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“More Power” - Success from Anywhere w/Karen Mangia Guests: Brandi Davis-Handy + Tanya Sovinski


“More Power” - Success from Anywhere w/Karen Mangia Guests: Brandi Davis-Handy + Tanya Sovinski

KM:

Today on success for money, where we'll discover the secrets to more power, from two electrifying leading ladies, please welcome to the show, Brandi Davis, handy Chief Customer Officer and Tanya Sirsi, Senior Director of Public Relations for AES, an organization that is literally powering the future of work globally. Welcome to the show, Brandi and Tanya.


BDH + TS:

Thank you. Thanks so much for having us.


KM:

Because we are talking about the future of work. I like to ask each of my guests What was your first paying job and how that job and former inspire your career trajectory.


BDH + TS:

My first paying job I was 15 and a half and just got my workers permit. I worked at an ice cream shop in Indianapolis. So I think the early lesson learned was you have to work really hard for $1. I would come home in the evenings and ice my wrist. The one thing I couldn't stand was when people ordered chocolate ice cream that was the hardest to scoop. But it was also a fun experience at 15 and a half and 16.


KM:

Maybe there's a specific name if you scoop ice cream, but I think everyone's dying to know if you get to give away free scoops of ice cream to your friends. I'm thinking that makes you popular as a teenager.


BDH + TS:

Absolutely it made me more popular with my family. It just so happened they were always at the mall during one of my shifts. What about you, Tanya?


BDH + TS:

So my first paying job, I was 16. I worked at my grandmother’s factory in the Apalis. I worked in the laboratory, but I worked the overnight shift. So I didn't get to see my friends a lot throughout the summer. It was kind of a cool experience. I worked a lot of hours because people of course are doing a lot of outdoor painting jobs during the summer. So I would often work up to 60 hours per week. So it taught me a really good work ethic. I did also get to work with people from all walks of life.


KM:

As I was preparing for our conversation today, I was reminded of a TV show that was popular when I was a kid called The Electric Company. I don't know if you remember this now. I realized that actually wasn't about a power company, you would learn to read and write and these practical life skills. Something that was compelling to me about having both of you on the show is we don't often think of women necessarily having as much presence in the executive suite in organizations like public utilities. How did you find your way into this world of senior leadership in a public utility? Tanya, how about you?


BDH + TS:

So I worked with the Indianapolis symphony orchestra for nine years. The woman that I worked with, to make all of our sponsorships come to life with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra was getting ready to retire. She said you should update your resume to apply for my position so that you come up with really creative ideas to sort of get our message out about the organization. My thought was, am I qualified? And she said, well, you have a marketing communications, sponsorship and fundraising background. She said you're probably more qualified than I am. I've had a really successful career here for 31 years. So I applied for the position.


KM:

Brandi, what about you?


BDH + TS:

For me, being in the utility and energy space is something that I never thought about. So I spent a majority of my career focused on communications marketing, I've worked across a number of different sectors and have always thought of myself as more on the comms and strategy side and that could translate to any organization but, what's interesting about AES and as Indiana particularly, and I think a lot of us similar to Tanya, have the same stories, because they are such a big part of the community and all of the markets that they serve. I knew a lot of people that worked at the company. So whether it was through volunteer work or board work, and someone I mean, similar to Tanya, someone reached out to me and said, Hey, at the time, it was Indianapolis, Power and Light Company, they're hiring, and I had a great conversation, and then wound up in this really incredible inner, industry at a time that it's going through transformational change. Now I'm in a place where I can't imagine myself working in another industry, because it's so fascinating. Even in my seven years of being a part of it I remember looking around kind of the leadership area of the building, and there was one woman. Today, I mean, I find myself in meetings where the majority are women. So there, it's been not only a fascinating transformation in the industry, but what's happening in terms of those who are doing the work inside of our business.


KM:

What strikes me is we're all in the middle of a power struggle right now, to some degree, and the office seems to be at the center of that debate. Something that comes up consistently is this topic of sustainability, right? We see organizations putting it in their values. Within that there's this trade off debate of is working at home more sustainable or coming to the office, and you're sitting at the intersection of this power struggle, this debate about the office and sustainability. I mean, are these views mutually exclusive? Is it one or the other? How do we start to unwind this conversation a little?


BDH + TS:

It's the conversation that all businesses are having right now. I don't know that anyone has a clear solution, it's got to be what's right for your business and what's right for your people. So I mean, we've really taken the approach kind of, I don't even know that we can say, post pandemic, because I think we are still very much in pandemic mode. We've taken the approach of our people of, hey, we're really taking this a day, a week, a month at a time. So, throughout this process, we have maintained a very hybrid work environment. Some of our people have found that they work more effectively and efficiently from their home offices, and that's fine. Then we have another set of people that miss being in the office, they miss the kind of relationships, and the collaboration that you have. So we've done something where we want to ensure that those who want and need to work at home have that ability. We've also put together a framework, where people who want to see their co-workers again, and want to come together and get that sense of collaboration, that they have that as well.


BDH + TS:

The one thing that we've learned through this is that it takes flexibility to allow people balance, and the way they think the fluidity and the flexibility that we've all sort of learned to have, but also offer to our teams, because we come together a couple of days a week just for that community building within our team. Sometimes, if you have a lot going on, if you have a contractor coming to your house, and it makes sense to work from home, or if you just need the quietness that your home provides, because, sometimes people come into the office, everyone is so excited to see one another, that it's sometimes not the most productive of environments that we found that I think, for us being able to be fluid and offer this sort of hybrid approach. We're also getting ready to open a sort of selling space so that when our people are in the office before and sort of be together and feel that part that you often get with more people are getting ready to offer that.


KM:

What you're describing, and the literal organization that you're in, represents the challenge that many organizations are facing, which is that we support and serve by definition of being a public utility, a range of stakeholders, right? Everything from businesses and wholesalers to residential people. Within that we all have a variety of preferences and the pandemic forced a pattern interrupt, right we've changed our habits, we've changed our behaviors. With that comes a changing set of expectations. You talked about whether it's onboarding the new employee or giving people choice in where and when They work. I mean, how do you think about categorizing this complex set of stakeholders you have listening to their needs and then offering choices? Because I hear so many leaders say, Well, I mean, I can't have a plan for every employee or every stakeholder and brand in your new role as Chief Customer Officer, I think you're thinking about stakeholder engagement quite a bit.


BDH + TS:

It's similar to how you think about your customers, all customers are diverse, and how you meet their needs is in a really personalized way. So I think, as we think about the future of work, and how we engage with our people, it's no longer a kind of a one stop shop. So we've got different roles. They're absolutely roles that are more kind of market facing, whether you're sitting down and you're meeting with customers, because of the nature of what we do, we still have people who are in our plants, and we need to be able to respond 24/7. Our linemen are coming in snow, rain or shine. There are others who feel like they can really do their job from anywhere. I think the same way that we've thought over the years of how we continue to meet our customers' needs in different ways, we've got to start thinking about that as it relates to our people.


KM:

Kind of taking the customer experience, mentality and mindset and approach into the employee experience, right? Thinking about this concept that what's good for customers tends to be what's good for employees and Tanya in your role, it's also about the stakeholders in the community. So now we add another dimension: take us into how you're thinking about community partnerships and relationships differently in your role.


BDH + TS:

One of the things that's always been a high priority for us with the formula IPL known as Indiana is that of helping our customers, the reason why we give back to our community, is to make Indianapolis a more viable, thriving, livable space for our customers. Basic needs have always played a huge part in that. One of the things that we found during the pandemic was, that was an even more critical need, that some of our customers were facing, they were sick or furloughed or out of work. So relationships that we've had long standing partnerships with, such as Gleaners Food Bank, we leaned really heavily into those, we also put additional dollars into our own utility assistance, program power of change, because we wanted to just help our customers who were experiencing the most insecurities through a really scary time for all of us. So as Brandi pointed out earlier, we can't really say that we're, we're sort of out of the pandemic. As we're sort of transitioning back into the normalcy of life, a lot of those critical needs are still really necessary. So how we've been able to lean into some of those partnerships in new ways to help our customers at the very core of where they need it most, that has not changed. So we are remaining committed to that.


KM:

Basic needs is an important concept. I think about what would happen if we step back and apply that to everything from our customers, to our own employees and their return to office basic needs. I mean, what are the basic needs we need in the workplace and how important it would be to operate from that understanding? One of the challenges I often hear from organizations who put sustainability on their list of core values is that, you can't make very much progress very fast, because sustainability is expensive to implement. Is that true?


BDH + TS:

Sustainability is as much as an individual or an organization wants it to be. There are small things that we can do day to day, to become more sustainable. Just like there are small actions that businesses can take. The great part of working for an energy company is this is part of what we do. We're working with our customers, whether it's on the residential side or on the commercial side every day to help them with their sustainability objectives.



KM:

Those willing to take that a step further, Brandi, it surprised me to discover how much your organization is investing in moving into more sustainable sources of energy. Many of our listeners are in organizations that are in a business model transformation, right? They're trying to cross over from a way that they've operated and made money, right into a new business model. When you think inside of your own organization, how do you assess how far how fast to go and some of that crossover from the way you've always done things to the way you're trying to build the future?


BDH + TS:

I can tell you one thing that I think has been really important for the approach, specifically that AF Indiana has taken is that, while our customers in the greater community and maybe hearing more about those efforts, today, it's been a long road. So I would really encourage,those who are setting forth on their sustainability objectives to think about the changes that they're making, and not only how it impacts your people, but also the customers those that you're serving as a local utility, we're our the, the three main things that we're focused on is safety, reliability, and affordability, and affordability being really, really important, especially, what we've seen and kind of the broader environment. In the last two and a half years, we know, Tanya spoke about basic needs, our customers are facing a lot. So I can remember back in 2013, when I joined the organization, and at that time, from a, when you think about a generation portfolio standpoint, 99% of how we were generating electricity was coal based. That was in 2013. So that is now less than 50% of our portfolio, but it didn't happen overnight. While we were pushed by a number of other stakeholders to make a change away from fossil fuels a little bit swiffer, we also had to balance that with the impact of our organization. So getting our people ready for a different way of working. So when you've had someone that has whether they've worked in a coal plant, for 30 years, we want to ensure that as we, transform as an organization that we can bring our people along with that transformation, and also understanding what it means from a financial standpoint, to transition from whether it's coal or natural gas to wind or solar. So there were very real financial impacts to our customers. So for us, I think our right our, our right mix has been a slow and steady process.


BDH + TS:

I was just going to add on to that, because I think, to Brandi’s point, assessing the needs of our customers here locally is so important. So in February 26 2021, we went through this, this big rebrand as a global company and being able to tell the story locally about the innovation and access that we have as part of a global innovation, energy company, has been a really exciting story to tell, because one of the things that we want to do for our customers locally, is be able to help as they transition toward their sustainability goals. Let them know that yes, well, while we are a utility that provides power, we are also an energy solutions company that can help them meet their objectives. So taking it back even to the community, when we were still in the height of the pandemic, and large scale events were happening, but Indianapolis had the opportunity to host March Madness all in one city in one bubble for the very first time. We were able to help the Indiana sports Corp and the NCAA reach their sustainability goals by ensuring that 100% of the power utilized for March Madness was provided through renewable energy. So that was a creative approach that we took, that I think being a part of a global innovation company has allowed us to just think of new and creative ways to help our customers meet their goals.


KM:

There's so much goodness in what you shared for our non sports fan listeners. March Madness, right? The big basketball tournaments. So for all intensive purposes, picture the biggest conference your industry offers, except this is just in sports. So you gotta have a lot of people together. It's really a messaging opportunity that meets people where they are and in any change, regardless of your organization. Communication is key. Tonya, tell us more about how you think about bringing the public along with you on this journey of messaging because some people get a wrong perception and change right we get afraid of aid. We wonder about the implication, is my power bill going up? am I going to have power outages back to your reliability point, Brandi? How do you think about messaging in a way that brings the people who are affected along with you on the journey?


BDH + TS:

For me, it's about listening. I think you can't start to provide solutions based on your own assumptions. You can't assume what a customer needs until they tell you, you can't assume what a business needs until you listen to them. They tell you what their goals and objectives are and we're, that's what we strive to do with our customers in the community. It helps guide our decisions, on the different things that we do to make Indianapolis vibrant, and, our partnerships, we've learned really heavily into our DEA partnerships,, because I think what we saw in June of 2020, was that we were at a critical place, and this is what the country, our city the world needs. Those partnerships, I don't feel can happen organically, unless you listen,


KM:

you referenced a specific community event that's about bringing together artists and people in the community and companies to really think differently about what the community needs. Organizations offer some of these types of engagement opportunities around employee groups, we see all kinds of different partnerships emerging because of the pandemic, because of business model shifts. For every organization, every listener listening right now, what are some other ways besides doing deep listening, that people can stimulate and find these new kinds of partnerships that lead to something we all want, which is creating community? I think,


BDH + TS:

more often than not, it's about connecting. So you have the listening component, yes. Then there's also the connection. So, a lot of times, I think what's so exciting for me is to be able to connect with the different organizations that we have, in the community, and we're getting ready to launch some new partnerships in our Ohio market as well. A lot of times, you hear about things that are happening at a grassroots level, and then you're able to make certain connections for those organizations. So I think that's the secret sauce a lot of times that brings things to fruition. I think that's, that's all part of like, connecting the community journey, right.


KM:

One of the best leadership coaches I ever had said, you should always speak into the room, the reality of what's happening. I would say this interview is going to the dog, so we're just going to take a health boss, Tanya, tell us about that office companion that we hear because everybody else hears it, too. So who's your office mate?


BDH + TS:

So anyway, that companion in my household is a two and a half year old goldendoodle named Roxy, that I got the first week of April of 2020. So she is what we're all referring to as a COVID. Puppy. So she does not necessarily know that the world exists outside of her needs. So this is Roxy's house, I just live in it. I pay for everything.


KM:

Randy, tell us about building this community mentality. How do we think about partnerships differently?


BDH + TS:

Well, you actually mentioned a little while ago, Karen, something that I think is really important as we think about how we're, how we're working differently into the future. So you mentioned employee resource groups. So I feel like across the board, I have participated in employee resource groups for years at different organizations. I feel that in and I don't think that this is true, just true for AES, because I have, heard and seen stories from other organizations where these ERGs really showed up in a big way, during this pandemic. So as I think, even how we're engaging today at AES, and the opportunities that we have to act to, to actually bring our people back into the office and come together. Everything has been centered around our ERG. I serve as the executive sponsor for our black Professionals Network, and it's typically our leadership in that group that thinking back to Black History Month, we were working on programming. They said, Hey, we want to be in person or hey, we want volunteer opportunities. I was working closely With Tonya, and finding organizations and Dayton in Indianapolis that we could connect our black Professionals Network to, we're seeing that across the board. So as we think about kind of the new way of working, even if for those who may be working remotely today, some of the, the biggest opportunities that I've seen in the last year of our people coming together is when our ERGs have come together, and they're connecting with our partners out in the community. Pride Month is a great example. We had a great representation of our people that showed up in downtown Indianapolis, and we're celebrating many of which are seeing each other right now daily, in the way that we're talking right now. So it's just been, I think, really awesome, to I think we've always known the values, the value of the employee resource group, but I think that they have shown up in an even bigger way than any of us anticipated, and what we've been through in the last two and a half years.


BDH + TS:

Well, and adding on to that brand name, because you are absolutely correct. It's been pretty remarkable to sort of watch, watch these groups grow and, and deeply connect and engage people. So we've actually been leading from a community standpoint, we've been leaning really heavily on our ERG groups, for ATS to help develop programming. So we have what we called team Tuesdays. So we are really encouraging a lot of our people to come all together, definitely on Tuesdays. wWhat we've been doing is offering programming in partnership with specific erg. So last week, we had Horizon house, which is a local homeless support organization in Indianapolis, they came in, they gave a presentation and then the EPN group, our emerging professionals networking group, they then sponsored a volunteer activity where people packed snack bags for our communities homeless. We've done programming with our black professionals that work in groups or volunteer activities. We were heavily engaged with Juneteenth. So they've been a remarkable resource for us just to engage our people, and find ways to bring to bring them all together,


KM:

seeking impact through collaboration is powerful. I want to bring us back before we hop into a fun segment of the show, into the topic we started with about sustainability where certainly moving from intention to impact requires collaboration, and community. I was reading recently about a new study that came out from MIT and they highlighted what they called the knowing doing gap like we all kind of know that being more sustainable is a good idea. How are we following through there were some statistics, I'd love to get your reaction to their study that found 90% of executives find sustainability to be important. Only 60% of organizations incorporate sustainability in their strategy and nearly 25% have sustainability incorporated into their business model. What advice would you give as the next best step? That means probably 75% of people are listening? Alright, and organization, right, that falls in that category has great intention, a long way to impact? What are some simple steps leaders can take to at least get started moving from intention to impact on the sustainability journey? Brandi?


BDH + TS:

It's one of those things where it may in the beginning feel daunting, I think like, what most organizations have found is if there's something that you really want to move forward in an intentional way, then you need to make sure that you wrap the resources around it. So I have seen that the organizations that have the greatest success, have someone whose day job is focused on what is going to be our sustainability plan, and how can we make sure that we are being as intentional as possible for this organization. The other piece is just as a partner. So we're not alone. Right now, I have not heard of an organization that is not in some way focused on what sustainability looks like for them. So I would say we've got to lean in to our friends and our peers who are doing the same work. reaching out to those who do this work. Whether that is an ATS or someone else in that space, I mean, there are partners out there that can absolutely help and guide those who are going down this journey. What's interesting from those statistics that you read, Karen is as I think about I've got two kids who are 13, and nine. So sustainability, they keep it top of mind for me, because that is a focus now at a young age in school. So they're coming in the house saying, hey, like, why are these, why are these lights on? Why are you doing this? They were the ones that pushed me towards getting an electric vehicle. So it's really interesting. I think it's kind of fascinating to see where we're gonna be, maybe not even 20 years from now 10 years from now, because there is a whole other generation that is looking at this in a different way. It's saying these are actually really simple and easy things that we can do. We need to make it happen. We need to all come together and make it happen.


KM:

That same study cited. Interestingly enough, 67% of executives see sustainability as an area where collaboration is necessary to succeed. underscoring the point that you made there Well, no conversation about the workplace would be complete without a little water cooler chat. This is often cited as what people miss in the office. So pretend that we are at a highly sustainable water cooler. We're going to have a spontaneous chat. I'm going to ask five questions, and just share what comes to mind for you. And Brandi, we'll start with you each time and then Tanya, these are just designed to be kind of quick and fun. So we'll start with Brandi when you were a kid. What did you want to be when you grew up? A reporter? Oh, asking those questions with customer listening. I think you became that. What about you, Tanya?


BDH + TS:

I wanted to be a dancer.


KM:

Wow. Okay, I know. I just sing like Tiny Dancer. Now. Elton John in my head. Okay, Brandi. What is your favorite guilty pleasure office snack?


BDH + TS:

I love Jolly Ranchers. I am always up for a visit to Starbucks.


KM:

Nice to have a signature drink there.


BDH + TS:

I love peppermint mocha even in the summertime. Admittedly, I always order an extra hot even if it's 100 degrees outside. It has to be extra hot.


KM:

Are you feeling hot?Okay, how about you Tanya? Favorite guilty pleasure office snack.


BDH + TS:

Favorite guilty pleasure office back again. It's got to be Starbucks. I do not have a specific drink that I go with. I'm sort of one of those people who's more about the mood at the moment. So my drinks range from an iced caramel macchiato to a hot venti blonde coffee. Yes, Starbucks is a necessity.


KM:

Brandi, why? What is the most creative excuse you've ever heard for someone missing a meeting?



Oh, well, I mean, lately, there's been WiFi issues? Luckily, our teams have stayed pretty engaged recently. I feel like I heard more excuses in the last few years, because it's easier to power down, it's not like you're going to have someone in the hallways.


KM:

What about you, Tanya, so I wouldn't call us for missing a meeting.


BDH + TS:

I wouldn't even call this an excuse. I would call it a reason. Creative or not. I think we've seen this probably bubble up to the forefront. I have a really open line of communication and transparent or at least I try to, I strive to be with my team. Recently, one of them said, I just need to walk away because I need a mental wellness break. I kind of love that actually, one of


KM:

The organizations I worked with launched a campaign called not myself today, for the exact purpose of giving employees the opportunity to share in a safe way that they were kind of off and they needed a little bit of space without needing to go into lots of details that could be very personal, or maybe involve situations they didn't want to disclose to their employer. That phrase stood out to me over time, just that not myself today being able to send a signal that ideally your leader would respond to, in a sympathetic and compassionate way. Brandi, what do you keep on your desk that inspires you?


BDH + TS:

I have the word dream, and my home office and my work in my office and the AES building. So I love that word. Because I think that, it takes me back to the place of anything's possible. So depending on what are the challenges of your day, what you're facing, there is a solution, and it's how you get there. But no, just the word in and of itself is really inspirational to me.


BDH + TS:

So I have a poster in front of me, as a matter of fact right now, just sort of something to kind of keep me grounded, I think at times, that says, “A thought is just a thought a feeling is just a feeling, a sensation is just a sensation.” It's just for me, it's more just about keeping things calm and balanced and grounded.


KM:

We all need to write those words down and put them in our offices to Brandi, who are you most grateful to for investing in your career? Who do you give career credit to?


BDH + TS:

Oh, wow. It's a lot of people, absolutely not just one, I feel like I've been fortunate to have some great mentors. I mean, I can think of every place that I've worked, where there was at least one person that I felt like went above and beyond and invested in me. So absolutely, I think mentorship is the most important thing as it relates to moving your career forward, but I also believe in having several different mentors for different aspects of what you're focused on. and there is power and having that diversity of thought, as it relates to mentorship as well.


KM:

Tanya, who are you most grateful to for investing in your career?


BDH + TS:

My answer is relatively similar to brands I can think of, when I was in the running for this position, I actually sent a note to one of my very first bosses, right out of college, I was a 21 year old, who was starting her journey on her career path. This individual was a publisher of a local news weekly, and took sort of a shot on a 21 year old and gave her an opportunity and unlocked her love of a lot of things, and gave me a lot of experiences in our community and with nonprofits, and just civic leadership and civic duty. So when I was in the running for this position, I sent him a thank you note and just said, Thank you for setting me on my path. I think you can have a lot of mentors and a lot of different places. I think sometimes recognizing them, and like taking a moment to sort of sit in the humility that you, you don't get to where you are simply on your own. It takes a lot of people along a lot of ways I would even credit, credit Brandi, I mean, she's been a great mentor, and friend and leader for me. This is me 20 years into my professional career. So I can think back to my first job and my most current job.


KM:

As we bring our conversation to a close, I want to thank both of you for helping us look in the direction of sustainability and community. When you think about bringing sustainability into your own organization, start with an understanding of the basic needs of the people you serve. That requires deep listening and curiosity. I was thinking back to your comment about ensuring safety, accessibility and reliability. I thought, what would happen if we use just those three principles as we thought about the future of our workplaces and our work forces. Thank you once again to Brandi Davis-Handi and Tanya Sovinski of AES for joining us today on the success from anywhere show to look in the direction of more power and sustainability. As a reminder, success is not a destination. Success is not a location. Success is available to anyone, anywhere at any time.



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