On March 3-4, I traveled to the Wampee Conference Center in Pinopolis, SC, at the invitation of the South Carolina Public Service Authority (better known in the public power world as Santee Cooper). Santee Cooper, headquartered in Moncks Corner, SC, is one of APPA’s largest members, and is one of our few members that are units of state government, as opposed to a political subdivision of a state, such as a municipality.
Santee Cooper is a real presence in South Carolina; it sells wholesale power to South Carolina’s many rural electric cooperatives, provides retail electric service to some communities in the state, and directly serves a number of large industrial customers. It has been an engine for economic growth and development in the state, and is a large employer.
The Wampee Conference Center is a lovely facility on Lake Moultrie; it is located on the site of a plantation dating back to 1696. The old plantation house, now restored, sits graciously among trees garlanded with Spanish moss, but is known to be haunted so I spent the night at a nearby cottage on the property.
I went to speak to a class of 18 Santee Cooper employees who are going through a rigorous, multi-month training course designed to teach them about the various moving parts that make up Santee Cooper and about current issues facing the utility. It is called the STEP Program (Shaping Tomorrow’s Energy Professionals), and is designed to develop leadership qualities, transfer company and industry knowledge, and help to groom replacements from within the company for Santee Cooper employees who are likely to soon retire.
I was asked to speak about APPA — to help the class understand what a national trade association is, what it does, how it does it, and what services APPA can provide to them as employees of an APPA member utility — all of which I gladly did.
The same morning I spoke, the class had a session with Lonnie Carter, the CEO of Santee Cooper. He talked about industry issues that Santee Cooper is dealing with, some of the decisions they have made to address these issues, and the future decisions they will have to make. It was refreshing to see him talking these decisions, options, and issues through with this group of up-and-coming employees from all parts of the organization, and answering, quite frankly, the many questions they put to him. (And a few of them asking questions left this session with homework assignments!)
I was very impressed with the STEP program on many levels. First, Santee Cooper sees the coming wave of baby boomer retirements in its ranks and is moving now to transfer the needed knowledge and company lore to the next generation of employees. Second, much time and thought has been put into the curriculum and choice of employee participants from various parts of the company. Third, there is a spirit of camaraderie among the participants. Given Santee Cooper’s size, these folks might not have gotten to know each other very well but for the STEP program.
You hear a lot of talk in organizational behavior circles about “breaking down the silos”— and I suspect that this is one of the intangible benefits of a program like STEP. An organizational consultant I spoke with recently said that you are likely to hear complaints about “silos” in any organization with more than 15 people — I guess it is just part of human nature. But the more we as employees work across department and functional lines, the better we understand each other, and the better our organizations are for it.
So, kudos to Santee Cooper for developing the STEP program, and walking the walk with it.