Lessons In An Ending

Last week — after much patience and support for over a year — we agreed to close down a project site with one of our partners.

The joint decision came as a relief, an acknowledgement that participants simply were not engaged in taking action to reduce energy use in their buildings.

Even with repeated vows that the focus was an important one and that they wanted to be involved, the reality showed there simply wasn’t a heart beating. Few were signing in. Energy data was not being updated. Actions weren’t being taken.

And so the volunteer leader of the initiative (who had earlier led a very successful energy improvement update at his building where he was a manager) sent a note to the dozen participants announcing that the plug was being pulled.

What was missing? The experience offers insight, made all the clearer by the ending. Three big ones

  • No top leadership support — Despite the vision and efforts by the volunteer program leader, the program was never a priority of the organization leadership. “Fine if you want to go ahead and get involvement,” they in essence said. “But we have too much else on our priority list to add any effort in follow-up or in communications.”
  • Incentives scaled down — Last fall, the local utility and the state energy program scaled back available energy improvement incentives. Expert support became harder to find.
  • Building reps too busy too — The  managers at the participant buildings came to the few meetings out of respect for the volunteer leader and interest in the possibility of reducing energy costs. But life and work piled up, and follow-through on promises made was lost in the shuffle.

In sum, what was missing was an effective process of putting the ideas into action, a key element in the diagram above. Will alone won’t bring results. Will and some ideas for improvement aren’t typically sufficient. To clear through the clutter, these have to be interwoven within a set of program elements, deadlines, clear financial cost-benefit, and leadership support.

The volunteer program leader knew this, and we emphasized these before and during the initiative. But critical mass was not achieved sufficiently to overcome the missing elements, and the program could not lift off.

The experience serves to reinforce our work with all of our current and prospective project partners. We work with them closely to make certain that all elements are in place for a program to be successful. Adding a website won’t do anything if the people in the organization are not supported in taking actions that will lead to improvement.

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