By Stephanie Zavala, CEO and Co-Founder of Rogue COE and Rogue Water

It’s Day 11 of this surreal new adventure. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Not because we’re working more hours, we’re used to always being “on”. It’s not because the future is uncertain. Ok, well maybe it is a little bit of that. It’s mostly because we no longer get to work for a water utility every day. We don’t get to see our boss and the rest of our dream team that we love. We don’t get to wave and high-five our field guys every morning as they head out.

We’re homesick.

We’re no longer sitting around the proverbial campfire, exchanging stories about all the “others” who just don’t get it. Our pulpits where we used to preach to the choir have been replaced with soap boxes that feel wobbly and unsteady on this new cobblestone reality we’re living in. We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. We are on our own.

This is what we asked for though, isn’t it? We didn’t get laid off. We didn’t get fired. We left. We both felt pulled to leave, against our will, by something bigger than ourselves. And yet, we’re both left still asking the question —


I’ve been sitting here the past few hours thinking:

“If only I didn’t care. Why do YOU have to change the world Stephanie? Let all the George Hawkins of the world handle it. He’s touring the country saying all the same things you believe in but with a nine year success story to back it up. He’s got this.”

To which I reply:

“But I can’t!”

When you love something, you never give up on it. I have to be a part of it. Even if that means just being the biggest super fan of a water utility director that ever existed. I have panicked a lot over the past few weeks. It happens most when people say “Oh, but you’re not in water anymore.” Excuse me? A water utility may not pay my salary anymore, but I am still water’s loudest, proudest champion. Rogue COE originated as Rogue Water three years ago. We changed the name because we thought we were limiting ourselves. We recently met with the president of a company called Blue Drop that is doing exactly what we want to do but actually calling it what it is. Inspired by them, we decided to own it. We are who we are. In January, Rogue Water is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of our “in-fear-no”and will be the water industry centered division of Rogue COE.

Rogue Water is a resource for water professionals created by water professionals. We are thought leaders in the water industry that are committed to changing the way water utilities view themselves and the way they are seen by their customers.

Yes, you, water utilities! Our goal is to join forces with the powerhouses, change agents and believers of our industry to create a resource for any water utility that wants to learn, grow, innovate, and empower its people.

The point is, we can’t do it alone. If you are in the water industry you have to speak up about the value of communication. According to the American Water Works Association’s latest State of the Industry report, two of the top five challenges facing our industry are directly related to communication. Our industry has to invest more in communicating with its employees. If our own employees don’t understand why we are here, our customers never will. We have to invest in telling our story better. We have to tell our story with a 21st century strategy and 21st century tools while keeping in mind that nothing replaces a handshake, a face to face conversation, and the lost art of listening.

Our industry doesn’t begin and end on a set of engineering plans. The list of what we value shouldn’t either. We begin and end in the rivers and lakes, at our intakes and outfalls, and every pipe, faucet and spigot in between. We aren’t confined to the beakers and basins of our treatment plants. We are woven into the every day of every customer’s home — every pot of coffee, every pet’s water bowl, every child’s bathtime.

Our industry is the cornerstone of modern civilization. Our industry supports every job in your city — no water, no economy. Our industry supports every life in your city — no water, no life. We should communicate with them like we know that. Don’t be afraid of your customers. Get to know them. Trust is only built through relationships. Trust is only earned through accountability (even when we’re wrong, especially when we’re wrong), listening to feedback, and creating outcomes based on that feedback. It’s never too early to start or too late to begin.

Are you a believer? No? Let’s grab a coffee and chat about why.



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