Melbourne Business School News How the Advanced Management Program is improving energy giant Powerlink

How the Advanced Management Program is improving energy giant Powerlink

When your job is to keep the lights on for almost four million people, trust and performance are paramount.

Responsible for transporting energy across large parts of Queensland, Powerlink operates the transmission network that extends from the New South Wales border to northern Cairns, comprised of 140 substations and 15,337 circuit kilometres of powerlines.

With such an important role in keeping the state switched on, the company is constantly trying to improve its operations and find new ways to meet the needs of customers.

"We deliver electricity right across Queensland, and certainly for us it's about powering the economic growth of the state and particularly the communities where we live and work," says Kevin Kehl, Interim Chief Executive.

"Our high-level goals and our vision are around being very customer-focused and innovative in improving the way that we ensure electricity is delivered."

To help achieve those goals, Powerlink decided to send its executive team on the Advanced Management Program at Melbourne Business School, a 13-day course designed to expand the capabilities of senior business leaders.

It might seem unusual for a Queensland-based company to send its executives to school in another state, but Mr Kehl said there was a good reason behind the decision. 

"When we looked around the country, we were looking for a program that provides personal opportunities for development, as well as an organisational approach," Mr Kehl says.

"We chose a program that could be attended over a period of time, because we can't send all of our executive team at the same time – so one that endures for a number of years."

After sending its executive team on the program two people at a time, the company is now enrolling its next level of senior managers as well. Mr Kehl says one of the most noticeable changes has been a boost in trust and teamwork thanks to sharing a new common language.

"All of our leadership team have done the program, so there's a shared understanding and basis for us working together as a team," he says.

"It's made us more mature in terms of our interaction with each other, and certainly allows us to work more closely as a team and have those difficult conversations which lead us to progress and solutions for the organisation."

As well as the collective benefits, each participant has used the experience to help solve their own personal challenges as well.

For Stewart Bell, Executive General Manager for Strategy and Business Development, one of the highlights was gaining new coaching skills to provide better support to his colleagues.

"We spent a lot of time doing coaching and reflecting on our leadership style, and it really made me gather my thoughts about how I'm leading my team," he says.

"For instance, one of my managers needed a bit of career coaching. I reflected on my own experiences and asked questions for him to consider about his future. Within just half an hour, a lightbulb came on for him with what he wanted to do over the next five years.

"It was very, very raw and valuable to both of us."

Cathy Heffernan, Executive General Manager of People and Corporate Services, was relatively new to the energy industry when she attended the program, having come to Powerlink from a government department. For Cathy, the program was a chance to regain her confidence in the new role.

"The energy industry is new for me, so when I went into the Advanced Management Program, I was feeling a little bit lost," she says. 

"The program helped to bring me back into those really good business strategy fundamentals, and that then redeveloped me as a leader.

"My biggest takeaway was to just back your decisions, back your calls. You're in the role, so you're empowered to do the role. Take accountability for it. On that personal level, I've been able to now make the best decisions for my leadership team."

Feeling empowered in her role also gave Cathy a newfound clarity about her priorities, which she says is helping the executive team focus its efforts.

"Melbourne Business School really helped me to understand everything I do in a much clearer way, and that's now helping us work towards all our goals."

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