Strategic growth focus of CU plan
by RICK NORTON Associate Editor
Feb 17, 2014 | 1182 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While staying focused on the business of the day — keeping customers’ lights on, their heaters running and the water flowing — Cleveland Utilities is now tackling a new initiative — the design of a strategic development plan.

The idea was conceived in 2013 as current President and CEO Ken Webb prepared to assume the CU leadership role following the retirement of 43-year veteran Tom Wheeler, who spent the last 24 years as the utility’s general manager.

Webb said talks for such a plan originated during transition discussions with Aubrey Ector, chairman of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.

“One suggestion he made to me was that we develop some key performance indicators that we could actually monitor ... for meeting goals and objectives,” Webb said. “In looking at this, [we learned] that many times these key performance indicators come out of a strategic plan.”

This type of short- and long-term planning is common among mid- to large-size companies that can benefit from the establishment of a strategic plan that can identify goals and objectives for the future.

In CU’s case, the utility wants to look three years ahead, and to continue to update the slate of objectives on a regular basis.

Because of his experience in helping to pull together strategic development plans for past employers, CU’s new safety supervisor — John Corum — will lead the process.

“In meeting with John, and in talking over how we wanted to approach this, we decided we would start with the basics and develop a strategic operating plan for Cleveland Utilities,” Webb explained. “... And from that, then develop some key performance indicators that we could monitor to see if we are meeting our goals and objectives.”

Corum introduced utility board members to the initiative and updated them on its progress during a recent session in CU’s training center.

The process began in late 2013 with strategic sessions that involved CU vice presidents, Webb and other key leaders within the public utility. In key meetings in late November and early December, the group developed a “Mission, Vision and Core Principles” statement that helps to define the role of Cleveland Utilities in the community.

In Corum’s words, the statement “... helps to define who Cleveland Utilities is.”

Planning sessions lasted into January and Corum praised the group’s involvement.

“It was a lively discussion at times,” the safety supervisor told board members. “If you’ve ever been involved in a strategic planning process, it can be a lot of fun and it can be challenging. But it does stretch you to think about where you want the organization to be, moving forward.”

Subsequently, CU leaders arrived at a “Mission, Vision and Core Principles” statement.

As defined in a document distributed to board members by Corum, the Mission Statement reads, “The mission of Cleveland Utilities is to provide our customers with excellent and reliable water, wastewater, electric and supporting services through innovative business practices, a process of continual improvement, and a demonstrated commitment to our community and Core Principles.”

The Vision Statement reads, “Cleveland Utilities aspires to be an organization of the highest quality, working collaboratively and responsibly to meet the evolving utility needs of our community into the foreseeable future.”

As Core Principles, the document lists Cleveland Utilities commitments, and defines them, in 10 categories: Community, Continual Improvement, Ethical Standards, Excellence, Inclusiveness, Innovation, Reliability, Responsibility, Safety and Stewardship.

“We’re pretty proud of what we were able to accomplish,” Corum said of the preliminary company document.

He added, “The Mission, Vision and Core Principles are basically a foundation of the strategic development plan.”

The day following Corum’s board presentation, the strategic planning was set to roll out to employees through seven focus groups over a two-day period. The purpose of the focus groups was to engage employees, and to gather their ideas in the development of key initiatives for the utility’s next three years.

The focus groups were also intended to help CU develop ways to measure its success against the goals and objectives identified in the strategic development plan.

“We’re still very early in the process,” Corum told board members. But he pointed to the potential for developing a defined plan that will keep Cleveland Utilities current in meeting the demands, and the expectations, of a growing community.

Of the focus groups and others who have been involved in the plan’s development so far, Corum called it “... a very diverse group.”

Ector concurred, and stressed that the development of a reliable strategic development plan requires “... a good representation of employees.”

The utility’s planning to date has included all levels of workers — line (construction) crews, administrative staff, engineers, human resources, customer service, billing and others.

Once ideas have been generated and data has been categorized, many in the focus planning will be brought back to the table, Corum said. Their involvement then will be to help develop “action plans” that will be accountable for accomplished tasks.

CU’s commitment to the plan, and to the utility’s desire to establish a logical path into the future, were called “excellent” by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland who represents the City Council on the utility board.

Ector credited CU’s current open door policy, but also pointed to the need for extra effort in order to “... invite ideas, and to make employees feel like those ideas are welcome and will be valued.”

Webb said CU “... is very fortunate to have John [Corum] leading this.” He forecast “good results” from the initiative.

Webb asked utility board members to review the strategic development plan’s early documents and to consider eventually endorsing the proposal.

Ector agreed to include a “revisit” of the strategy in a future CU board meeting.