NEW ORLEANS–It began as a co-op employee safety survey but ended with a plan to knock down workplace silos.

“We didn’t have a safety issue; we had a communication issue,” Coweta-Fayette EMC’s Chellie Phillips told a large gathering at an NRECA Annual Meeting session on the future of member engagement.

The discovery led the Palmetto, Georgia-based co-op to develop and launch an innovative 11-month program to get employees from all departments and all generations talking to one another.

The initiative, dubbed “Vision EMC,” focuses on career development, education and the co-op business model, said Phillips, Coweta-Fayette’s vice president of communications and public relations.

But how does this translate to member engagement?

“If workers are more knowledgeable and fully understand the work of the co-op, we expect customer satisfaction to go up as well,” said Phillips.

The next set of resources coming this fall from NRECA’s and Touchstone Energy’s Young Adult Member Engagement Initiative will focus on co-op culture, said Holly Wetzel, NRECA senior director for marketing and member communications.

“Our YAME research showed us the values, interests and service expectations of young adult members, so the next step is to develop a co-op culture that can effectively meet the changing needs of the modern members,” Wetzel said. “We are looking at how co-ops can build a future-focused workforce that yields internal and external dividends. The future is really here now.”

Cheryl Cran, a workplace and leadership expert, discussed how a co-op’s internal culture can shape member engagement. She said the keys to demolishing departmental silos and developing tomorrow’s leaders are empowering all employees and focusing on opening channels of communication.

“They used to be called ‘soft skills.’ Now they are essential human skills,” she said. “It starts with a learning culture.”

That’s Coweta-Fayette’s goal, Phillips said. Vision EMC’s inaugural class of 15—ranging from veteran employees to those in their first year at the co-op—began with an application process.

“We wanted employees to have skin in the game, to say, ‘I’m interested in learning,’” said Phillips.

The group met once a month in 2019 from January through November with specific activities, lessons and goals assigned. They heard from outside speakers, learned about every aspect of co-op operations, took field trips to a power plant and subsidiaries, participated in team-building exercises and completed a community project.

Feedback from the participants has been positive. They have renewed excitement for their jobs and serving consumer-members, Phillips said. And they’ve expressed gratitude for Coweta-Fayette’s investment in them and the opportunity to work with others who want to make their co-op better.

“It really opened up some minds to a better understanding of how we come together as a company,” she said. “We want them to be advocates for who we are in the future.”

Learn more in our March podcast episode:

Explore NRECA’s resources on consumer-member engagement.

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