by Dylan Dupre, President & CEO
Recently I took five days away from being CEO of CalCom Energy to attend Quantum Shift – an intense business conference hosted by KPMG at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Quantum Shift participants are CEOs from around the country selected after a rigorous application process – and they represent 40 of the fastest growing companies in the U.S.
One of the Ross School’s founding principles is that business can be an extraordinary vehicle for positive change. With growth comes change. And so, more than anything else, the Quantum Shift Network is about change, and the people who lead it. So here are my top takeaways – which I’ll call the top five habits of Change Leaders:
“Business is the most powerful force on the planet for positive change.”
SCOTT DERUE, EDWARD J. FREY DEAN, STEPHEN M. ROSS PROFESSOR OF BUSINESS
#1: Drive vs. Experience Change.
Anticipating change is never easy. But we all know that change is constant. In the solar industry, we are well accustomed to the “solar coaster”–that up-and-down economic cycle controlled by policy changes, shifting incentives, and the threat of tariffs. I was reminded at Quantum Shift of the need to stay above the fray and drive our business in a strategic direction regardless of short-term inflection points.
At CalCom, we recently made the strategic decision to change our name from CalCom Solar to CalCom Energy to reflect our belief that the industry is expanding. No matter where the solar coaster takes us, the world is changing the way it’s powered, and the clean energy revolution is here to stay. We are committed to driving this change rather than waiting for it to happen.
#2: Advocate for your customers to find innovation.
Innovation is hard. That’s why so many businesses avoid it. But here’s my secret to discovering your path to innovation: It’s about the customer experience. If you’re truly advocating for your customers’ needs, you will have no problem identifying where innovation is needed most.
When we listen to our customers at CalCom—some of the biggest companies in California agriculture– we hear their frustrations over energy costs, water supply, and the always looming threat of drought. We understand their profit margins are getting narrower as operating costs increase. We know that any energy solution we propose must reduce costs in a practical, “real-world” way while providing our customers with the operational flexibility they seek. We are working with our customers to reduce energy consumption and help them understand patterns so they can manage their energy spend smarter and more cost effectively.
This is innovation drawn directly from customer experience and advocacy.
#3: Surround yourself with your opposite.
We all do it – hire people who are exactly like us. But really, we should be doing the opposite. Not every employee is an innovator. Managers are good at managing. Salespeople want to sell. I’m a firm believer in letting everyone do their best at what they love to do. If you surround yourself with your opposite, you’re bound to run into some conflict. But a little healthy conflict is good for business and provides well-rounded perspective to fill in our blind spots.
#4: Say it in two sentences.
I call this the “head nod test.” When you describe your latest idea or innovation, do people start nodding their heads or do they give you a blank stare? If you can’t explain your idea or innovation in two sentences, it probably doesn’t make sense. Pay attention to how people respond to your ideas–ask questions, probe their concerns, and find out what’s underneath. You’ll probably find that you can improve upon your idea without giving up your central thesis.
#5: Innovate from the Outside In.
Sometimes you have to step away from your organization—if only for a few days—to see where innovation is needed. When I took the reins at CalCom Solar, I knew we were capable of great things. CalCom was already known for building some of the most innovative solar energy systems in the agriculture industry. I wanted to expand that vision to help farms become more sustainable, as well as work with water agencies and utilities.
Today, four years later, I’m proud of our achievements – our tremendous growth, being recognized by Quantum Shift and as well as the Inc 500. But more than that, I’m proud of our team’s passion for clean energy, innovation, and our ability to drive change.
The future will be more resilient, less reliant on fossil fuels, and more sustainable for our kids because of the work we do every day with customers who are leading the way. This is our true achievement.