Effective Issues Management Requires Imagination

All across America, electric utilities (including many of our friends in the electric co-op world) are installing a new generation of smart meters that will help them deliver better service and improve the reliability of the nation’s electric grid. These meters are the quintessential “win-win” scenario.

Customers with credit troubles can avoid expensive security deposits with pay-as-you-go plans. Savvy savers can reduce their energy bills by running the dishwasher and clothes dryer during off-peak hours on new time-of-use rate plans. Folks who are concerned about the environment can celebrate an electric grid that uses energy more efficiently, reducing the demand for more power plants, and thus, emissions. New residents can have their power turned on instantly with the click of the mouse, and not have to worry about scheduling an appointment between 8 a.m. and noon.

The power companies benefit too, by reducing overhead, enhancing their ability to identify and fix problems quickly, having the ability to control large portions of their systems remotely, and analyzing and responding to energy demand more efficiently.

But despite all the benefits, there is a small but vocal group raising concerns about the radio waves these meters use to communicate with the electric utility.

The power company in my hometown is currently embroiled in a controversy involving this very topic.

I have to admit that the first time I read about the controversy, I was kind of surprised. I’ve been working with electric utilities for my entire professional career, and I can rattle off a long list of issues that have the potential to create controversy…but this one had never crossed my mind.

It was a good reminder that when you’re developing a communication plan and going through that trusty SWOT (or TOWS) analysis, you have to keep an open mind. It’s easy to overlook potential threats, especially when you’re launching a new product or service that is several orders of magnitude better than the thing it’s replacing. It’s equally easy to dismiss potential weaknesses when your organization is great at what it does and has a long history of doing it well.

But a vivid imagination and a willingness to consider the unlikely is exactly what it takes to build a great plan – whether it’s a routine communication program, a new product or service launch, or a crisis management plan that you hope never has to be used.

So next time you’re working on a plan, don’t be so quick to cast aside the off-the-wall ideas that come up in the brainstorm session. Write them down. Revisit them later. Ask a friend or colleague. Punch them into Google and see what comes up. You might be surprised…and you might also be recognized as the one with the vision that helps your organization avoid (or at least be prepared for) a big problem.