Bartholomew County REMC
On a ‘Journey to Great’
In late 2013, the Balanced Performance Scorecard, a tool for organizations to measure, manage and improve functions, was introduced to the leadership team at Bartholomew County REMC. BCREMC soon began using the tool to measure performance in an effort to establish best practices.
Like most organizations, BCREMC had done surveys and assessments. But the Columbus-based electric cooperative was not formally collecting and analyzing its data. Leaders said they thought they were a “pretty good organization” without glaring problems.
In fact, BCREMC considered itself blessed compared to many electric cooperatives. It served three growing industrial parks. The economy was good. But once time and resources were dedicated to organize, format and study the wide range of data, some of the initial analytics on the scorecard raised eyebrows.
The cooperative was not among the top half of electric cooperatives nationwide in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). It had safety concerns. There were no live line contacts but there had been some serious injuries. It had reliability issues. The average consumer was without power in 2014 almost four hours total, and the average outage kept affected consumers in the dark for over two and a half hours.
Using the Balanced Performance Scorecard as its driver, BCREMC leadership set a bold strategic course for the cooperative to achieve the highest level of electric cooperative standards in the nation. Four years into the plan, cooperative management says the REMC is on a journey to great.
- Improve all functions of the cooperative in a measurable way.
- Fundamentally change the culture of the cooperative to achieve its goals.
- Be the best cooperative in the country.
- Implement a new strategic performance plan using the Balanced Performance Scorecard.
- Use quarterly progress reports to assess performance across eight measured areas; set new goals with incremental improvements.
- Celebrate and incentivize successes with all employees.
Why Balanced Scorecard?
- Gave BCREMC baseline numbers to set goals and measure against in the future.
- Provided data in all strategic areas for improvement.
- Connected individual employee performance to corporate scorecard results, which raised accountability and improved employee buy-in.
- ACSI rose from 80 in 2014 to an industry elite of 87 in 2019.
- Safety (all-injury incident rate) dropped from 5.9 in 2014 to 0 in 2018 through 2019.
- Reliability improved: SAIDI (amount of time the average consumer was without power from routine outages) went from almost 4 hours in 2014 to less than an hour and a half in 2019; SAIFI (average number of interruptions that a consumer would experience) went from around two outages per consumer to 0.7 in 2019.
- Financial: Remained within the target equity range of 60% even with significant investments.
Beginning the Journey
Using the Balanced Performance Scorecard as the driver of its new strategic performance plan, BCREMC began in-depth quarterly assessments of each department and function in 2016. With the new analytics and metrics, BCREMC became more aware of areas needing addressed.
“We needed something to get us focused and all on the same page and the Balanced Scorecard fit that bill.”Jim Turner, Bartholomew County REMC
For example, leadership found inefficiencies in the way it was handling things like outage calls. Leadership team members found challenges and near misses in their safety procedures. They found dropped calls affecting consumer satisfaction scores.
After looking at how they could reduce outage times for consumers, they equipped all their vehicles with GPS devices to better monitor activity and response times. Though linemen who were on-call were able to take trucks home with them, BCREMC saw opportunities for them to get out the door and on the road even faster to handle after-hour outages.
The cooperative established new response time guidelines and processes so they would react faster. Response time dropped to less than 9 minutes. At its most recent annual meeting, BCREMC linemen received a big round of applause by cooperative members when now-retired CEO Jim Turner noted the improved response time to outages. “Think about that: in less than 9 minutes, at even 2 o’clock in the morning, the guys are up, dressed, and in the vehicle heading to the outage,” he told the appreciative crowd.
The REMC now knows these response times because staff is able to track it on GPS, record it and score it. Now the linemen have a friendly competition to see who can get out the door faster. Simple improvements were made just in better record keeping. They learned some linemen were waiting until they returned home before calling in restoration times. Now, restoration is recorded immediately once the work is done.
Safety improved as the cooperative refocused. A safety director position was created. Monday morning safety meetings became structured and attended by more employees and emphasized the concern everyone in the office has for everyone else. Refresher courses and tips on customer service improved consumer relations.
It didn’t take too long before they realized every time they started measuring something, that “something” improved. Through the metrics, leadership was able to break down complex issues and problems into small, surmountable actions, addressing one thing at a time. Leadership established goals for incremental improvements across the entire cooperative or within individual departments.
The cooperative went from being reactive to proactive. No longer putting out fire after fire, it was able to get on top of issues before they erupted. Staff was able to figuratively clear brush and debris and put firewalls in place to prevent the fires from happening in the first place or at least mitigate the problems.
Fewer mistakes were made which led to fewer complaints from consumers.
As all of the data and analysis led to reassessments, restructuring and improvements, the cooperative began a transformation. Four years out, BCREMC has seen marked improvements across all eight of its measured goals within the four strategic areas of customer satisfaction, safety, reliability and finances.
The new strategic plan did take time and money to implement. But, as leadership noted, a cooperative must spend money to get customer satisfaction. Being a “low-cost” cooperative is possible for only so long, it noted, before the infrastructure deteriorates, right-of-way issues occur, consumer satisfaction is terrible, and large investments must be made to return reliability.
BCREMC pointed out that through better metrics and analytics, it can better pinpoint areas where money needs to be spent, and where money can be saved. Instead of broad costly system-wide upgrades, it can pinpoint where upgrading lines or targeting right-of-way maintenance in just certain areas will reduce outages and bring about better ACSI scores, and where it can delay replacing older line that is still doing its job and not causing consumer issues.
“It’s a fine line…you want to be conservative and…you can be a low-cost coop for a little while. Then your system becomes unreliable, your customer satisfaction deteriorates, and you’ve got to spend all that money anyway to get back to where it’s reliable again.”Marty Lasure, Bartholomew County REMC
With the metrics linking expenditures to improvements in customer satisfaction in pinpointed areas, now-retired CEO Turner was able to show his board of directors money was being spent in the right areas. The cooperative also had to renegotiate some issues with its union.
Getting the board of directors and its employees to buy into the plan through proven metrics was not an easy sell. When the vision of being the best measured cooperative in the country was introduced to the employees, leadership admitted there was some eye-rolling and maybe snickering. As time passed, some employees left the cooperative because they were being held accountable to higher standards.
The true buy-in by the employees began when the data showed how everyone’s job performance related to the overall performance and goals of the cooperative. Once the accountability was shown, employees had their “a-ha” moment. Individuals did not want to be seen as the ones holding their coworkers or the cooperative back.
To further support the goals, BCREMC incentivized the performance results. Employees have the opportunity to earn up to a 5% annual bonus.
When goals are attained annually on the corporate level in six of eight measured categories across the four general areas, the cooperative rewards all employees with a 3% bonus. Another 2% can be earned when annual individual department-level goals are met. For 2019, BCREMC met the goals for seven of the eight categories. On Jan. 30, 2020, during BCREMC’s now annual performance celebration, bonus checks for 2019 were handed out to all 36 employees.
In addition to bonus checks, the celebration at the office, which lasted half the day, included breakfast, a leadership presentation, team building activities, and other activities that help bring the employees together. Leadership recognized a lot of hard work went into working on the goals, they said, and reaching those benchmarks, and taking time to say “thank you” to all the employees is important.
“We needed to provide a connection between employee performance and corporate goals…when we connected the dots and said your response time affects CAIDI; your answering the phone correctly and not letting it drop affects ACSI…when we connected the dots for people, that’s when they started buying in. It’s made us as close-knit a group as we’ve ever been.”Matt Hackman, Bartholomew County REMC
As a byproduct of getting everyone on the same page, working toward common goals for the entire organization, BCREMC leadership says it believes the entire organization is a happier place to work. The entire team, they note, is closer to one another as individuals, too.
Matt Hackman, Bartholomew’s vice president of corporate services and operations, said the change in the cooperative’s DNA is amazing. In four years, it’s a totally different company with 36 people all going in the same direction.
BCREMC leadership has likened its ambitious vision of becoming the nation’s top-rated cooperative to President John F. Kennedy’s moonshot declaration back in 1961. JFK’s vision surprised many and brought some laughter — especially among those in the fledgling space program who knew just how hard it would be to achieve. But just as a nation latched onto that goal and successfully fulfilled it in 1969, the leadership and employees at BCREMC are celebrating their successes, wrapping themselves in a parade of proven metrics like it’s ticker tape.
They know they may never reach the ultimate destination — nor would they be resting on the laurels if they did. But they know setting their sights on it will keep them moving toward it. This journey that the Balanced Performance Scorecard and their incentivized strategic performance plan is taking BCREMC on is well charted and is well underway.