Adam Cissna

Rotational Development, Corporate Accounting | Knoxville

For a Financial Services employee, Adam Cissna is always playing through odd worst-case scenarios. Not bankruptcies or market crashes, but fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, landslides and other disasters that might disrupt TVA’s business. It’s part of his job as one of two business continuity planners for Financial Services. Little did he know that when push came to shove, he’d be protecting his people from…people.

“Continuity planning is about continuing essential services like paying bills, running payroll, creating receivables, buying fuel and maintaining the essential financial functions of the business,” Cissna explains. “I don’t think TVA has ever implemented a continuity plan on this scale before COVID-19.  We’ve had a lot of things on paper about what we’d do if bad things happened, but we’re having to do those things right now.”

“Nobody could foresee a pandemic where the employees are the threat to the employees themselves—because we can make each other sick,” Cissna says. “We have responded to a reality in which only essential workers are on site, and others are working at home in order to protect them.”

 

 

“We took a look at the Financial Services organization, and asked almost all of them to work from home in telework status. We got our list down to six people who really needed to be in the office routinely in order to create receivables and do our banking with the U.S. Treasury,” he says. “We do our banking with the U.S. Treasury, and our special computers for doing that are in the headquarters.”

Other essential workers outside of Financial Services, he notes, include those in the River Forecast Center, Transmission, and at the plants—everyday heroes who keep the lights on and the river running smoothly.

“We have designated reserve employees who are doing important work now but who can also go in if the primaries get sick,” Cissna says. “You’ve banked them so that primary work can continue to function. That’s exactly how a pandemic plan works, you keep the essential ones in as long you can, and if they get sick, you call in the reserves.

“I’m on the list of essential workers, but I stay home to protect others. If you can work from home you are right where you need to be until this thing is over.”

In Search of Excellence

When he’s not planning for the worst, he’s looking for the best; Cissna is also a performance excellence consultant for TVA. “Our leadership has chosen the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence (TNCPE) as a methodology for measuring and pursuing excellence within our organization,” he says. “It looks at leadership, strategy, operations, workforce measures, and several other criteria for performance excellence. We got engaged quickly, and decided to take it to another level.”

That level, in short, is what Cissna, the Performance Excellence team, and Financial Services are working on. “I am now a 3rd year TNCPE Examiner, so in addition to helping Financial Services in its pursuit of performance excellence I serve other Tennessee businesses in their efforts by providing pro bono assessments through TNCPE.  I help identify strengths and opportunities for improvement,” he says. “And when I go out and see a high-performing company, I learn from them and share best practices with TVA. We can adapt and improve from what I learn—it’s all for the sake of changing our culture improving performance and serving our customers better.”

Who would know better than Cissna, who’s literally been around the block at TVA over the last 19 years? After graduating college with a degree in electronics engineering in 2001, Cissna joined TVA as an instrumentation engineering technician, a job he happily did for about seven years.

“But as I grew in my career, I wanted to get involved in the business side, so I put myself through another undergrad degree in business, then I earned my MBA,” he says. “That led me to a job in the River Forecast Center for a few years, where I got to do things like help mitigate floods, operate dam gates, and provide recreation for the public on our TVA reservoirs.”

Both Sides Now

That was great, he says, but he was still on a mission to get on the business side of the house. “I thought that if I could get into business I could help engineers understand the business side, and the business side understand the engineering side, the two could work together more easily,” he says.

So his quest continued, taking him to Kingston Fossil Plant, where he worked in business planning for Financial Services—a job that would eventually span a few years and many plants helping lead the business planning effort for the eastern half of the Valley. “I helped improve performance at our coal and gas plants through strategic planning, so that was neat,” he says.

“Reflecting on work I had done in coal, gas and hydro, I wanted to learn more about nuclear, and so next I went to Watts Bar Nuclear plant to work as lead financial consultant on the unit one refueling outage while unit two was under construction. “We finished U1R13 under budget and basically on schedule so everyone was happy,” he says. “But it was long hours and hard on my growing family.”

Fortunately, an opportunity in TVA Treasury became available, which Cissna happily took and did right up until his current position.  “Treasury was exciting because improvements had the potential to impact the company in a large financial way.”

“I want to do important work and make the biggest impact,” he says. “Now I’m excited to use all that experience across TVA to help Financial Services improve its processes that help TVA do our best to lower costs, be efficient, and serve the people. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

Family Man

Still, Cissna is clear: His driving passion is his family. "Everything I do is a means to support my family,” he says.

He met wife Mary Beth, in college, and the two took turns putting each other through school. She’s a pre-K teacher who works with three-year-olds at a local church. Son Matthew, 8, loves basketball and video games. “Matthew scored 15 points in his first basketball game and was hooked immediately.”

Daughter Emma, 11, is a runner. “She’s super talented,” Cissna says. “She runs cross country and track, and last year she broke the two-mile state record, as well as the 3,000-meter state record. She also won the Foot Locker South Region Championship. She’s really got something special. We support her and she’s training all the time.”

As a family, they are RV campers. “We’re always off on new adventures to the mountains, or out west to hike in the canyons,” he says. “We’re the younger RV crowd, but now more and more people are catching on to what we’re known for years: RV camping is cool.”

Apart from serving the people of the Valley, it’s that together time that really drives Cissna. “When I am nose-to-the-grindstone at work, I think about my next vacation with my family, and that’s what really keeps me on a mission.”

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