Can You Hear Us Now?
PES Working to Improve Communication
As engineers, we are often seeking information and input to figure out the best solution to our current project or challenge. With the evolution of electronic communications and social media, our challenge now is not a lack of information but too much information and trying to filter through the useful information. Like a power system state-estimation problem, we have moved from an underconstrained system with not enough data to an over-constrained system with too much data, making it difficult to find a solution on which we can converge.
On top of information overload, the time constant for change in our industry continues to decrease. When I became an IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) member over 20 years ago, our membership did much of our work and activities face to face at Chapter activities, our PES Winter and Summer meetings, or at other conferences and technical committee meetings. Ten years ago when I joined the PES Governing Board, the Governing Board met twice a year, and the PES Executive Committee met twice a year. Our time constant for planning and moving activities forward was about three months.
However, over the last several years we have seen this time constant shrink as we have added additional activities within PES to respond to the needs and changes in our industry. We now need to have more frequent interactions among PES members, volunteer leaders, and staff, and we have moved beyond face-to-face interactions to conference calls, Webinars, and asynchronous discussions via e-mail.
In 2012, the PES Governing Board worked with a consultant to do a communications audit to look at how we communicate between PES and our members, PES staff and volunteer leaders, and PES volunteer leaders with other volunteer leaders. The consultant did many focus groups and interviews, and over 100 PES members, volunteer leaders, and staff were involved in the review.
In the draft final report released to the PES Executive Committee in October 2012, the consultant made recommendations on the top areas for improving our communications. These four areas showed the most promise for improving communications in PES:
- volunteer training and support
- time management of meetings/conferences
- communication and engagement between PES volunteer leaders and executive office staff
- Web sites (PES Web site and entity Web sites).
The PES Governing Board reviewed these recommendations and has already started implementing changes and developing materials and programs to address these concerns. We will continue to work on these improvements, and I will update you in my monthly Noel’s notes in the e-newsletter and in my final “Leader’s Corner” for 2013. Here are few of the things we have been working on in the first half of 2013.
Volunteer Training and Support
In our 2013 goals, we will be developing a schedule for creating orientation materials, training information, and support tools for our PES volunteer leaders. Right now we have materials that are available in some areas, but they may be hard to find or may take a year of on-the-job training to understand. We will be working to develop Web materials, Webinars, chat sessions, and best practice suggestions in the areas of Chapter chair leaders, technical committee leaders, publication editors and reviewers, standing committee chairs, and other leadership positions. We are also investigating IEEE resources including the IEEE Center for Leadership Excellence.
We will be developing a Web-based support toolbox that provides links and orientations to IEEE and PES resources that can help our volunteer leaders in their activities such as conference calls, marketing of events, communications, and dissemination of information to their members.
Time Management of Meetings/Conferences
As PES leaders, we are working to make sure that the PES Governing Board and Executive Committee can effectively provide strategic and operational leadership of PES activities in a timely manner. Based on the recommendations of the communications audit, the PES Executive Committee has started monthly video conference calls to discuss time-critical challenges and opportunities. We are also restructuring our quarterly reports and meetings to make sure that we have adequate time to discuss long- and short-term activities for PES. This is already helping us to coordinate activities across multiple functional areas of PES.
As part of our training, we will be looking to disseminate best practices to PES volunteer leaders about meeting management, including agenda planning, time management, and follow-through with action items and plans. While some entities pass down these best practices, new volunteer leaders often lack the background and resource materials when they start increasing their learning curve and volunteer time investment in PES activities.
Communication and Engagement Between Volunteers and Staff
Our PES staff has doubled over the last five years, and our activities have increased dramatically as well. During this time we have not also developed the necessary PES volunteer infrastructure to work with the PES staff and provide the strategic and operational support necessary in several areas. As 2013 has been declared the “Year of the Volunteer” for PES, we will be working to develop this volunteer infrastructure and populate it with PES members who want to get more involved and contribute to our activities. We are also working on ways to bridge communications between the staff and volunteers to help both groups do their jobs more efficiently while avoiding overlaps, gaps, and missed opportunities.
Web Sites (PES Web Site and Entity Web Sites)
In February we released our new Web site. Henry Louie and his team used the feedback from the communications audit in the development of this new Web site and its content. Based on your suggestions, we worked to develop a more member-friendly Web site that allows you to get the information you need more quickly. It also provides useful information to non-PES members as they look for professional resources.
We will be working in 2013 to provide templates and training for our PES volunteer leaders, especially Chapters and technical committees, to help develop up-to-date and relevant Web sites that provide timely information for their constituents and demonstrate the membership benefits for getting more involved in PES.
We have also expanded our social media presence with more activities on our PES tweet, PES Facebook, and PES LinkedIn groups. Resources and training on these tools for communicating PES activities will also be developed. While historically IEEE Power Engineering Review or IEEE Power & Energy Magazine provided information in a timely manner for our PES members, we now need multiple outlets to disseminate our benefits and opportunities broadly.
In addition to these four major areas, the communications audit draft report also provided feedback in other areas. Examples include the following:
- targeting e-mails to prevent an overflow of IEEE- or PES-related e-mails
- effectively communicating our PES successes more widely
- enhancing Chapter activities
- evaluating our technical committee structure based on the changes in the power and energy field.
As PES leaders we are looking at ways to incorporate these suggestions as well to improve PES for our members.
So we are hoping that by the end of 2013, your answer to the question, “Can you hear us now?” is “Yes, better than before!” If you have ideas or suggestions for improving communications between PES members, volunteer leaders, and staff, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I hope to see many of you in Vancouver at our annual IEEE PES General Meeting. The program is filled with excellent opportunities for you to expand your professional knowledge and network with experts from around the world.