“What do you think?” is a genuine and frequently asked question to every employee at American Transmission Co. (ATC) in Waukesha, Wisconsin. In fact, tapping into the innovative ideas of its 610 employees is a cornerstone of the business, driving the organization’s culture.
American Transmission Co. was founded in 2001, as the first multi-state, transmission-only utility in the United States. The company’s single focus is transmission. The transmission system allows energy producers to transport electric power from where it’s generated to where it’s needed. Think of it like the interstate highway system, with high-voltage electricity traveling on the transmission system wires like vehicles on the highway.
Looking to the workforce to lead the way for change started when ATC’s management recognized many impressive ideas were flowing throughout the company. Wanting to make sure each employee felt empowered to share their ideas (as well as have a way to make those ideas heard), the Innovation Substation was born.
Any employee with a new idea submits it to the Innovation Substation and from there ideas can be seen by the entire company—including ATC CEO Mike Rowe who makes it a point to look at every idea. Each submission is systematically vetted by a team of representatives from key areas of the company who recommend which ideas should be pursued immediately, and which ideas might make sense to revisit later. This visibility lets creativity and free thinking take place. ATC feels strongly that cross-collaboration makes for the best ideas—each person brings a different perspective to enhance the business.
Employees can vote on the ideas that they like best or think will be the most impactful, which leads to the People’s Choice Award. This award is presented to an employee or group of employees whose innovative idea gains the greatest number of employee “likes.” Most recently Badge-Activated Scanning/Printing was the winner. The inventive idea eliminates the need for employees to manually type in their username and password when scanning and emailing documents from ATC printers, they just need to scan their badge.
|Challenge – The status quo is a no-go at ATC. Employees are encouraged to ask questions like - why do we do it this way? Is there a better way?|
Care – The day starts and ends with all-around care—about each other, the organization, the communities they serve, and the environments they work in.
Commit – Committed to doing excellent work, committed to safety, committed to being an outstanding place to work, committed to the communities they serve.
|Celebrate – ATC likes to have fun, to applaud the things in life that are worth celebrating—birthdays, anniversaries, new babies, promotions. Life’s too short to miss out on what really matters.|
Compete – Wanting to be the best at what they do drives the competitive spirit in every department at ATC. And everyone works hard to get there.
The CEO’s Curiosity Award, presented by Rowe to an employee or group of employees for an innovative idea prompted by their curiosity, was recently awarded to two ideas. Both are similar in scope but serve distinct purposes for building a new type of substation.
Another way ATC encourages employee involvement is through its Good Catch Program, where employees speak up if they catch something that could change things for the better. Whether in a spreadsheet, a procedure, or something that could impact safety (even a tripping hazard from a scrunched-up floor mat), workers are rewarded when they identify issues before something happens. Employees are motivated to submit their own “catch” (and not just fix it because “it’s their job”) as well as the positive actions of their peers.
“We absolutely pride ourselves on the innovative culture here at ATC,” said Lisa Krueger, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist. “And with innovation comes trust and transparency, where creativity is embraced and employees know there are no bad ideas and no silly questions, just thoughts that could very well make our company better.”
A Lot of Accolades
The awards ATC have earned are many. They’ve been named one of the Top Workplaces for five years from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a New North Workplace Excellence Award winner, and A Great Place to Work in Manufacturing and Production. They’ve also been awarded a Best Workplace for Giving Back to their community and one of the 30 Best Workplaces to Retire From. The inspiring display of plaques and honors in their headquarters reception area is quite impressive.
ATC strives to make and keep their employees happy, and they do it in a multitude of ways. They offer tuition reimbursement, 401(k) and pension plans (the company contributes to both), medical (including vision), life and disability insurance, adoption assistance, vacation time, holiday time, sick time, paid time off to volunteer in the community, and leadership encourages a healthy work-life balance.
When it comes to new positions, ATC prefers to promote from within. Almost 60 percent of available positions are filled internally. For those positions that are staffed from the outside, about 25 percent are employee-referred (with a generous employee bonus for a successful hire). It’s clear that the current staff wants to hand-pick those who will fit best into the fabulous culture that is ATC.
By Sue Piette, Writer, MRA - The Management Association