Generating Employee Buy-In to Embrace Energy Innovation

The White House’s billion-dollar investment in transitioning to and expanding clean power grids is the latest reminder of the critical window for energy companies to capitalize on the opportunities to make rapid progress toward the future of energy. Many businesses are struggling to adapt their workforces at the pace necessary to truly build momentum and take advantage of the investments being made in green energy. This “green skills gap” as energy demand outpaces the skilled worker supply is slowing progress and wasting resources.

Closing this skills gap will require developing new capabilities, and in many cases, will also require overcoming a “desire gap.” The anxiety that the energy transition and shift into more automated processes will result in a loss of job security is preventing the workforce from embracing necessary changes. How can the energy industry mitigate this anxiety and engage its workforce to be more adaptable and agile, and up-level skills quickly?

Engage and Empower

Engaging and empowering employees will allow leaders to generate the buy-in needed to fully embrace the opportunities of these large-scale investments and initiatives. Below are three ways to generate buy-in and accelerate results.

Ensure Worker Continuity. In the face of uncertainty and potential changes, we often see leaders hesitating to share too much in case plans change. However, with the anxiety caused by the known technology and other operational changes, helping employees better understand the long-term business goals requires more communication. It is only when employees understand these priorities that they can understand the role they will play—even if it is different from the one in the present. This appreciation for how they can contribute now, through the transition, and into the future is critical to maintaining workflows, reducing rumors, and mitigating concerns over looming changes. Additionally, keeping existing teams together where possible will also help; the experience of learning something new with an existing team (where trust and comfort already exists) can help mitigate the negative emotions often associated with large-scale changes.

Make Reskilling a Key Priority. Providing training and other learning and development (L&D) opportunities for employees is essential not only because of the skills developed, but also because of the message it sends. Investing in upskilling is a key ingredient to developing a committed and agile workforce, and one of the ways to build trust and generate buy-in for change. When communicating the company’s goals and what changes are necessary to achieve them, highlighting the opportunities for reskilling and upskilling will go a long way to reassure employees. Training can often feel like an add-on or a one-off—having an intentional approach to hands-on learning will boost confidence and demonstrate the company’s priorities amid shifts in technology, operating models, and sources of influence brought on by the energy transition. Providing the resources and time to pursue opportunities that equip workers for different roles shows that the company is invested in retaining its talent and in leveraging their existing strengths and skills in new ways for what is needed in the future.

Put People at the Center of the Transition. The opportunities presented by the energy transition are significant, and for some, the technology and process shifts can create exciting new roles. However, this is not universally true, as shifts of this magnitude can also create anxiety and uncertainty. The disruptions can feel overwhelming for many employees and the role of leaders is to acknowledge this anxiety and help their workforce focus on the many opportunities. Putting people at the center of the transition will require more conversations about the threats and opportunities that are felt by front-line employees, deliberate efforts to communicate company strategy in more explicit terms than might feel comfortable, and frequent change impact assessments to understand where positive and negative changes will be felt most acutely. The energy transition has the potential to bring significant positive disruption for society, but this disruption will be felt first by employees in energy companies. Leaders who can approach the changes with empathy and understanding will be more successful in enlisting the support of their workforce in accelerating progress.

Build Skills, Trust, and Confidence

The renewable energy transition creates an opportunity to reignite workforce engagement while inspiring significant change. Supporting employees in building new skills while they flex new muscles to embrace different processes and tools will build trust and confidence in both their leaders and the organization. Uniting your team around the exciting opportunities and the necessary changes, while supporting them with learning and development initiatives and helping clarify new roles and ways for them to contribute, will generate the buy-in needed to capitalize on investments and spur a passionate workforce toward innovation.

Gaurav Gupta is managing director at Kotter, a change management and strategy execution firm.


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