Staff Q&A: Brandon Gentry and Christy Langley say Safety & Culture Survey results are just the beginning, not the end
Results and comments from the 2021 Safety & Culture Survey were recently released to Hoosier Energy employees. The process to reach this point took longer than expected but remains ongoing, as this was the first company-wide survey, building off a similar previous survey at Merom. Approximately 70% of Hoosier employees participated in the survey and Safety Listening Sessions with approximately a third of the respondents from Merom, a third from headquarters and a third from the remaining properties. All provided invaluable feedback to the Executive Safety Steering Committee (ESSC), which includes Rob Horton, Chris Blunk, Matt Mabrey, Karl Back and Bob Richhart. Manager of Safety and Training Brandon Gentry and Director of Portfolio and Risk Management Christy Langley both serve as liaisons for the ESSC and spoke with GridLines about the survey.
Q: How much did it seem like the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the results of the survey?
Brandon Gentry: Any event that is current is going to show up when you ask folks, so we were fully prepared for COVID to dominate discussions, but to be honest it was the exact opposite. As a whole, employees were satisfied enough with the response to COVID that it didn’t show up much at all.
Christy Langley: I think the COVID situation might have had an impact on some of the communication comments with people working remotely. Still, there were not many, if any, that explicitly said communication had gotten worse with COVID, but that probably didn’t help.
Q: Surveys can tend to focus on the negative, but it seems there were some strong positive results and improvements, especially when compared to the 2018 Merom survey?
BG: These surveys have proven to be a platform for employees to drive the narrative of change. That change may come a little slower than we’d prefer, but we want to make sure we’re giving appropriate attention to all areas. Employees control the narrative of what we work on and where we can get better.
Most participants, even if they provided constructive criticisms, said they liked working at Hoosier and loved their job but had some areas of frustration where we could be better. The meetings were a joy to participate in, and that says a lot with the Merom situation as it was when the survey was done. There was a lot of emotion tied to that. For Merom employees to do the survey and provide positive comments was impressive.
CL: The positives were also a testament to some of the improvements made from 2018. There were several responses as action items from the comments, from hotspots that were highlighted in the 2018 survey. Not everything was fully addressed, but areas that received primary attention helped those positive results.
Q: How helpful are the comments to fill in the gaps of the survey questions?
BG: It’s crucial to the process for us to be successful. We can ask all the questions in the world, but vague answers don’t highlight the issues. The listening sessions also help us get more in-depth on the root of the problem. The whole purpose is to get better, and you need tangible things to see areas to focus on.
CL: I feel like the survey questions are very two-dimensional, and when you give specifics to a situation, that is what provides a third dimension.
Q: Anything, good or bad, that surprised you about the results or the comments?
BG: You know when you’re asking for constructive criticism, it can seem bad, but I was overjoyed by how things went. The process itself is why we’re a good company – trying to get input and act on it the best we can. We’re not perfect, but that’s still leagues ahead of a company that doesn’t do that. It’s a rare opportunity for an employee to freely say how they feel about executive staff. We know we can get better, and this process allows that to happen.
CL: I wasn’t a part of the group that issued the Merom study, but I did see full results from 2018. These results were in-line with those comments, so not a lot of surprises. There were some similar sentiments but there were also some bright spots where I was glad folks took the opportunity to give all kinds of feedback, not just the negative.
Q: Now that the full results are out there, what comes next and what did you learn?
BG: We always say at Hoosier we want to lead by example for our members, and we don’t want to lose sight of that. When you’ve got something like this survey, we want to be able to say progress is made, even if it is slight. We might highlight one area, but while we’re trying to fix it, we let something else slip. So even if one thing is fixed, we’re not done.
In hindsight, next time Christy and I will work more closely together and sooner now that we have a template and know the area where we can expedite the process. The process has the most value if the actions and results are closer together, so we definitely want to set more clear parameters with deadlines.
CL: It’s important to note the process is not over. As we form committees to create response action items, that is still part of the survey process. It doesn’t begin and end with focus groups but goes through cycles and phases, and this survey won’t be complete until the committees put together action items and no longer have a reason to continue to meet. We believe that will happen in 12-18 months and then it will be time to do the survey again. When we look at the strategic priorities set by the board, one of those is continuous improvement. We’ll never be finished with that, but we do hope to keep inching toward the finish line.