Prior to 2014, Cobb EMC had a lack of alignment across the organization when it came to their strategy and performance management efforts. Reporting was sporadic, and methods of tracking differed across departments. According to Johnny Rainer, Contract Administrator for the organization, “Everyone’s interpretation of the importance and prioritization of goals varied greatly.” The not-for-profit electric cooperative based just outside of Atlanta decided to take action and build a comprehensive strategic planning process. They became more efficient and collaborative while their priorities focused on target goals.
The Early Days and SWOT Analysis
What did their process look like? To start, Cobb EMC’s Board of Directors and upper management completed a multi-level SWOT analysis, identified high-level goals, and refreshed the company’s core values to align more with member satisfaction and culture. In 2015, the organization focused on revisiting goals and aligning them with the company’s objectives. They performed another SWOT analysis led by an outside consulting group, which was significantly more enlightening than the 2014 version due to greater participation throughout the organization. By 2016, Cobb EMC had over 85 percent participation in their SWOT analysis. As a result of highlighting and communicating the relevance of strategic planning to employees’ day-to-day operations and long-term success, they were able to get employee buy-in on their new strategic planning efforts.
Entering ClearPoint and Centralizing Information
Fast-forward to 2017. Cobb EMC did tracking almost solely through Excel files and found they often had multiple versions of reports as different people made updates to various files. Nothing was cohesive. They decided to search for strategy and performance management software to tie it all together. Cobb EMC ultimately chose ClearPoint as their partner in this process, and in Q1 of 2017, they began migrating all strategic goal data to the software. They created scorecards for departmental, divisional, and corporate level goals, and for the first time gave employees the opportunity to access real-time data in one centralized location.
But they weren’t done yet. In 2018, Cobb EMC appointed a new CEO, Peter Heintzelman, who wanted to focus on a more project-based business operation. Having focused so much the prior year on centralizing quantitative information, they now must do the same for their projects. This was a massive paradigm shift that ClearPoint was able to accommodate and now Cobb EMC, through ClearPoint, is tracking their quantitative goal data and qualitative project information. This brought Cobb EMC to their first three-year strategic plan, which aligns departmental projects to corporate strategies, KPIs, and broader corporate strategic initiatives.
C-level executives and the Board could now easily see and comment on the organization’s high-level strategy without getting caught in the weeds with operational data that distracted from big-picture conversations. According to Johnny, “The ability to export and communicate reports to division heads was immensely important to the updaters and administrators as it allowed them to more effectively provide a succinct snapshot of what they were doing to achieve their goals and what their progress looked like.” Plus, the intuitive and user-friendly design of the tool led to greater participation across divisions.
With effort on the front end, Cobb EMC was able to successfully transform a disjointed process into a streamlined system of efficient and effective tracking and reporting. “It’s cumbersome and discouraging to have to figure out a way for something to happen in Excel that you have to Google four or five times,” says Johnny, “Whereas with ClearPoint, I’m able to directly reach out to support for the help I need. That alone is absolutely invaluable to how we’re operating now and how we’re reporting.”
One of the new additions from the change in executive management was the creation of the “Idea Machine”. Introduced in May 2018, the Idea Machine is an opportunity for any Cobb EMC staff to anonymously offer suggestions and proposals to leadership. In the case of Cobb EMC, it was a great boost to morale to counter the uncertainty of new leadership. It led to great buy-in across the organization because staff believed that leadership was listening and responding to them. Arguably even better, submitters of exceptional ideas receive a coveted Wattee award and a sit-down lunch with the CEO.
How does it work?
It starts with a staff member who takes the initiative to reach out to the Idea Machine. There are several ways, such as a discrete drop box or private email, available to promote anonymity and engagement. This idea is then created in ClearPoint within the Idea Machine Scorecard. The executive team reviews the collected ideas during their meeting. If the idea is approved, the idea is then converted to a linked project in ClearPoint where a project manager at Cobb EMC will become accountable for its implementation. If the idea is not approved, management makes it a point to reach out to the submitter with a notification, so the submitter’s effort does not go unacknowledged. “Great ideas come out of bad ideas all the time” explains Rainer, so you want to invest in encouraging your staff to try again and contribute to the success of the organization.
Ideas come to life
The process from submission to vendor selection took only eight months! Throughout their offices and surrounding grounds, Cobb EMC introduced recycle bins and containers. Not only is this environmentally friendly, it is projected to lead to tens of thousands of dollars saved annually!
Cultural Diversity Expo
Someone at the organization realized there were a lot of different cultures under one roof and that this should be celebrated. Leadership agreed and the Cultural Diversity Expo was born. 10+ countries were represented with information and food available from their cultures. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the backgrounds of people you work with every day.
Powering the Future
Today, Cobb EMC is setting even higher goals for next year and beyond. Boasting a 98% participation rate in their 2019 SWOT analysis, the days of “cumbersome and discouraging” reporting are behind them. They are now working towards further eliminating data silos and better strategic alignment. With an easy to use software solution to track their performance, Cobb EMC is more focused than ever on their overall mission: to safely deliver reliable, competitively priced electricity while being accountable to member-owners through sound governance, management, operating practices, and improving quality of life in their local communities.