vision of the utilities, municipalities and companies we work
for. Most of us can find those values and visions mounted on
our workplace’s wall or website, within speeches by the CEO or
interview scripts from HR.
For me, it’s important to adopt the organization’s mission,
vision, and values as my own and to demonstrate my commitment
to those around me. Guided by these collective values, decision-making
becomes easier and more transparent because you and
your staff will know when to say yes and when to say no to the
opportunities and risks we experience in the water space. What I
enjoy most is that mission, vision and value statements are already
written by someone else or a team of people. My role is to just
continuously build awareness and a consciousness of that agreed
upon and adopted framework.
Change by Degrees
My next two management practices are related:
incrementalism and progressive patience. I have implemented
and practiced incrementalism, or the advocacy for gradual
change, because it has been in my experience that the water
industry sometimes can fall a little bit behind in the times.
Infrastructure turnover and the replacement of critical assets
can often be delayed for a variety of reasons. Pipelines are
known to be in operation for more than 50 years. The use of
technology and automation in water can sometimes be seen
and felt as something too uncomfortable or too advanced
to implement. Training gaps can occur for supervisors and
managers, typically when long-term field specialists get tasked
with new management roles. When faced with making change
in the workplace, I first base those changes within the collective
conscious we share, and second, I ensure that the change
happens slowly, subtly and with nuance.
In any industry, change can be both difficult and important.
Changes can help organizations serve customers better, maintain
compliance with regulations and sustain resources. But humans
have adverse reactions to change. Our systems can even be more
stubborn. So when I encounter a need for systemic changes or
cultural shifts, I start with micro-modifications in regular daily
Safety programs are a good example of how things are done
in small increments toward a higher goal of zero accidents in the
workplace. Small changes, like discussing safety at each staff
meeting, can have an impact. I summarize incrementalism as
making change slowly at first, then all at once.
The supervisors I worked with back in 2012 and even today
in 2019 have 20- and 30-plus years of experience that I really
need and highly respect. It’s possible that having a manager who
is younger than them may feel uncomfortable and maybe even
threatening. I haven’t experienced it yet myself, but I’m sure the
day will come. But whatever the sensation may be, I try to be
aware and compassionate at the possibility of the impact.
Patience Pays Off
To stay aware of my impact as a manager, I continuously
practice progressive patience. Progressive patience is just
patience that grows and continues to increase over time. I think
it’s critical in the relationship-building effort of being a manager.
To me, progressive patience looks and feels like a commitment, a
commitment to work side-by-side with every staffer on whatever
it is we are trying to accomplish. It involves lots of mentoring and
coaching. It is the one practice I use with my teams that I know
is truly a continuous activity. Without practicing progressive
patience, our organizations’ missions, visions and values are just
words on a poster somewhere in the office. But with progressive
patience from a manager, those words transcend the paper they
are written on and come to life. In times of change, a manager
practicing progressive patience will build trust, which leads to
more positive changes and success. What can be seen at the end
of this work and throughout time is a working, living, functioning
team with a shared mindset and common vision.
The water industry and its professionals have a leg up on
this process, despite who is doing the job, what age they are or
where they fit in. We are here around the clock constructing,
maintaining and operating water systems in the communities we
live in. Providing safe drinking water is who are, and it’s baked
right into the trade we chose in life. So, despite the changes I
have introduced or the changes I have welcomed with some
anxiety, I know all of us in the water community truly want the
same thing. S
Gregory Williams is a general superintendent for
California Water Service in Salinas, California.