Session 5: Beyond Start up – dealing with plateaus and revitalizing programs (SEND)

Wendy gained experience as the Sustainability Engagement Manager for a large multi-national engineeing firm with 171 offices.
Wendy gained experience as the Sustainability Engagement Manager for a large multi-national engineeing firm with 171 offices.

By Wendy Firlotte, Sustainability Engagement Practitioner.

Sustainability engagement programs thrive with involved and enthusiastic employees.  Enthusiasm drives inspiration, motivation, commitment and increased chances of long-term success.  Many organizations struggle with programs that over time fizzle out or plateau in terms of enthusiasm and progress.

When a program is new there is plenty of space for new ideas and creating initiatives that employees may have wanted to put in place for a while.  This initial period creates enthusiasm with the roll out of the program as numerous activities and initiatives are discussed and implemented.   Over time, Sustainability/Green Teams often feel like they are out of ideas and wonder what they could do next move forward.  With enthusiasm waning within the team and the office, what could help get offices back on track?  How do we rebuild enthusiasm?  Often a major contributor to program burnout is employees feeling a lack in meaningful involvement in the overall program, specifically the planning process.

Getting Unstuck – Revisiting the Strategy

As always, I first look to strategy as most challenges that arise with engagement programs

Sometimes our employee engagement programs get stuck.

Sometimes our employee engagement programs get stuck.

can be addressed with strategic planning.  An effective approach to creating enthusiasm is through meaningful engagement where employees are the driving force, providing a sense of ownership over the program.  How are employees involved in your organization’s program direction and focus, both locally and at the corporate level?  Is there a higher-level commitment to implement what is decided locally?

The strategic framework is a good place to highlight potential or actual weaknesses or challenges in the program with approaches to address them.  Also important is a concrete plan to monitor progress with the challenges over time and make appropriate adjustments when needed.

Strategic Approaches to Build Enthusiasm

Whether your organization has a specific challenge to address or you are not even sure where to begin, here are some key strategic approaches to build enthusiasm and ownership through employee driven initiatives:

Local Relevance: – Build a system that creates space for local offices to contribute toward common organizational goals, but allows for local autonomy and office level planning.  For example, as an organization the overarching goals are to reduce environmental impact, build on community outreach and support employee wellness.  One approach may be to ask local offices to create an office sustainability plan that addresses each of the goals, which provides both unifying direction and space for employee driven activities. This way all locations are working towards the same goals, but activities remain relevant and useful at the local level.  This concept was discussed in more detail in a previous SEND post, Addressing Scope: Local vs. Corporate Plans.

Office level Planning and Implementation:  Sustainability/Green Teams often only look within their limited group for ideas, champions and resources.  Developing a local sustainability plan by involving the entire office will open up avenues for participation, discussion, ideas, solutions, collaboration and resources.  Involve everyone in the process by providing differing approaches that appeal to peoples’ interests and time commitments.  Also take this opportunity to build on existing local activities and events, which is also a good way to build on previous success and identify local champions.  When it’s time to prioritize and decide on action plans, create space for productive discussion; for example host solution lunches, where you can bring into the fold anyone interested in a particular issue or initiative by specifically discussing solutions to a particular challenge.  More information on this subject may be found in previous posts; Planning and Strategy and Internal Benchmarking & Office Rating Systems.

Celebrating Success Keeps Things Alive.
Celebrating Success Keeps Things Alive.

Celebrate Success: Employees invest time, effort and enthusiasm into planning and implementing local initiatives.  Creating the space to recognize and celebrate success and progress is very important.  Recognizing everyone’s efforts (individuals or offices) with thanks and a job well done goes a long way in building participation and enthusiasm.

Feedback: Once a strategy is created, it’s necessary to monitor how well it’s working and if we can make any improvements.  Even though you may have a set time frame for the strategy (eg. 2 years) when you will conduct a formal evaluation, creating ongoing formal or informal feedback loops allows you to have some timely insight into how well the strategy is working. Creating sustainability engagement programs that are effective take time and you will likely have several iterations of the program before you find what really works.

If you have any comments, ideas, additions to share please a comment below.  This discussion series is about learning from each other.  Hearing about your experiences is valuable to everyone!  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Wendy Firlotte or Kathryn Cooper.

Next Month Participation

Next month’s SEND discussion topic is participation, where we will take a closer look at different theories, methods and activities.  Other topics already covered in the SEND discussion series may also be relevant to your situation; please take some time to read through previous posts.

The Sustainability Engagement Network Discussion (SEND) Series is a network of Sustainability Practitioners using peer learning to accelerate employee engagement for sustainability.  If you are interested in participating in our ongoing sustainability engagement discussions, please contact Kathryn at


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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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One Response to Session 5: Beyond Start up – dealing with plateaus and revitalizing programs (SEND)

  1. Employee engagement is vital to a corporation’s success but many businesses tend to plateau as you’ve written. These are some great tips to regain employee enthusiasm but I would also add the implementation of employee engagement surveys into weekly routines can help Green/Management teams discover areas that need boosts as well as generate ideas for future initiatives.

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