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How to create a successful legacy - An interview with Andrew Cameron-Smith

Andrew Cameron-Smith is the Head of Communications and Deputy Director, Stakeholder Relations at the Energy Technology Institute (ETI).He has over 18 years’ experience of leading strategic communications and public affairs teams to drive corporate reputation.

In conversation with Alissa Burn at spottydog communications, Andy has shared his advice on how to juggle the challenges of successfully winding up an organisation, creating a legacy, and keeping employees engaged and purposeful until the very end.

First of all, please set the scene for us. What is ETI, and why is it now coming to an end?

The ETI is a £400 million industry and UK government partnership into low carbon energy. It was originally established as a 10-year partnership model in 2007, and the funding programme will be coming to an end in 2019, following a two-year wind-up process to complete all of our projects and disseminate their findings. Over the last decade, we have built a knowledge portfolio through developing and demonstrating new technology and undertaking whole energy system strategic analysis, aiming to help the country meet its climate change targets.

How do you go about creating a legacy for an organisation?

I think it is important to be very clear about who your stakeholders are – the people and bodies most influenced by your work – and then explain clearly what you have done and how this has impacted those stakeholder groups. I believe it is helpful to define the organisation’s impact and outcomes along with some clear examples, rather than simply stating the outputs of their work.

At the ETI we are looking at three core stakeholder groups – government, industry and academia. So, my communications challenge is to define our legacy to those groups. We like to think that we have:

-          Informed government policy: through the use of our evidence base in government policy and strategy documents

-          Influenced corporate investment strategies: our demonstration of technology has been a “proof of concept” for markets to invest in and take forward

-          Advanced academic research in the UK: worked on a number of research projects with UK universities, sponsored doctorate programmes for the next generation of engineers and from our project portfolio identified new areas of research to consider as a follow on to our work

It’s also crucial to think about your internal stakeholders. Communicating your impact helps to promote what your employees have done and achieved over their employment, giving them both a sense of purpose and recognition for their efforts. 

Building on your point about employee engagement and motivation, what do you think are the most important things to consider when a programme is coming to an end?

It might sound basic, but I would say clear and consistent communications. I have been managing this message since 2014 when a decision was made not to extend the original partnership timeframe.

We used this decision as a catalyst to reinforce the mission of the organisation. A lot of the staff had joined because they were passionate about tackling the challenge of climate change, so we sought to emphasise this purpose and remind employees why they had joined. We used a narrative the communications team called “unfinished business”. The aim was to engage staff to deliver on the original mandate of the organisation – while also explaining how we were going to help them as individuals either transfer to other low carbon/energy operators or invest in learning and development activity to help them manage their career development. Continuing to externally promote our work (through published reports, speaking engagements etc.) was also designed to help individuals in their career progression.

We also tried to take on learnings from other “time-limited” organisations. That included inviting Jon Steele, former Chief Executive at UK Sport, to speak at our employee conference about how they maintained a motivated team to deliver London 2012, knowing that the day after the Olympic events ended they would be redundant.

How do you avoid employees becoming disengaged when you’re winding up a programme?

Do not lose sight of the importance of the culture of the organisation. We deliberately used our 10th year – 2017 – as a celebration year for all that we had achieved. Our aim was to make employees proud of what they had achieved whilst also managing their transitions, some as transfers to other bodies, such as the Energy Systems Catapult, but others through a redundancy programme.

There are three activities I would pull out which I think helped to maintain the engagement of employees in that “final” full year of operation. Firstly, we asked colleagues to write the lessons learnt from the organisation. We made it a project that was not something simply written by the management team, but informed by the staff and their observations. Now published, we hope the lessons we learnt will help inform future innovation bodies in the UK – again helping to cement the legacy of the ETI.

We also ran two large events in 2017. The first a two-day conference and exhibition for the energy industry based on our work, which involved our employees and their project partners presenting and debating their work. It helped staff showcase their capabilities for future job opportunities, as well as cementing the legacy of the work of the organisation.

And finally, and probably most importantly, we held a big celebration gala dinner for current and past employees, simply to say thank you for a job well done.

Finally, do you have any great examples to share of organisations with a lasting legacy?

This answer is because I am a big sports fan, but I would say The National Lottery. I have seen sporting success through various Olympic cycles that without the investment the lottery made, I don’t think would have happened. And the money they have invested in the arts and communities I think is a great community engagement lesson.