When you're the nation's largest government-owned power provider, it's important to have all your employees, spread across some 80,000 miles and 60 worksites, on the same page. For the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Code of Excellence has been a vital part of its recipe for success, and a key ingredient of that has been the ambassador program.
"The impetus for the ambassador program is really about relationships," said International Representative Curtis Sharpe. "It's about developing a structure where you have craft, management, and HR ambassadors working together to fix and minimize conflict, drive job security, and increase success and growth for employees and the TVA."
Those relationships are part of the Code's core values: safety, professionalism, accountability, relationships and quality, or SPARQ. Taken together, they embody the best of what the IBEW does, as well as the other trades at TVA that also participate in the program. Those trades include the Machinists, Plumbers and Pipefitters, Operating Engineers, Boilermakers and Teamsters.
The ambassador role was developed to recognize those in the workplace, both craft and management, who have the respect of their coworkers and can resolve conflict at the line level.
They serve as the face of the Code and partner with stewards and peers to mitigate conflict and serve as a conduit to introduce new tools, processes and other items brought to them by the members.
"It is a bottom-up design that's supported from the top," said TVA employee and Nashville, Tenn., Local 429 member Chad Southall. "It about getting frontline craft and management to work through issues with good old common sense in a lot of cases."
The TVA, which currently employs about 2,650 IBEW members, has a long history of working with labor. But no organization is immune to conflict. Prior to the Code's implementation in 2018, there had been a slide in trust and relationships. Grievances were piling up. Something needed to change. That's when Tenth District International Vice President Brent Hall suggested they look at the success of another utility, Florida Power and Light, in bringing in the Code to improve working conditions. It didn't happen overnight, but once the program was adopted, things at TVA started to improve. Now, grievances are down over 500% since embracing the Code. And that has led to stronger relationships that benefit everyone.
"Our craft ambassadors are valued and respected in the workplace and this keeps us at the table when addressing issues across the TVA fleet," said Southall, who is a lead ambassador.
The TVA is also coming off one of its best years in safety and performance in its 80-plus year history, Sharpe said. That's no small feat considering the coronavirus pandemic.
"We partner together and learn from mistakes and challenges instead of going to our corners preparing to fight," Southall said. "Relationships and trust grow organically when you have a common goal."
Ambassadors are taking leadership roles in developing and implementing the COVID-19 protocols that allow this essential workforce to provide power to the Valley's more than 10 million residents. They're on bi-weekly calls with senior leadership, getting answers to members' questions, and are helping to establish pre-screenings and checkpoints. And they're always on the lookout for ways to improve.
"We've partnered together during COVID and consequently protected each other and produced one of the best years ever," Sharpe said. "The leadership and trust between all parties has only grown, and the Code of Excellence is directly responsible for that."