process Whisperer?

The “Process Whisperer”?

Every organization I’ve ever worked with, large or small, has a “Process Whisperer(s)” who are intimately familiar with key processes in the business, how those processes might be enhanced or nursed back to health to operate at peak performance. Often, these “whisperers” are the process owners of or work in proximity to an area. Through their on-the job knowledge, observation, and eye to customer service or effective output they have developed theories and opinions that would help optimize performance.

Policies and procedures are excellent tools that organizations should have to establish strong internal controls, and promote uniformity in processes. However, policies and procedures can become stagnant documents, while processes are fluid and evolve with modifications to software, changing inputs by vendors or customers, or introduction of new apps or background knowledge.

Employees that perform their duties often have solid and robust ideas on how to streamline the process they own. Sometimes it is in the name of making a process “easier”, but if a process is “easier” and still has effective internal controls, press the “easy” button every time.

Tapping the whisperer knowledge base

We have seen organizations be effective in tapping in-house resources through some of these methods:

  1.  Employee process improvement hotlines

  2. Annual department focus groups on sharing best practices

  3. Company contests with prizes for suggestions that produce greater efficiencies

  4. Company initiatives that share cost savings with departments or organization-wide

  5. Interviews of process owners as part of an internal audit project, documenting the key processes

If processes are changed, organizations can measure results through cost analysis from pre-change processes, customer satisfaction surveys, or reduced process errors. 

Implementing a program

There are many areas that are ideal for implementing a process whisperer improvement program in your utility. Some areas that can be successful include:

  1. Customer service

  2. Electric distribution line construction and work order accounting

  3. Materials management

  4. Accounts payable

  5. Payroll preparation

  6. Finance functions

  7. Employee goal setting and evaluations

  8. Enterprise risk management

  9. Information technology controls

  10. Purchasing

Of course the list is much longer but these are a good start. 

How would this work for your utility or co-op?

If you don't have a process whisperer program in place, pick one of the areas above, implement the process, and evaluate the results. If it works to your satisfaction, it may be worthwhile to expand this approach.

 

Russ Hissom is the owner of UAES, a company that offers online utility accounting, finance business process courses, and articles. You can reach him at russ.hissom@puaes.com. The puaes.com website has a wealth of articles and online resources that will benefit your utility’s accounting and customer ratemaking strategies.

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