Fostering growth and creating connections

Basin Electric's retirement projections are presenting opportunities for the next generation.

Like many electric co-ops, Basin Electric is facing a future uptick in retirees.

In the next 10 years, 750 employees – almost one-third of the co-op’s existing workforce – will reach normal retirement age. Of this number, 169 are in supervisory roles.

In just the first few months of 2017, 55 employees have either already retired or expressed their intentions to retire. Couple that with the fact that 132 employees are currently over the age of 62 and can retire at any time.

“We’re anticipating we could see a retirement surge similar to the numbers we saw in 2013,” says Diane Paul, senior vice president of Human Resources. “Our workforce who were hired in the 1970s and 80s, coinciding with the construction of Antelope Valley Station and Laramie River Station, are now considering finishing their careers with Basin Electric.”

While these numbers may cause alarm, they also represent opportunity.

Opportunity to establish the cooperative philosophy within a new generation. Opportunity to nurture new leaders, and an opportunity for the younger workforce to explore and grow into their leadership potential.

Human Resources has implemented proactive strategies to pass the baton to this next generation.

Basin Electric has continued its investment in its employees, its membership, and the co-op philosophy with the recent launch of two new programs: Building Cooperative Connections and BE Leaders. Both programs foster the co-op philosophy, while developing employees.

Building connections co-op to co-op

Building Cooperative Connections was born with the goal of strengthening Basin Electric’s connection to its member cooperatives.
As the first program Basin Electric set in motion, Building Cooperative Connections educates employees from Basin Electric and a participating member cooperative about their roles in their collective mission in providing reliable, affordable power to the member at the end of the line.

The inaugural session, held in October 2016, partnered Basin Electric with Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative, a Basin Electric Class C member based in Sidney, MT.

Jason Brothen, general manager of Lower Yellowstone, was struggling with how he could help his young employees understand Basin Electric’s role and how those new employees could then relay that to the membership.

Building Cooperative Connections was the bridge to do this.

“The reason for my enthusiasm was I have one of the youngest co-ops in Montana,” Brothen said. “So with a really low average age, they aren’t coming into the workforce like some of the other past employees, where they understood the cooperative model. So, that was what got me interested in this. I was able to try to make that connection so that my employees can better serve our membership.”

Basin Electric employees spent a few days at Lower Yellowstone to learn about the business from their point of view. They learned what the Lower Yellowstone employees deal with on a daily basis, whether it’s in the office or out in the field. They also had the opportunity to interact with a member who farms near Sidney, MT.

On the flip side, the Lower Yellowstone team visited Basin Electric for a few days to see what happens at the generation and transmission level and to learn how decisions are made.

While at Basin Electric, participants attended a senior staff projects meeting, followed by individual meetings with senior staff to learn about their areas of responsibility. The team toured Antelope Valley Station, a transmission system maintenance (TSM) 345-kilovolt yard and control room, and met with a transmission line crew and telecommunications superintendent. They completed their time at Basin Electric by attending Basin Electric’s October board meeting.

“It was our first go at this program, and we were excited to team up with Jason and his staff from Lower Yellowstone,” says Lynn Beiswanger, Basin Electric director of Human Resources. “We both put a lot of thought into providing an all-encompassing experience for all participants, which left our employees and member with a bigger picture of how we’re all connected in our co-op mission to provide electricity to our members.”

Developing employee leaders

Leadership author John Maxwell has said, “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”

BE Leaders, Basin Electric’s second program, launched at the start of 2017 focuses on that aspect of leadership – positive influence.

The 12-month program empowers Basin Electric’s employee participants to explore their leadership potential, while working to positively influence others, and examine the co-op philosophy.

BE Leaders was created not only as a proactive measure about the retirement projections, but also to let employees know they have opportunities to grow personally and professionally within the cooperative as well.

“When employees start their career at Basin Electric, we don’t want them to feel stifled,” says Kristi Pfliger-Keller, learning and development administrator. “Maybe it’s not a leadership position they’re interested in, but BE Leaders will help them learn about other areas in the cooperative, too.”

The program is open to any Basin Electric employee interested in personal and professional development. Up to 30 employees can participate each year at Headquarters, Dakota Gasification Company (includes employees from Antelope Valley Station, Lelands Olds Station, and TSM), and Wyoming (includes employees from Laramie River Station, Dry Fork Station, and TSM).

The program’s curriculum covers topics like leadership philosophy, communication skills, business ethics, conflict management, change management, coaching and mentoring, and networking. It also covers accounting, finance, budgeting, and interviewing.

Participants at each location meet in-person quarterly and complete monthly individual assignments.

The assignments require approximately three to seven hours of outside class time and range from reading assignments, taking a skills assessment, job shadowing in a different department or facility, and conducting an interview to analyzing a budget.

A major component of the program is a leadership development project that will positively impact the co-op’s employees, a process, or procedure. Working in teams of three to five, each group identifies a topic and works on the project from scratch. The project also is an opportunity for participants to leverage and apply the knowledge and skillsets from BE Leaders.

The preliminary project concepts are proving to be creative and thoughtful. Proposed project topics include establishing a formal job shadowing program, developing a mentoring program, and attracting younger students to Basin Electric’s recruiting process at career fairs.

BE Leaders impacts and touches so many more people than the 90 participants and opens up more doors outside of their core group, says Pammie Rapp, learning and development administrator.

“Participants are encouraged to talk to their supervisors about assignments, and they work with senior managers to find a sponsor for their projects. And, all their interactions have been positive,” she says.

Overall, Rapp and Pfliger-Keller, who both coordinate the program, agree on one thing – the enthusiasm for the program. “It’s contagious, and everyone is talking about it.”