Aqua Illinois Director of Operations Colton Janes Creates a Forum for Sharing Management Best Practices

Leaders are Readers

By Colton Janes

I once received a note from Harry S. Truman (via Rick Fox) that said, "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." I believe this to be true.

Earlier in my career, I accepted a management role with little prior experience. I understood that I could learn the hard way through inevitable personal failures and then eventually time-based, experience-reaping successes, or I could stand on the shoulders of giants and glean as much as I could from seasoned managers who had already documented their learnings.

I chose the latter, and some 40 books later, I continue to reap the benefits.

I began reading works from various authors on a number of professional topics. Amongst my favorites were Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, The Oz Principle by Roger ConnorsTom Smith and Craig Hickman and The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. These books taught me about change management, the power of accountability and building a healthy work culture.

After a little while, many of my peers began to ask me about the books I was reading. This made me realize that many of us who work in water and wastewater don’t have a forum for swapping management best practices. Recognizing this knowledge gap, I talked to Laurie Dougherty, the executive director of the Illinois section of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) about starting a book club.

She liked the idea, and she helped me turn it into reality. 

After spreading the word, we had 40 people sign up for what we titled the Leadership Book Club. We planned our first virtual meeting for Wednesday, January 25, and most of those who joined the book club attended.

The goal of our first meeting was to set the course for remaining meetings. Using a webcast format, we had a lively and interactive discussion about what participants hoped to get out of the meetings; best, as well as worst, practices of managers with whom the attendees have had experience; a poll of which books to choose for future meetings; and time for questions to answer as a group. 

We determined that the group would meet one hour each month, and among the chosen books were Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, as well as one of my favorites, Switchby Chip and Dan Heath.

I'd love to encourage members of our Aqua family to join in the discussion. If you're interested in participating, email me at CJanes@AquaAmerica.com. Book recommendations are also always welcome.

Editor’s note:

As a manager of 100 employees, Colton Janes believes in a hands-on, team-oriented approach, working directly with operators to improve standard operating procedures and to optimize existing systems to meet company goals. He enjoys exploring new and innovative management practices and is an avid reader.Description: http://c.ymcdn.com/email_image.aspx?t=GipMMI1fMpTbfh87m%2fZW17KY7KM2RI5FHzHHABnUxmwNvmS9Pbg6Ac2DVK8RVPxHtqzvqjFDV0oG%2bGtn%2b72FwZsEK3rbkvtTsLSXW3oFe6vf74MHzFhf5pBgm508uJrNPrior to the creation of the Leadership Book Club, Janes got in the practice of sharing reviews on the books he read with his colleagues. The following review of The Effective Manager is one of them:

Last fall I was driving home from work on a breezy Midwestern afternoon and thought to myself, “I didn’t talk to Brian this week…yup, didn’t talk to him once this entire week. I’m a terrible manager.” I tried to rationalize my actions since it was a busy week and there were fires that needed dousing, but after a few stoplights I thought there has to be a better way. A few months later I was turned on to the Manager Tools podcast. I binged on these for a few weeks and bought The Effective Manager so I could write this review.

Few managers have been trained on how to manage employees. Many “fake it until they make it” or do what the person before them did. Although management theory is helpful on a strategic level, tactical step-by-step instruction has a place in creating repeatable managerial results. Instead of discussing “absentee managers” or other forms of lackluster management, can we all just agree that nearly every manager has room to improve?

The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman focuses on four critical behaviors to best manage people:

  1. Get to know your people
  2. Communicate about performance
  3. Ask for more
  4. Push work down

Each behavior has a management best practice to ensure success.

The first behavior, “Get to know your people,” is accomplished by weekly 30-minute one-on-ones (O3s):

All of our data over the years show that the single most important (and efficient) thing that you can do as a manager to improve your performance and increase retention is to spend time getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of your direct reports. Managers who know how to get the most out of each individual member of the team achieve noticeably better results than mangers who don’t. The most efficient way to get to know your team is to spend time regularly communicating with them. 

Weekly meetings are required and structured in a specific format to increase effectiveness. The focus of this meeting is to get to know the employee, so the first 10 minutes are given to them to discuss anything: kids, sports, home life, weather, work, projects and pets are all free game. The second block of 10 minutes is for the manager to discuss whatever is deemed necessary (i.e. projects, performance, upcoming changes or budgets). The final 10 minutes is set aside for coaching and delegation.

An example of this working successfully can be seen in Pat Wren, the regional supervisor for Northern Illinois, who has 12 direct reports. He meets with all of them weekly and continues to get rave reviews. Employees feel valued, heard and up-to-date with company news.

Second, communicate about performance through the feedback model. I believe this is the real test of an effective manager. Providing quick and consistent feedback allows for gradual adjustments with little lag. This behavior has four parts:

  1. Ask: Ask for permission to give feedback. Example: “Can I give you some feedback?”
  2. State the behavior: Focus on behaviors, not attitudes or hard-to-define items. Example: “When you…”
  3. State the impact of the behavior: Describe how the behavior helped or hurt. Example: “Here’s what happens when you…”
  4. Encourage effective future behavior: The goal is improvement, not dwelling on the past or punishing. Example: “Keep it up!” or “Can you change that?”

The third behavior, “Ask for more,” is about coaching your employees. Coaching seems intuitive to most managers, but it requires planning and time. Horstman explains a simple process to build a coaching plan.

  1. Collaborate to set a goal: What skill or behavior does the employee need to get better?
  2. Collaborate to brainstorm resources: Note all the resources that could be helpful. This should be a safe place where no suggestions are dumb.
  3. Collaborate to create a plan: Create a plan for quick wins to gain momentum.
  4. The employee acts and reports on the plan.

The final behavior, “Push work down,” is about consistent delegation. As we move higher in title and responsibility, expectations change. It is less about what I can do and more about what we can do. Sometimes very strong performers get promoted but never embrace delegation. Initially they seem to excel, but in time they burn out. Becoming overwhelmed and stressed by the increased workload often leads to resignation or forced resignation. The best practice is simple: Pass tasks down so you are free to do more.

This is powerful material. I have committed to training the Illinois management team on each section. These tools are an investment in becoming a better manager, encouraging positive company culture and helping employees shape their career paths.

If anyone wants to hear how the implementation is going, feel free to reach out.

 

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Building with Water: An Icy Endeavor

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Say it with us: Ice is the new brick! It may seem physically impossible, but some of the world’s most breathtaking structures consist entirely of frozen water.

Whether permanent, semi-permanent or temporary, these renowned structures push the boundaries of traditional architecture and have us wanting to travel the world just to catch a glimpse of their beauty. 

 

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel — Finnmark, Norway

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel rests in the county of Finnmark, Norway and was first introduced to the world in 1999. It is the largest, northernmost ice hotel in Europe and the second ever constructed in the world.  

Like Sweden’s IceHotel, the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel is reconstructed annually. The hotel consists of 30 rooms, a chapel and ice gallery, all of which adhere to a new theme each year. Sorrisniva is open for reservations from mid-December through the beginning of April every year.

 

IceHotel — Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

Sweden’s IceHotel—the first in the world—was founded in 1989 and has been rebuilt every year since its inception. With 55 rooms, 10 restaurants and an ice chapel, the IceHotel undoubtedly attracts a lot of attention. In fact, artists from all over the world apply for an opportunity to contribute to the hotel’s building and design every year.

The hotel, built naturally with ice and snow from the nearby Torne River, is open annually from December through April and ultimately melts in the summer—only to be rebuilt again the following year. Those who book a stay at the incredible IceHotel in the winter months have a chance to see the Aurora Borealis firsthand.

 

Hôtel de Glace — Quebec, Canada

The Hôtel de Glace (“Ice Hotel”), originally built in 2001, was the first ice hotel in North America. This 44-room hotel is furnished with deer furs for warmth and contains a chapel, spa and even a slide constructed of ice. It generally requires 50 workers and an estimated month and a half to construct the building, which consists of 30,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice. The hotel is available for booking from January until March, and rooms start at $450 per person.

Winter Carnival — St. Paul, Minnesota, United States

After a New York reporter referred to Saint Paul, Minnesota as “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation” in 1885, the city’s population decided to take a stand. They created what is now known as the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and have since constructed a total of 36 ice palaces as chief attractions to the annual carnival. Unfortunately, the city is unable to build an ice palace for every carnival and the latest structure was constructed in 2004—nearly 13 years ago!

Ice Palace — St. Petersburg, Russia

Image via pxhere

In 1740, the world’s first known ice palace was commissioned by Russia’s Empress Anna Ivanovna to celebrate Russia’s victory over the Ottoman Empire. The empress requested the construction of an enormous ice palace to commemorate the victory. In 2005, Russian historians teamed up with ice sculptor Valerij Gromov to recreate the ice palace.

From hotels to palaces to everything in between, buildings made from ice are impressive both as works of art and feats of engineering. For more winter wanderlust, check out our guide to water-tastic vacations

 

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5 Keys to a Safe, Stress-Free Bath

 

Nothing quite beats a relaxing bath to unwind after a long day. But before hopping in the tub, remember to put safety first. There are potential hazards that could arise during bath time such as slipping, falling, or even drowning.

January is nationally recognized as Bath Safety Month, so there is no better time to read up on our complied tips for keeping your time in the tub relaxing and safe. 

Keep an Eye on the Kids

Obviously, small children should never be left alone or unsupervised while in the tub. Kids aged four and under are at the greatest risk for bath-related accidents and should remain under guardian supervision at all times. Ideally, children should bathe with some degree of adult supervision until they have reached at least seven or eight years of age.  

Rinse Away Those Suds

A sudsy bathtub floor is the perfect surface for slipping. To prevent an unpleasant and dangerous fall in the bath, rinse away as much foam, bubbles and sudsy bath residue as you can before standing up and exiting the tub. If the floor remains slick, proceed with extreme caution and consider installing a handrail to make bath time safer.

Traction Prevents Tripping

One effective strategy for preventing a sudsy slip is to invest in a traction pad or adhesive for the tub floor. These affordable, easily accessible items reduce the risk of falling by creating friction for the feet and prevent the potential of leaving behind a slick surface. Implementation of bathtub traction pads is beneficial to bath-goers of all ages, since everyone from toddlers to senior citizens can potentially suffer from a fall. 

Soothing, NOT Scalding

Hot baths are lovely, but it’s important to remember baths are intended to be soothingnot scalding! When filling up the tub for a bath, make sure to check the water temperature several times before climbing in. If it is too warm for comfort, run a bit of cold water, and then check the temperature of the bath again before you enter.

This advice is particularly important when preparing a bath for small children, since they are more likely to jump right into a hot bath without considering the temperature. Additionally, children do not have the same capabilities as adults when it comes to handling extreme temperatures. Bath water that’s just hot enough for you might be too warm for a little one, so use extra caution when preparing a child’s tub. 

Steer Clear of Sharp Edges

It’s easy to forget that sharp edges can act as a bath safety hazard. Bathtub faucets, drains and showerheads could pose a risk of cuts or scrapes, and become dangerous when accompanied by a slip or fall.

To reduce the potential of a scrape, use rubber faucet and drain covers and hide any sharp edges with a towel or soft material. If you have young children, steer clear of any bath toys that have harsh edges or are made of hard plastic—nobody wants to land on those in the event of a stumble.

The next time the January cold gets to you, we hope you’ll keep these precautions in mind before indulging in a warm, relaxing bath. Don’t forget your rubber ducky! 

 

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Communications Manager Donna Alston Explores the Relationship Between Social Media and the Customer Experience

Hey! Who Opened That Door?

I recently had the privilege to be part of a panel of communications professionals who were charged with dropping knowledge about social media and the customer experience on a group of students studying communications at my alma mater, Temple University. My first thought was that because the audience was primarily millennials, that they should likely be dropping social media knowledge on me.

After I pulled myself together, I remembered that the topic was really about the customer experience and how it has been impacted by social media. Feeling a bit more confident, I began to think about just that. One of the most significant impacts of social media is that it has made everything public. No more private showing or sharing of anything that has been documented in any way, for anyone, anymore—and probably never again. Terms like, “behind closed doors” and “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” are now officially anachronisms.

But what has this truth meant for the customer experience? On the business/service provider side of that experience, it means that customer service is no longer solely seated in the “customer service department” because now, the entire world has a bird’s-eye view of that customer experience. What used to take place between one customer and one service representative via a secure landline is now on the internet for everyone to see. Many customers are less likely to use landlines (which are nearly anachronisms) to call a service provider, than they are to use cell phones to Tweet their issues, airing them on companies’ social media sites—which could easily be the most massive of all mass media.

This thought alone can be daunting, particularly when you consider that most customers only connect with customer service when there is a problem. So how are businesses to handle this still-rather-new, very public customer experience?

When I think about the answer, I’m reminded of my childhood and my parents in particular, who taught me to always be on my best behavior. And make no mistake about it, there was no compromise on that mandate when in public. I’d better not embarrass them when we were in public—because my behavior was a direct reflection of their parenting skills and an implication of what took place in our home.

In much the same fashion, companies should always have their best face forward when managing customer issues on social media (and elsewhere). When they don’t, just like with the misbehaved child, they leave the public wondering what’s going on at home. Who is minding that store?

Customer issues raised on social media should be handled with the same promptness, courtesy, concern, and attention we would provide to our most loved family member. Their handling should reflect the company’s brand and values, and embody its mission, because just like the child, it provides an indication of what’s going on inside the business and what is taking place with their operations.

There is already an inherent relationship between customer service and operations, which is often the primary source of information needed to reply to customer queries. However, customer service professionals charged with managing the social customer experience would be greatly served by consulting their company’s communications professionals. Social “media” has created a nexus where customer service and communications meet. I suggest that the best social customer experience is one that is informed by customer service and communications professionals. The icing on the cake comes when both of these groups have complete and consistent access to their peers in operations who are keeping the business running.

Operations professionals ensure that the information needed to provide the right answers and appropriate solutions to customers is made available to the customer service team. They should also provide notice of potential issues in a timely fashion so that customer service can proactively alert customers about potential problems when appropriate. These decisions should be made with input from the communications team. Customer service professionals ensure that responses are delivered promptly and contain information that will actually resolve the issues, and that proactive messages are delivered when needed. Communications professionals ensure that all messages are consistent with the company’s brand, values and mission.

When the customer service/communications nexus is synced and fed consistent and comprehensive information from operations, it doesn’t matter that the door is open and your company’s customer experience is taking place in public. Why? Because now, like that well-behaved child, your company is on its best behavior, leaving little or no room for anyone to wonder what’s going on at home or who is minding that store.

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Aqua Partners with Cristo Rey High School to Offer Students Professional Work Experience

Throughout the last few months, there have been some new faces around Aqua. These are the faces of the Cristo Rey High School interns. There are four interns working at Aqua, one from each grade. I am the senior student, Kathleen Santiago, and I have been working with the communications department. Also joining me at Aqua are freshman George who is working in the Human Resources Department, sophomore Aaron who is working in the Accounting, Rates and Planning Department, and junior Jaide who is working in administration, which comprises customer operations, IT and fleet.

Cristo Rey is a college-prep, private Catholic high school in North Philadelphia. Being a student at my high school is not like being a student at your typical high school. Cristo Rey is particularly focused on getting us into college, and having an internship all four years helps us achieve that goal. Our internships are organized through the work-study program, which is a significant part of being a student at Cristo Rey. It is what keeps our school running, and keeps our education affordable.

Our internships do not interfere with our academics, and the ability to maintain my schoolwork while having an internship has become something that is natural to me. Having the opportunity to be involved in the work-study program helps us get ready for college and the real world and ultimately has helped me grow.

This is how the work-study program works: Each Cristo Rey student works one day out of the week in a professional setting as a full-time intern. Given that we miss one day of school, our academic day is extended. The internships help students pay for the cost of a private Catholic school tuition. While working, each student earns approximately 60 percent of their tuition, and their family contribution covers the rest.

We do not get to choose our job placements, but we do get placed based on our interests. To help us get paired up with the best internship experience, we take surveys and work with the work-study department to determine what we’d like to do in the future. Our internships are assigned to us during what Cristo Rey calls “Signing Day.” This is an NFL-style draft day, where all job partners come and announce who will be joining their company and give out a little of their company swag. Local news is always there to capture the excitement, including NBC 10 and FOX 29 news.

Being involved in the work-study program has given me the opportunity to experience working at four varied companies. During my freshman year, I worked at Lavin Law. At Lavin I summarized depositions and I even had the opportunity to attend some depositions in person. The Comcast Center was where I held my sophomore year internship. While at Comcast, I worked in the Products and Engineering Department. My responsibilities were to test new products that would soon be sold to customers, as well as prepare reports based on current customer feedback. For my junior year, I was an intern at Penn Medicine Tuttleman Center. While I was at Penn, I answered phone calls from patients, took messages and put in prescriptions.

Now for my final year in high school and in the work-study program, I am going to soak up all the skills and knowledge I can while here at Aqua. I am extremely excited to develop new skills, and expand my writing skills and proper business etiquette. I also hope to leave behind some of the things I have learned as well.

I am happy to be a part of the team at Aqua, and to have the opportunity to get to experience new things like writing blog entries for the company website, meeting new people and building relationships. I will be able to take these skills, along with those gained throughout my previous three internships, with me next fall as I begin my journey into college.

Throughout my time at Cristo Rey High School, I have come to realize the importance of my internships, and how they will help prepare me for my college journey and beyond. Because of Cristo Rey, and my experiences at my internships, I was accepted into Cabrini University and Gywnedd Mercy University. I am genuinely grateful for Cristo Rey, the work-study program and for my final internship here at Aqua.

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