CEO Talk

Paul Sukut

People are our best resource

The last of the snowfall is melting, and a good rain shower just washed away much of winter’s sand and dirt. Soon it’s going to be time to get back into my gardens and prepare for another bounty of crops.

We’re doing the same at Basin Electric.

I shared our 2017 Cooperative Plan with you last issue. More than half of it was dedicated to our workforce and the cooperative business model.

People. They are our great resource. Not coal. Not wind. Not gas. Not solar. People. Our story began more than 50 years ago with a fresh crop of young 20-somethings who carried nothing more than a notebook and pencil and a desire to grow Basin Electric into something great.

By making bold and audacious moves – like harnessing lignite to build the concept of giant power on the prairie, and to being one of the first co-ops to develop wind across the region – Basin Electric emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the heartland of the United States.

That legacy continues. Those young, naïve folks who started Basin Electric have heads of grey hair and decades-old careers behind them. Many have retired. Many are close to retiring.

And with that wave of history walking out the door, we have a new workforce walking in. They’re smart. They want to make a difference. They’re savvy. And, we remind them daily that they are working for one of the greatest causes there is: the cooperative business model.

It’s incumbent upon us to instill that cooperative culture into our workforce. Basin Electric is not about the pay, the benefits or opportunities. Yes, all of that comes with the job. But, we exist to serve our members. And, we serve them by improving their quality of life.

That can come in a variety of forms: reliable, low-cost power; providing innovative solutions to challenges; building communities and filling thegaps where we see the needs, and so much more.

To formalize our efforts, we’ve initiated four programs to assure that the cooperative culture is entrenched in our workforce.

Through Building Cooperative Connections, we’re facilitating exchanges between member cooperatives and Basin Electric. The program aims to strengthen Basin Electric’s connection to the membership by educating employees from Basin Electric and the participating member cooperative about their roles – and ultimately unified goal – in getting power to the member at the end of the line.

We piloted the program last year with Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative, Sidney, MT. The session included cross departmental visits, time with our board of directors, tours of mutual facilities, and job shadowing.

The pilot was successfully received, and this year we look to do this again with other member cooperatives.

The next area we’re focusing on is leadership skills among our employees. The BE Leaders program is an annual 12-month program dedicated to empowering employees to explore their leadership potential. Nominees to the program are participating in a high-quality professional development program designed to boost personal strengths and build peer and professional networks. Participants are learning skills and acquiring tools that will help them make a difference as a leader in their department, workplace, and community.

Participants are asked to commit to making progress on personal leadership goals, engage in a leadership project, and contribute to the design and delivery of future BE Leaders programs.

Another effort we’ve undertaken is a complete revamp and expansion of our employee orientation program. Gone are the days of signing new employees up for benefits, giving them a brief overview of Basin Electric, and sending them on their way. Today, this program follows them along their early years at Basin Electric. History of the cooperative is cornerstone to the process, along with opportunities for them to dig deeper into all aspects of the cooperative. We hope that out of this process our new workforce understands that Basin Electric is not just a job, but a career that has a higher calling than their job descriptions.

And lastly, we’re focusing on the next crop of co-op leaders before they even walk into the door at your cooperative or Basin Electric. Through the Empower Youth leadership program, we will be working with member cooperatives and statewide organizations to reach our youth and plant the cooperative seed early.

This annual program, started by Sioux Valley Energy, Colman, SD, has grown to over 50 high school students who take part in a rigorous program designed to not only harness their leadership skills, but indoctrinate them into the cooperative program. The program was so successful that Sioux Valley allowed Basin Electric the opportunity to expand it across its membership. We are in the early stages of program development, but are excited to build on our legacy of supporting youth enrichment and development. Even more so, we’re excited to see what develops from the seeds we plant. Perhaps future cooperative managers, directors, and state legislative leaders will grow out of this effort.

All of these programs represent a significant investment, and arguably, the most critical investment we can make at this time.

Basin Electric is only as strong as our membership. As I meet with our members and I look at our new employee base, I’m overwhelmed with hope and optimism. Our future is shining as bright as our people.