Manager’s Comments – June 2023

Failure to Communicate

Rarely a Good Thing

Jon Cullimore, General Manager

Jon Cullimore is general manager of Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative

The movie Cool Hand Luke made famous the line, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” The scene illustrates how a breakdown in communication typically results in an unfavorable outcome.

When communication breaks down, we typically experience wasted man hours and money — and potentially worse depending on the circumstances.

The other day I witnessed an event that truly demonstrated a failure to communicate. Thankfully, the participants suffered no harm.

The water to our office had been off most of the morning. The water department said it was repairing a busted main line.

As we approached lunch, a key member of our staff asked me how we should handle our restroom situation. With approximately 20 people working in the office, we needed functioning restrooms.

We knew closing the office on such short notice was not an option. We also ruled out the possibility of bringing in portable toilets, reasoning water service would be restored by the time we could get them delivered.

We tossed around a few other ideas and finally settled on getting some one-gallon jugs of water to flush with. That settled, I went on with my day.

About 30 minutes later, I observed one of our younger workers carrying some very large water jugs down the hallway. These were not 1-gallon containers. These were the jugs used in upright, free-standing water coolers.

As I witnessed the young man toting the large jugs, that aforementioned key staff member walked up beside me. So, I asked the obvious question.

“What are those jugs for?” because I knew we did not previously have those water coolers on the premises.

“I asked him to get 10, gallon jugs of water,” came the response.

The young man had come back with 10-gallon jugs of water. It’s a small, but important distinction.

Of course, I immediately saw the humor in what had happened. As best I could tell, the young man was oblivious to the error. He had followed the instructions as he understood them, but therein lies the problem. An important but crucial step in communicating was skipped. No one verified to ensure the true intent behind the instructions had been clearly understood.

As the observer, I had the benefit of simply witnessing the event unfold. I didn’t issue the instructions nor attempt to carry them out.

Mistakes will happen. We are only human. Even as I write this column each month, I have assumed my meaning would be understood by all readers the way I intended. At times I have been mistaken.

Thankfully, in the incident described above no one was injured. The stakes are much higher with our line workers. A miscommunication in their world can mean life or death.

Learning opportunities are all around us. This one gave us something we can laugh about. Let us hope it can teach us a lesson that will prevent something worse from happening.