A Call for Visionary Leadership in Energy

It’s apparent this new world order demands different models of winning business, and requires visionary leaders who embrace this challenge to step up, transform their organizations, and outthink, outsmart, and out act their competition. Visionary leadership is more than just a style of leadership; it is a critical requirement for success. The ups and downs of the past few years have significantly affected the industry. Inspiring personnel to overcome these challenges and prosper within an unsettled environment will be no small feat. It will require visionary leaders.

There are numerous challenges that must be addressed by an energy organization’s leadership. A few include:

  • Skeptical, wary buyers and customers delaying roll out of new products and services

  • Fierce competition for any business opportunities that exist

  • Traditional “push-sell” tactics becoming less effective for winning business

  • Insecurity about the economy driving unwillingness to risk investing in new opportunities

  • Personnel with “safe” jobs asked to do more with fewer resources due to layoffs and early retirements

  • Budget constraints putting ever increasing pressure on leadership to trim expenses and get more of everything for less investment

  • The musical chair atmosphere surrounding what’s considered the “preferred” energy resource to save us from dependence upon foreign, non-renewable, unsustainable energy supplies

There are some similarities between the current turmoil and the energy industry’s deregulation era a few decades ago. During that time, the whole world turned upside down for energy utilities, originally conditioned to have no competition. Whole segments went from safe regulated environments with guaranteed profits, to being required to compete for some of the same customers they once served. With a new ability to spin off for profit subsidiaries, they were also encouraged to search out and create new opportunities, not just capture whatever business was handed to them.

Prior to this turbulent time in the energy sector, a few senior utility executives visualized the inevitable deregulation revolution about to take place. They proactively re-engineered their models and reorganized the way their companies went about producing revenue. Ignoring criticism, they took visionary steps, some of which their traditional-minded colleagues considered too risky. They changed their utilities’ collective culture to a proactive business model and repositioned their organizations to compete in the transformed marketplace before the deregulation cataclysm hit and their conventional revenue growth paradigm shattered.  This preemptive strategy brought with it a significant investment in developing and implementing a business development process as well as training personnel. History proves this proactive strategy succeeded.

One of these visionary leaders was the late Bill Lee, the respected CEO of Duke Power. He led a leadership team, including his eventual successor, that started Duke’s transformation. They prepared a predominantly engineering workforce for the transition to a competitive culture before the “sky fell.” When deregulation hit, other firms were reactively scrambling to deal with the new reality. Gone was the old traditional marketing and sales way of doing business. Since the energy sector was and still is highly technically oriented, a traditional transactional sales culture was not a fit for their personnel. Instead, Duke’s leadership, most of whom were engineers themselves, decided upon a problem-solving, relationship-building business development culture and process that matched the organization well. This preemptive strategy brought with it a significant investment in developing and implementing a business development process, and training personnel as well.

This proactive, visionary strategy succeeded, and Duke Power, now Duke Energy, experienced decades of revenue growth. Duke is now positioned to become the largest electric utility in the U.S. by virtue of strategic and organic business development efforts and M&A, with their pending merger with Progress Energy.

This new climate, with uncertain opportunities and growing competition, requires more than cost cutting tactics and job elimination. Reactively pursuing everything that remotely matches up to your firm’s capabilities, passively "farming" your current customers for expanded business, or simply tweaking your BD/capture/proposal processes won’t provide the winning formula for sustained revenue growth. Your likely result from these steps is a costly lesson in lost time, misused personnel effort, and wasted budget resources.

Moving the revenue needle on a consistent basis requires a visionary leadership “call to action,” a multifunction/multi-disciplined approach. This encompasses five specific areas for change management.

  • Foster a Transformation in Business Development Personnel, Process, Structure and Organization Mindset for Winning Business. Sales, marketing and customer service professionals personnel should be encouraged to rise above tired conventional models and embrace critical, innovative, “out of the box” thinking to change the revenue output of an organization. Reactive mindset is out; proactive is in

  • Install an Opportunity Identification and Qualification Methodology. Use a prudent identification and qualification process to blend a portfolio balancing long-term and short-term opportunities.

  • Target a Specific Selection of Markets and New Energy Opportunities. Visionary leadership is required in market selection and investment to target new energy industry segments such as the numerous renewables. 

  • Focus upon Strategic Services and Products. Instead of attempting to do or provide everything to everybody in a customer base, leadership needs to decide “what” the organization is really good at, as recognized by customers, and focus upon these specific areas to offer.

  • Provide Empowering, Unwavering Leadership Support. Top leadership trust and endorsement on every level is the essential ingredient in this initiative. Support includes not only a strategy of smart revenue growth with budget commitment, but frequent verbal endorsements in discussion forums with rank and file personnel. Leaders who recognize and fully appreciate proactive business development as the catalyst to achieving revenue growth targets today and every quarter going forward, offer frontline personnel unwavering support, encouragement and empowerment.

Visionary leadership and hitting revenue targets today and every quarter going forward demands a strategy of smart revenue growth with proactive business acquisition as the catalyst.  Visionary leadership takes guts. It involves risk and is a “hot seat” position that is not easy nor is it a fit for everyone.

From our experience, a visionary strategy:

  • Demands an organizational change from a reactive to a proactive business development culture

  • Requires effective business development personnel and an efficient organization structure

  • Entails replacing an outdated traditional culture, methodology and mindset

  • Involves a focus upon the best markets and customer match with an alignment of services and products

  • Calls for visionary leaders serving as cheerleaders providing empowering and unwavering support for the entire organization

Helen Keller, who handled overwhelming adversity with extraordinary “vision” and achieved profound success, may have said it best. “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. … Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

—Bill Scheessele is chairman and chief executive officer of MBDi, an international consulting firm offering a range of revenue generation resources designed to produce rapid and lasting growth.

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