Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With ... Shawn Calhoun

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Tell us about Associated Electric Cooperative Inc.
Associated was formed 50 years ago. Our mission is to provide economical and reliable power supply and support services to our member electric cooperatives. We have 51 distribution cooperatives and six regional generation and transmission cooperatives. Those distribution centers service about 875,000 members across three states: Missouri, southeast Iowa and northeast Oklahoma. We employ more than 670 employees across three locations – our headquarters, and two coal-fire plants, Thomas Hill Energy Center in Moberly and New Madrid in Sikeston.

What is your role?
I am head of the human resources division. I have responsibility for organizational development, staffing, benefits, employee and labor relations, HR compliance, protective services, which is our security function for the plants, and wage and salary administration. I have six managers who report to me and (several people) who report to them.

What is a key staffing challenge for AECI?
We have a lean organizational structure comprised of roles that are broad in scope. … The challenge is, how do you take the key talent you have and … give them enriching and rewarding assignments to keep them motivated and engaged in the organization and delivering at peak levels? It’s not very hard, because when you run lean, everybody gets to take on more responsibility.

After more than 17 years of human resources with Bausch & Lomb, why did you pursue employment with AECI?
About three years ago, (Bausch & Lomb) changed from being publicly owned to privately owned, and (during) those three years, I started to have a desire to see if I could transfer my HR experience into a new industry. I started targeting different industries, and I talked to some executive colleagues at different organizations and companies. One ... shared with me the culture of the utility industry and the challenges facing the utility industry and how rewarding the experience is for those who work (in utilities).

Beyond the job, what drew you to Springfield?
I have lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Missouri and New York, and of all the states that I lived in, I had a very good experience when I lived in St. Louis. I found the people to be very welcoming and warm, and that’s a very big deal. … We were in St. Louis for three years, and I always said if I had the opportunity to get back to Missouri or to the Midwest, that would be something of interest to me.

You are the first woman to serve on AECI’s management team. What does that mean to you?
It means that Associated’s culture is ready to become inclusive of a female at the senior level. I think it means that Associated has recognized the need to have a leadership team representative of their members. … Another thing it means for me is that (the company) is ready to embrace diversity of thought. Every senior executive has different personalities and approaches to addressing business needs, and I think that’s great. … It certainly has not meant that because I am female I have lower or less standards. I report directly to the CEO, who has very high performance standards for each of us.

What changes, if any, are you implementing?
I’m coming in with the opportunity to build on some good, solid programs that were already put in place. One (goal) is taking the current succession plan process and incorporating it into a talent management process, making it much broader in scope. What I mean is making sure that we as an organization are assessing talent against a common framework, and from there, individuals who are selected would go into an enhanced executive leadership development program. I’m also implementing a number of HR automation projects, so that we’re able to streamline processes and empower managers and employees to have more self-service. They won’t have to come to HR to fill out a form; they can do it electronically.
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