Talking Leadership and the Customer Experience with Sharon B. Grove, LADWP Assistant General Manager

Assistant General Manager Sharon B. Grove joined the LADWP executive team at the LADWP in May 2012, bringing many years of utility and customer service management experience from the Midwest.  As head of the Customer Service Division and the Director of Customer Experience, she is one of the female leaders at the largest municipal utility in the U.S. In her role, she is helping to empower employees to make each customer’s interaction with LADWP simple, easy and positive. Ms. Grove is enthusiastic about customers and employees, and believes in transforming the customer experience from just performing transactions to actively problem-solving and building relationships.

 

What does being a female executive manager mean to you?

Throughout my career I’ve been very aware of the influence of being the only, or one of the few women in the room. I believe in management courage and that I am not there to be the token female manager, rather a professional leader regardless of gender –yet I do appreciate that strong female leaders are often under added scrutiny, simply by virtue of being a woman.

Earlier in my career, I remember it was expected that if you had a child you would not return to work, and that did not sit well with me. After having my first child, I negotiated to come back as a part time contractor. That successful negotiation resulted in the first part time management program for women at a very large Fortune 500 company. I felt really good about that.

Which women currently inspire you?

I get inspiration from women of all ages. Increasingly, women are being more candid about things that have happened to them and telling their stories in order to help all women. I find that type of courage very inspiring.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell myself to not use so much of my energy second-guessing my choices. When I mentor younger staff, I say that you should make the best decision you can with the facts that you have.

I think most people really should look back with a more critical eye about all the amazing things they did when they were younger. In my case, I didn’t take my accounting degree and find a job right out of college, like most or my peers. Instead, I pursued my passion for basketball, and parlayed it into a stint playing professional basketball in Europe, where I didn’t know anyone! Now I realize what an adventurous spirit I possessed, even back then, though I would not have called it that back then.

How did you bring your leadership skills to LADWP?

When I started at LADWP I was not only very confident in my professional track, but also in my technical and leadership capabilities. I knew the utility business inside and out; I worked for gas utilities, electric utilities, and had done mergers and acquisitions, so the whole business arena felt very comfortable.

I also studied accounting in undergrad, and throughout my master’s program at Kellogg Business School at Northwestern University, which helped me build a strong sense of understanding for building relationships, pursuing educational goals, and understanding the role of strategy in optimizing the customer experience.

One of my goals earlier on at the Department was to cultivate a highly driven and proficient customer service organization. I wanted to develop a group of professionals that understood not only our utility, but had a perspective of the entire utility industry. So I intentionally introduced my managers to my networks in utilities across the industry so that they could begin to establish networks of their own on both a personal and professional level.

I believe that our front-line employees are the legs that LADWP stands on. Our customer service team is on deck to assist our customers 24/7, to support our wonderful water and power systems and to inspire all employees to be customer ambassadors.

What are three words to describe yourself and what’s your legacy?

Passionate, hard-working, and having integrity. I believe that my legacy will be reflected in the leadership team that I leave behind. And I have strived to build and develop a leadership team that has integrity, professionalism, and a passion for people.

I also want to leave behind enthusiasm and enjoyment for the customer experience, making sure that it is not seen as something the Department has to do, but rather as a foundational element of the business that is critical to drive the transformation of this Department into a service industry.

I believe that LADWP is on the right track of helping our customers to interact with us in an easier way that will subsequently drive a much higher level of customer satisfaction and cement our place as one of the best utilities in the country.