Obsessed With Leadership — Vital Behaviors

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Image used with permission.
Pat  Hohl's picture
Director - Electric Industry Solutions Esri

Pat Hohl, PE, is Esri's director of electric industry solutions. He was a pioneer in the use of GIS for electric utilities. He has over 35 years of experience in utility engineering, technology...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jun 12, 2019

Leadership is demanding. Leaders must pinpoint the most important actions and communicate them well.

In the best-selling book Influencer, by Joseph Grenny et al., the authors describe one key to leadership: finding vital behaviors. Vital behaviors are the high-leverage actions with the power to affect profound change. How does one find the vital behaviors necessary to achieve the desired results?

Every life lost to drowning is a tragedy. Influencer describes how YMCA leadership confronted the problem of pool drownings—focusing on vital behavior.

Routine tasks like managing pool chemicals were distracting YMCA lifeguards from their chief function: saving lives. To reduce drownings, lifeguards must spend their time scanning the pool! YMCA lifeguards instituted a new 10-10 scanning practice. They would scan the pool every 10 seconds and provide aid within 10 seconds. Drownings at YMCA pools sank like a stone! Imagine that—focusing on the vital behavior immediately eliminated two-thirds of the problem.

When I was responsible for utility field operations, I inherited a line clearance tree trimming program with problems. The trimming was behind schedule, yet we consistently exhausted the enormous budget. Overall, system reliability was good, with a system average interruption duration index (SAIDI) under 60 minutes. However, when the winds hit, outages seemed inevitable.

By the terms of our tree trimming contract, we paid a flat rate for each tree trimmed. Therefore, the motivation was to trim as many trees as possible. Since all trees paid the same, people focused on the easy ones and ignored the tough ones. The tough ones had poor access, ornery property owners, or required outages. Those problematic trees were causing the outages. The utility culture reinforced the same old behavior year after year.

We needed to focus on the vital behavior—getting all the trees away from the power lines! With information in many different places, it had been hard to pull it all together. We decided GIS could help assemble a more complete operational picture. We examined our trimming and outage performance in the spatial context of the whole system. We compared tree data to aerial imagery to validate it. The problems became obvious. We found disturbing irregular patterns in the contractor's billing data using location intelligence.

Here's how.

A single afternoon of auditing convinced me our tree inventory data was rubbish. Our efforts were not well directed to achieve the goal of safe clearance and service reliability.

To address the problems, we negotiated new contract terms that delayed payment until an entire section was inspected and found to fully meet minimum clearances. We began to trim the entire system on a mapped schedule. We focused on the worst areas first. Then, the winds hit.

After several hours, the general manager called me, "The trees are blowing sideways over here. I've heard nothing—do we have any outages I should be aware of?" He was pleasantly surprised when I replied, "No, not at this time." The focus on vital behaviors worked brilliantly.

How does one find the vital behaviors? Influencer presents four search strategies to help unearth these gems:

  1. Notice the obvious—Identify the actions that would be in chapter one of the manual—trim all the trees away from the power lines.
  2. Look for crucial moments—Determine when things go off the rails. Don't ignore a tree hanging over the power line because truck access is inconvenient—deal with it.
  3. Learn from positive deviants—Find the tree crews with the best results. What are they doing differently?
  4. Spot culture busters—Determine where your corporate culture is working against your vital actions and address it.

Today, utility leaders face many challenges and hunt for pivotal behaviors that will make a difference. There are many factors to consider, much data to evaluate, and so many different systems and perspectives to take into account. It's hard to bring it all together to find the insights that help reveal the imperative. It's harder still to widely communicate the results with clarity.

As you pursue your leadership goals, focus on what's most important. Move forward seeing data in new ways with deeper insights to find the vital behaviors. Communicate your findings in interesting and engaging ways that everyone will enjoy—use ArcGIS.

People often think of GIS as just a mapping system. However, limiting GIS use to a digital replacement of paper maps is a profound underutilization—a lost advantage to address new challenges.

Today, ArcGIS does so much more. It integrates all kinds of data and performs advanced analytics. It also makes the results conveniently available to everyone. Grenny would be proud. Using ArcGIS for insight allows utilities to ferret out the vital behaviors and make the right decisions.

For more information on how ArcGIS delivers a genuine decision-making infrastructure, download our free e-book

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