Utility Management in a Time of Crisis

Diesel power plant in Mapanga, Malawi.
Diesel power plant in Mapanga, Malawi.
During crises, utilities must implement coping mechanisms and strategies to protect staff, customers and their bottom line. Photo Credit: Power Africa

Every organization faces moments of crisis, ranging from brief bumps in the road to more intractable issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic is emerging as a prolonged and unique crisis, affecting critical management functions such as judgment, strategic thinking, and decision-making.

With many businesses poised to drastically change how they manage their workforce in the future, leaders in the energy utility sector are using this time to evaluate their organizational resilience and adaptability and to cultivate a more strategic approach to crisis management.

Questions energy utility leaders can consider when evaluating and developing their management and business strategies include:

● Which existing strategic choices and investments should a utility confidently recommit to?

● How might the crisis play out over time with customers and how can the utility track and respond to shifting customer needs?

● Which existing strategies remain relevant as market conditions shift?

● Are there strategic gaps that make the utility model more vulnerable during a time of crisis? What are the technological or other solutions that address these gaps?

● Is this the right time to make an opportunistic acquisition?

● What are the existing strategic levers and plans to ‘tighten their belts,’ reduce cost and improve operational efficiency? If necessary, how does the utility scale back?

● What decisions should the utility make today versus later? What do their performance indicators show?

● Is the leadership team fully aligned around common strategic goals?

Power Africa focuses on technical, operational, and organizational responses to the above questions to help utilities improve commercial viability and increase access to reliable electricity. For example, Power Africa’s work with utilities in the Southern Africa region offers several useful insights and tangible steps utilities should take in times of crisis:

● Ensure the organization has a clear path for resource optimization to support operational work and emergency situations. Establish operational back-up plans to ensure resources can be deployed to emergency sites through flexible resource modeling.

● Develop monitoring and evaluation processes that allow for continuous evaluation of new developments to address not just the day-to-day operational activities but also mitigate emergency situations.

● Focus on the workforce — As teams adapt to new ways of work, utilities must encourage and offer opportunities for staff to continue to grow and adapt while recognizing that employees have physical and emotional limits. Organizations should invest in technology to enable collaboration and offer effective virtual training and learning opportunities. And as staff stage their return to work, management should take the time to listen and documents the lessons learned about how the pandemic affected their employees and use that information to inform and adapt the workforce policy and culture in the future.

● Incorporate a practical collective mindset that supports the executive leadership team in directing the organization as they navigate time-critical issues and ensure utilities thrive beyond an imminent crisis. Connecting staff to the organization’s mission drives a sense of shared purpose and incorporates a collective approach to problem solving. Fostering transparent dialogue and empathy around well-being and competing priorities can help employees balance personal and professional responsibilities

Read about how Power Africa supported Malawi’s Electricity Generation Company, EGENCO, to improve its performance and increase its generation capacity.

Utilities will constantly be tested by business challenges and market disruptions. The better they meet these challenges with resilient business models and adaptive strategies, the faster they can move from crisis to stable operations.

Power Africa works with utilities to design customer-centric energy access programs, improve performance, and build business continuity processes to mitigate damage, especially in times of crisis. Power Africa supports both the public and private sector as we work to ensure the commercial viability of utilities and advance electrification reform across sub-Saharan Africa.

Learn more about how Power Africa is redirecting utility and other power sector ecosystem support to COVID-19 response and recovery, helping medical facilities, homes, and businesses keep the lights on and providing access to electricity that powers essential services across sub-Saharan Africa.

To request further information or technical assistance, email powerafrica@usaid.gov.

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A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 > https://bit.ly/2yPx3lJ

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