Employee experience as key to the energy transition

Author: Annika Hamann

Employee Experience Energy Industry

While the customer experience has now also taken center stage in the energy sector, the employee experience is still being neglected in some places. In light of the major challenges posed by the energy transition, a mindset change is now important.

In a relatively short time, most energy suppliers have opened up direct channels to customers in recent years and taken major steps in terms of the customer experience of their digital services and now offer wide-ranging portfolios with solutions tailored to individual customer needs.

When it comes to the employee experience, the industry might still need to catch up. It is obvious why this is important: the satisfaction, loyalty and empowerment of skilled workers are essential for the success of the energy transition.

What makes a positive employee experience?

An optimal employee experience not only includes functioning work processes but also the following components:

  • Space for self-determined ways of working
  • Tasks that support a sense of purpose and meaning
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • Modern, frustration-free digital services
  • Opportunities for personal growth through training and development
  • Promotion of physical and mental health
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Open communication and emotional safety
  • Rituals of appreciation
  • Appropriate, market-driven salaries

These factors are influenced by corporate culture as well as by processes, tools and data.

The energy transition as a driver of change

With its increased requirements concerning productivity, digitalization, data quality and speed of innovation, the energy transition poses a major challenge for the energy industry. Particularly as it is now more difficult to retain the expertise of internal and external specialists.

Generations of older, highly experienced employees are leaving, valuable expert knowledge is being lost, and training of new specialists takes time and ties up resources. Young talent is difficult to find, attract and retain. Electrical, construction and engineering professions are particularly affected by the shortage of specialists. A 2022 study by Kompetenzzentrum Fachkräftesicherung (KoFa) stated that there will be around 216,000 skilled workers lacking for the energy transition. Working at the same company for 40 years is no longer the norm. In addition, younger generations have different expectations and demands of their employers than they did 20 years ago.

Process transformation for high employee satisfaction and empowerment

Image campaigns are important to get younger people interested in the industry. However, staff must also be retained. Employee satisfaction must have priority. If a high level of employee satisfaction is combined with a high level of skills, then increased productivity is an automatic consequence.

Let’s take a holistic look at the processes within a company. Some opportunities for improvement of employee satisfaction concern the corporate culture, while others can be found within data and digital tools and services. All aspects should be considered and analyzed before individual adjustments are made. Very often there are interdependencies between different pain points, and we cannot solve some problems without solving others first.

A basic principle is that tools and data should not shape the process. Instead, tools and data should be designed in a way that they meet user needs and support their habits and activities along optimized processes.

Employee happiness and empowerment via corporate culture

Both the New Work movement and the ESG guidelines (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) have already provided us with many answers as to how employee wellbeing can and should be improved. The philosophy of the New Work movement is based on the concept that people should have the freedom to decide what they want to do because they believe in it. Its basic principles include freedom to experiment, self-responsible work on tasks that create meaning and value, development and self-reflection, and social responsibility. The latter is also an important part of the ESG social guidelines, which were created to promote corporate social responsibility. Working conditions such as health and safety in the workplace and diversity play a major role here.

The mental health of employees should be included in the process transformation, not only in terms of safety in production processes, on the construction site or on electrical systems, but also when working in the office. In addition to facilitating breaks and mental health training, structures for exchange, communication of appreciation and constructive conflict resolution should also be created within the new processes.

Enabling emotional safety for all represented populations should be a priority so that everyone can contribute to the company’s success in the best way possible. This includes hiring a diverse workforce that gradually breaks down a homogeneous, like-minded majority, allows open communication on an equal footing and empowers employees to achieve the greatest possible success in their respective positions. A connection between diversity and the economic success of companies has been investigated and proven multiple times.

Employee happiness and empowerment via digital platforms and data

Employee empowerment is positively influenced by:

  • Digital systems that support real processes
  • Employee empowerment tools for self-determined work
  • Automation for mindless, repetitive tasks
  • Unified service ecosystems for seamless switching between different work modules
  • Training and educational systems that enable independent, self-directed learning

Employee satisfaction can be increased by:

  • Clarity of process steps and tasks
  • Frustration-free work tools that have been designed with the user in mind
  • Tool and data landscape with a high degree of automation
  • Systems that support expert activities and take over mindless tasks

Challenges for the transformation

The energy supply and network is a part of the essential, critical infrastructure. Security is therefore a top priority and, like state regulation, is sensible and justified. However, it slows down speed of innovation.

Large energy service providers are also characterized by mergers and acquisitions. When two companies merge, the number of technical solutions increases. Conscious harmonization efforts are needed to simplify the patchwork-like software landscapes.

Ready-made solutions such as power apps etc. are often used for internal digital services to save time and budget. Whether this achieves smooth processes, integration into a standardized service ecosystem and an optimal user experience and ultimately really saves budget remains to be seen.

Furthermore, tools and processes prescribed by management are often met with resistance from employees. In some cases, digital tools and platforms do not support the real needs of employees because they are developed without user research, based on assumptions and from silos. In some cases, they were introduced without sufficient change communication.

This often leads users to use prosthetic workarounds using tools like Excel, in which users can define the views of the data they are working with themselves. This interrupts the process flow, consumes time and can be a source of errors.

There is also a persistent belief that expert software must be downright complicated and unwieldy. This should be questioned. Only clarity and simplicity ensure effectiveness. No carpenter would want to work with and cumbersome, overcomplicated saw. Frustration and time loss would be inevitable.

Typical opportunities for optimization

Problems that employees are still struggling with in 2024 include:

  • Lack of automation and data synchronization (instead: copy-paste-steps) – loss of time and source of errors
  • Lack of validation when entering crucial data – lower data quality
  • Lack of notifications (changes of data need to be searched and discovered) – loss of time
  • Lack of versioning and historicisation – conflicts and loss of time
  • Missing roles and rights system in tools – unnecessary complexity
  • Communication steps not supported by tools and data, e.g. discussion, decision and approval processes

Once these pain points are resolved by modern, digital service ecosystems, the percentage of expert activities automatically increases – and with it the feeling of empowerment, satisfaction and purpose – as well as employee productivity and the quality of the final product.

Meticulous data management as a foundation

It is often the underlying data setup that leads to interruptions in processes. Similar data sets are available in several sources as duplicates that are not automatically synchronized when changes are made. This lack of automation often results in time-consuming copy-paste activities. The local changing and saving of data is even more severe. Other employees might not have access until they receive the data by email. These types of process steps must be eliminated first. These improvements often need to be made at data as well as software level.

Often overlooked – change communications and process governance

When a process transformation takes place, two things are often forgotten: The early, active involvement of employees and the definition of the future process governance.

  1. Change Communications
    A user-centered approach to process transformation takes care of the first part. If every role and discipline involved in a process is included in the research and in co-creation, testing and iteration of the future process, then acceptance by key people can be achieved more easily. Word of mouth can work in our favor. Additionally, early and continuous transparency concerning procedures and upcoming changes, as well as responses to questions and concerns, are important tasks during the transformation. Such dialogs should be seen as valuable research activities and should be conducted and evaluated by experts in a structured manner.
  2. Process Governance
    It is often forgotten that after the transformation, further efforts are required to establish the process for all employees involved, to support them in letting go of outdated habits and to continue iterating the process whenever necessary. This must be done in a structured manner and requires a process governance body which represents the interests of all roles and disciplines involved and enforces user-centered working methods. This will prevent future processes from being shaped by the interests of individual, loud voices.

Onboarding and professional development

Clear, well-defined processes in turn enable efficient onboarding that allows employees to quickly become productive in their roles.

Training opportunities for employees should be visible and accessible at everyone’s own discretion with optional guidance from supervisors. This transparency about possible learning paths leads to a sense of empowerment, helps acquire new, crucial skills and bridges idle time by acquiring knowledge.

A holistic process transformation for the energy transition

To achieve the energy transition together, we are focusing on a process transformation that focuses on employee satisfaction, empowerment, and well-being. Higher productivity and loyalty to the employer will result automatically.

A holistic, user-centered approach is required for this transformation. Service designers know that problems that are visible on the surface can be caused in completely different areas. From the data structure to a digital service ecosystem, roles and tasks, communication and culture, onboarding and training, all obvious and hidden levels should therefore be considered to achieve the vision of employee satisfaction and empowerment. Increased productivity will be an automatic consequence. Let’s place employees and specialists at the center of our efforts and empower them to exert their expertise in the best way possible. Because they are at the heart of the energy transition.

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