Let’s Talk Leadership with Bill Hogg: Brian Bentz CEO PowerStream Part 4

Lets Talk Leadership

Too many organizations fail to acknowledge or recognize just how powerful recognition, in and of itself, can be without a reward (a gift card, for example), and how it needs to be done on a regular basis, not just quarterly or at the bi-annual luncheon.

In the previous blog post, we discussed aligning goals to company objectives and positions within the company to help people understand where they fit within the organization. In this interview, Brian Bentz, CEO of PowerStream Inc., talks about reward and recognition and how this impacts the culture of the organization.

Brian shares with us his perspective on how PowerStream uses recognition without the reward to motivate behavior:

“It is about being visible, a lot of it, as a leader of the organization. One of the things we do is we have all of our management staff do field visits. I go out and see the work crews, and we do an inspection, but it really is a time to say, ‘Thank you.’ You’re out here in these elements, keeping the lights on for people in the wind, and the rain, and the snow, and we are thankful. I do bring some coffee cards too, though, so I guess that’s a reward, but it’s recognition and reward.”

A second way the company recognizes its employees is through sessions called “Coffee With Brian.” During the session, they meet with 10 or 15 of the staff, and it’s very informal. It’s just, “What are you thinking? Here’s what I’m thinking. What do you like?  What don’t you like?” Talk about anything.

“It is a chance to talk to our people, and, again, express how much we value them,” says Brian.

Over the course of a year, Brian has a chance to meet with 50 or 60 people in their company, which has about 500 employees, in addition to managing and talking with employees by walking around.

This approach creates an open dialogue. You can talk about anything you want, but invariably you will start to develop a little bit of a more personalized relationship.  Employees will share information and insights with you. They will ask you the questions you won’t get on the surveys. Now you have the opportunity to go, “Oh, my gosh. I had no idea that they didn’t know that. Let me make sure I get that information out,” or they’ll provide you with an insight that’s, “Wow. We need to do a little bit more investigating on that.”

This approach to how PowerStream recognizes its employees has a profound impact on the culture of the organization.

Brian explains:

“Any organization is about human relationships and relating to people at any level. I always say, ‘I can’t do it alone.’ No one can do it alone. You can only do it through the people who work in the organization, and you have to appreciate, respect, and be thankful for that. If you do that, then it gets reciprocated.”

This is perhaps the most important leadership competency. There’s lots of things we can learn if we go to school, if we learn the tools and techniques, but recognizing that we are mutually dependent on everyone that we work with, and treating people with respect, you’re always going to get better work effort from the people that you work with. That’s what the employee engagement stuff is all about.

PowerStream, like many organizations, has a variety of employees who have come in at various times. What happens when somebody just doesn’t get it, doesn’t want to be part of it?

“You have to deal with them head on. It’s about maintaining those values. If you talk about honesty and transparency, it’s not always roses sometimes, and you give people …  You be fair and honest with them. You give them as many chances as you can, but sometimes it just doesn’t work, and the fit’s not there. If the fit’s not there, you’ve got to make the hard decision. You have to make it for the good of the organization, and, hopefully, for the good of the employee, so that they can move on with a different career path. It does send a message. It sends a message to the organization. You are willing to make tough decisions to maintain those values that you advocate,” says Brian.

You’ve got to do it for the organization. If someone is not pulling their weight, if someone is not carrying their load, then they’re putting extra weight on everyone else on the team, and that’s not fair to the rest of the team.

Being able to work as a team to be able to accomplish those common goals, that’s where also that sort of peer-to-peer recognition comes in. Again, you go back to the analogy of hockey. “When my teammate does well, I want to congratulate them for doing great” because that’s going to motivate them to do it again; but it’s also going to motivate everybody else who sees it and says, “Okay. That’s the behavior that gets me the encouragement and the acknowledgment.”

Watch the video of this interview on YouTube.

About Brian Bentz

Brian Bentz is President and Chief Executive Officer of PowerStream Inc. Originally from Thunder Bay, he has an MBA from McMaster and an honorary Bachelor of Applied Arts Degree from Georgian College. He’s also a chartered accountant as well as a certified engineering technologist. Brian played a pivotal role in the growth of PowerStream from its creation following the merger of three local electricity distribution companies in 2004, to the acquisition of Aurora Hydro in 2005 and the 2009 merger with Barrie Hydro.

About PowerStream Inc.

PowerStream was formed in 2004 when the hydro companies from Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Markham combined under the single umbrella of PowerStream Inc.  Headquartered in Vaughan, and with an operation center in Markham, PowerStream has grown through mergers and organic growth to become the second largest municipally owned electricity distribution company in Ontario.

PowerStream is committed to providing its customers with safe, reliable and efficient service. In 2012, PowerStream was recognized as one of Greater Toronto’s top employers as well as 50 most engaged workplaces. You can find out more about PowerStream at www.powerstream.ca.


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