Best Practice: Training future plant leaders for new and ever-increasing challenges

Green Country Energy, owned by J-Power USA, operated by NAES Corp

The changing of the guard has begun at America’s powerplants—Green Country Energy (GCE) included. Highly experienced managers who went through extensive technical and leadership training over the past 30 to 40 years have either recently retired or are planning to retire within a few years.

This leadership “vacuum” has created opportunities for new managers, who face daunting expectations from headquarters that pre-existing positive work cultures and top performance results will continue as before. Adding to the challenge are ever-increasing administrative and regulatory duties which reduce the time managers and supervisors have to focus on their core responsibilities: managing the safe and efficient production of reliable energy.

Strong leadership skills are required to meet future challenges, making training critical to success. GCE has conducted some measure of leadership training since COD 13 years ago, but personnel changes warrant a more determined effort to properly prepare the plant’s new managers and supervisors. A three-year leadership training was initiated in 2013 with the principal objective of reinforcing plant leadership’s long-term shared values, vision, and guiding principles.

The training program focused on “The Leadership Challenge,” written by James M Kouzes and Barry Z Posner, which details these five practices of an exemplary leader:

      • Modeling the way.

      • Inspiring a shared vision.

      • Challenging the process.

      • Enabling others to act.

      • Encouraging the heart.

Department managers and supervisors, administrative staff, and lead technicians participated, along with managers from NAES and J-Power USA headquarters. Participants were divided into four groups; each included a mix of technical and supervisory disciplines. Plant Manager Rick Shackelford presented the material and led the discussions. The program began with three training sessions conducted over a three-week period; three additional sessions were held at six-month intervals. A PowerPoint presentation was developed to guide the program.

Feedback from participants indicates the training was well-received. In addition to discussing the five practices of an exemplary leader and the plant’s shared values, vision, and guiding principles, considerable time was allocated for an open forum. The forum identified numerous plant-level issues and misperceptions and went a long way toward resolving many of them.

It also promoted bonding between supervisory levels and technical disciplines and helped clarify management’s priorities and expectations. Finally, it revealed new ideas for dealing with old problems and helped remind the plant manager of the leadership practices he should be modeling consistently.

While it’s too soon to assess the long-term benefits of the leadership training, senior managers are confident it will yield measurable improvements in plant operations and reliability. The expected takeaway for new leaders is that they’ve acquired the tools to continue in the Green Country Energy tradition and produce outstanding performance results for years to come.

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