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10 Tactics of Successful Energy Managers

This eBook discusses the role of the energy manager in an organization, and provides 10 guidelines (10 Tactics) for enhancing energy management effectiveness. It is intended for use by energy management professionals and other energy stakeholders seeking to implement positive organizational change.

The Energy Manager’s Dilemma

Being an energy manager is one of the most exciting and rewarding jobs that anyone can have. Whatever the work setting—corporate office environment, educational campus, research or manufacturing facility—the energy manager has a unique opportunity to play a key role in organization success. For many institutions, energy is the largest controllable operating expense. A successful energy management program can make a big impact on the bottom line!

Often it is the energy manager who has the best opportunity to define the organizational priorities for energy management activities. He is the keeper of cost and consumption data, which is really the key to understanding trends for forecasting and budgeting. The energy manager is in a position to investigate new technologies, and sometimes can experience the satisfaction of seeing them successfully implemented. She can be an agent of positive change, having a real impact on the organization and beyond.

But as exciting and rewarding as the energy manager’s job may be, it can also be challenging and frustrating—often for some of the same reasons that make it so rewarding! Other energy stakeholders in the organization are likely to place demands on the energy manager’s limited time with multiple requests for energy information. New technologies are expensive and sometimes risky to implement.

Systemic issues beyond the scope of the energy manager’s limited authority may impede progress on energy issues. Limited time, personnel, and resources may do the same.

How can energy managers overcome these obstacles and difficulties to achieve success in energy savings, dollar savings and process efficiencies? The main reason that energy managers succeed is because they do the right things.

10 Tactics

In this eBook, we will introduce 10 strategies used by the most successful energy managers we know.

The first few tactics are technical in nature. In the last few, we’ll concentrate on some of the “soft skills” that are more interpersonal and communications-oriented. Together, these ten techniques have been used by many energy managers to achieve and promote energy efficiency throughout their organization.

Not all these techniques may be equally applicable in every situation. But most of them will be. We encourage you to put them into practice!

TACTIC #1: Discover the meaning in raw data

For most people, the immense quantity of data contained in their utility bills is overwhelming. It’s just too much data, like the visible stars in a clear night’s sky.

But the successful energy manager is able to fit those stars together and understand just how they form a constellation. Within the constellation, each star relates to the others and to the whole system of stars. This ability to perceive relationships between disparate data points is an important dimension of what every successful energy manager does.

By relating each individual utility bill to all the others in the system, the energy manager is able to bring meaning to the raw data. And this is vitally important, because utility data tells a story about your organization and how your organization uses energy over time. With data, it becomes possible to establish a baseline for current energy use and identify reasonable goals for future energy reductions. Historical trends can be identified and used to evaluate future costs for forecasting and budgeting.

The energy manager can bring meaning to data by:

Comparing similar buildings and meters can easily identify energy outliers and can often provide insights for prioritizing energy management projects. Initial comparisons provide baseline values for future assessment.

Goal Setting
Once a performance baseline has been identified, goal-setting helps focus efforts and define success.

Progress Monitoring
When the goal has been defined, the monitoring phase provides the data to assess energy management initiatives. Assessment data can provide useful information for both the current project and future similar initiatives

TACTIC #2: Check your data for billing mistakes

When it comes to utility bills, the expression “garbage in, garbage out” is particularly true. If the raw data isn’t correct, then your conclusions may not be correct either. This is why it’s important to regularly check your utility bill data for mistakes. Proactive review of your energy information for obvious data entry errors will help ensure that you are building your energy management activities on a reliable foundation.

The successful energy manager will audit utility bills regularly—ideally every month. Valuable audit metrics include:

Unit Cost
Expense per unit of the commodity, as compared with previous bills.

Unit Cost per Vendor
Expense per unit of the commodity, as compared with other accounts for the same commodity and vendor.

Unit Cost per Rate Code
Expense per unit of the commodity, as compared with other accounts using the same rate code.

NOTE: Be cautious about drawing quick conclusions from unit cost data, since there may be significant and “normal” seasonal variations. When interpretations are questionable, make certain to cross-check data with analogous bills from previous years.

It is important to identify energy vendors who tend to have more frequent billing issues. You will discover that there are certain vendors who are more likely to issue rebills (a common symptom of billing errors). It pays to keep a closer eye on them, so that you can catch problems when they occur.

One EnergyCAP client had an unpleasant surprise when his utility vendor issued rebills for the past 12 months, to the tune of an additional $45,000 in unanticipated utility expenses. This is a rare and extreme case, but it does happen, so be prepared and try to address potential billing problems early. They may recur and compound over time.

Keep a “running tab” of your found savings. Whenever you uncover a billing mistake, keep a log of how much you saved. This record can be a starting point for some interesting discussions with others in your organization, and over time, the log will become an important document highlighting your value as an energy manager.

TACTIC #3: Automate processes whenever possible

Once you are in the habit of checking your data regularly and you have set up a reliable data review process, automate processes whenever and wherever possible. The successful energy manager adds value through data analysis, so that’s where you want to spend your time.

Data verification is an area where automation can be very beneficial from a cost/labor standpoint. Read the Miami-Dade County case study and discover how they instituted a nightly automated audit routine where incoming bills are run through a series of rigorous audits. Outliers are flagged for prompt attention. These automated processes are saving the City/County money each time they run.

Benchmarking processes offer opportunities for automation, as well. EnergyCAP energy management software includes an “auto-grouping” feature that has been designed specifically for energy benchmarking. The software automatically organizes buildings and meters into similar groupings based on factors such as building primary use, commodity, vendor, and rate. This makes it easy to spot outliers.

Reporting is another area where automation can save a considerable amount of labor. Tools are available that can customize, produce, and automatically distribute energy reports via email at various time intervals, while ensuring that only the data relevant to each recipient is displayed.

Data sharing is also an opportunity for automation. Brittany McCullar, Utilities Analyst for Texas State University (Read the case study) details the automation advantages her organization received from a software purchase: “A vital part of the … installation was the completion of the custom Accounts Payable reformatter,” she said. “This enabled EnergyCAP to export utility bill data in the precise data format required by the University’s AP system. As a result, Texas State has permanently reallocated 40 working hours per month to other duties by eliminating double data entry in the Utility Operations and Accounts Payable departments.”

If you are spending hours manipulating flat files from your utility vendors just to get your bills into a consistent format for analysis study them, you are spinning your wheels. Spreadsheets can be quite useful for certain reporting or archiving tasks, but even Microsoft® does not rely exclusively on Excel® for energy management! So embrace technology and automate your routine tasks to give yourself more time to spend in valuable data analysis.

TACTIC #4: Stay organized by setting priorities

The reality of being an energy manager is that you are pulled in many directions at once. Make sure you stay organized by setting priorities. The key is to prioritize so that the most important matters receive the bulk of your attention.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” This is a valuable perspective for an energy manager! There are so many “urgent” demands on your time that important issues for the future of your organization may be neglected.

President Eisenhower is credited with developing a simple tool that can be used to ensure that important tasks are getting our time and attention. It has been called the Eisenhower Matrix.

You can use this matrix to organize your to-do list. We all have a limited amount of time, and we can’t do everything, so it’s important to prioritize tasks. Using the matrix, you can organize and categorize your tasks in terms of urgency and importance.

All of your tasks will fall into one of the four quadrants.

To see how this works in practice, let’s look at some examples to see where they would fit on the matrix:

EXAMPLE 1: Building Sprinkler System
Let us suppose that you get a call that the sprinkler system in one of your buildings is leaking. This is definitely a high urgency priority. But what about its importance? If the malfunction is in the president’s office, it would be an issue of high importance that you might need to attend to yourself. But if the sprinkler problem is in a basement utility closet, it could be the kind of low-importance task that could be delegated to others.

EXAMPLE 2: Utility Bill Error
In this example, you have identified a probable billing error, and you need to call the vendor to discuss it. We have already stressed the importance of following up promptly on your billing issues, so it would be appropriate to classify this task as high importance, but it’s certainly not urgent.

It could be completed any time in the next couple of weeks (unless your utility bill workflow dictates otherwise). This important task should be scheduled to ensure that it is completed before it becomes urgent. Set aside half an hour to make a phone call to your utility representative.

As you can see, the Eisenhower Matrix is a useful tool to help set priorities and effectively manage your time so that you’re focusing on the things that are of high importance to your organization.

See if you can use the Eisenhower Matrix this week to organize your task list. By prioritizing the important tasks above the demands of the urgent, you will be delighted with the gains in your productivity and your energy management program.

TACTIC #5: Remain mobile and agile

Once you have added your tasks to the Eisenhower Matrix, it, may seem best to stay at your desk and just knock out your to-do list. But successful energy managers remain mobile and agile.

What does this mean in practice? First, don’t spend all your time behind your desk! Thomas Ochtera, Energy Coordinator for the City of Westminster, CO, puts it this way: “You can’t replace the technician going out. You physically have to go onsite and troubleshoot.”

So get out of the office and observe your facilities—a brisk walk can do a world of good for your health and your attitude. One longtime university energy manager takes a lunchtime stroll every day. He walks through a different section of the campus on each trip and sets aside enough time to stop and talk to people he meets on the way.

He says it is amazing how much information he picks up just from talking with construction crews, maintenance workers, and landscapers. During the winter months, he changes his routine to focus on building walk-throughs, so that he can check for any unusual conditions such as overheated areas or cold drafts.

TACTIC #6: Communicate with stakeholders

Communication is an important task of the modern energy manager. Employers across the country are looking for communication and presentation skills as part of the energy management skill set. It’s not enough just to superintend the data. Now you have to be able to share it with proficiency and in ways that are meaningful for multiple audiences.

These changes are opportunities to spread your energy conservation message across your organization. Work on improving your accessibility to other energy stakeholders. You want to make yourself available to others in your organization, to offer information, education or assistance.

Here are two quick tips to help you communicate more effectively in your organization:

First of all, try to identify your stakeholders, both up and down the chain of command. At a certain base level, everyone in your organization is a stakeholder because all are impacted by your energy management decisions. So it is important to work on building relationships at many levels.

The more people you know in your organization, the more effective you will be. But there will be other key players, often in the areas of accounting, sustainability, or planning, who will have a vested interest in many of the same energy issues that you do. Time invested in these important relationships will pay dividends when collaboration is needed on integration and/or company-wide initiatives.

Second, always look for ways to simplify complicated topics. Many of the issues that you deal with as an energy manager are very complex, so the more you can simplify and make them readily understandable by all stakeholders, the more buy-in you will be able get for your plans.

In general, keep the discussion on broad topics. Many energy managers tend to “get into the weeds” because of their love of data and detail, but try to save the technical jargon for those who are really interested. Always be prepared to provide backup documentation if you are asked, but not before!

TACTIC #7: Build a team

The next tactic is to build a team. Gone are the days when energy managers had to work alone. When it comes to energy management, the lines between departments are blurring. Energy conservation is becoming the work of everyone, which means that a successful energy manager is the one who can build a team.

Here are some suggestions for doing just that.

Don’t waste your time on the doubters.
In any organization, there are always people who just don’t get it. It’s tempting to try to convince them, but it really doesn’t pay to waste your energy on them. Instead, focus on building a strong team with the people who are ready to get onboard, and they will be the ones who can start some positive momentum in your organization.

Find your fans.
Go to wherever they are. Try to enlist ad hoc members from different departments and different areas of your organization, and you might be surprised who wants to get involved.

Welcome new viewpoints.
Remember, your team members don’t have to be energy experts. You can teach them about energy. They really just need to want to be a part of the team.

Value enthusiasm.
An ounce of enthusiasm is worth a pound of expertise. The goal is to create a team that you can rely on to create positive momentum through their enthusiasm. It is much more important to recruit someone who wants to be a part of the team—someone who is going to participate and give you their viewpoints. You can always provide instruction on the energy side, but what you can’t do is to create enthusiasm for those who don’t want to be part of the team. So keep an eye open for enthusiasm, and value it!

TACTIC #8: Develop key performance indicators

With all the urgent demands on your time, it’s easy for this important tactic to get pushed aside, but successful energy managers develop key performance indicators or what we call SMART goals.

SMART goals are:

S: Simple and Specific.
The goal should be easy to understand and share.

M: Measurable.
You will need a way to demonstrate that you accomplished the goal. Identify the appropriate metric(s) and then measure regularly.

A: Achievable.
This can be a tricky goal. If the goal is too easy, then there will be little sense of accomplishment in attaining it. Goals should be attainable, but should also take some work. Sometimes, you should not even set a goal. Don’t set goals if you don’t have the knowledge, the skill, or the funding available to achieve it, because failure will be frustrating for everyone.

R: Relevant.
The goal needs to be something that is of benefit, that’s valuable so that people are willing to work to achieve it. So make the goal relevant and real to the team.

T: Timebound.
Setting a timeframe and/or deadline creates a sense of urgency. Without a timeframe, nothing generally gets done. If this is a new concept for your organization, make sure to start small. Focus on the small changes that will result in measurable results. Early small successes will build support for grander long-term goals.

Remember, the best goals are made in agreement with your stakeholders and team members. But realistically, some goals may already be set for you through legislation or policy decisions. In these cases, you may often have to develop a set of intermediate goals that will help you to meet those mandated targets for performance.

If you’re looking for a good goal to start out with, try to discover “found savings” by auditing your historical energy bills. This is a great way to kick-start your savings program. Utility billing errors can compound over time, so even a small discovery can often pay big dividends.

Your goal as the energy leader is to help your team to start taking ownership of their energy consumption. You can do this by providing reliable metrics to measure how well they are doing. Reviewing the historical utility billing information and finding the best ways to categorize and classify it is an excellent way to broaden understanding and get everyone on the same page.

TACTIC #9: Celebrate your success

Many energy managers will finish a project and then immediately move on to the next one, but it’s important to celebrate energy management successes within your organization.

Celebrating your success is a great way to prove the value of your department’s efforts. As you begin to quantify success at current support levels, it becomes easier to project what may be possible with an expanded staff and more resources.

When you start setting SMART goals and achieving them, you will have many reasons to celebrate!

There are many opportunities to do this:

Your reporting regimen offers a unique opportunity for celebration. Since you have to share data that you have collected with the people who need it, make sure you understand your audience. It might include your superiors at work, local citizens (if you work for a government organization), students, parents (who pay the education bills), or perhaps even shareholders. Good reporting is relevant reporting, and you can’t be relevant unless you know your audience.

Funding Proposals
Funding proposals offer a unique opportunity to celebrate. Promotion can play a key role in funding. If you are able to communicate effectively about past successes, you can make a strong case for future funding.

An internal newsletter is a great way to talk about what you are doing, and what you have accomplished. When sharing your energy information, try to use comparisons or conversions. This helps people grasp the scale of energy savings, since most people have not had experience with energy data. They may not understand what a BTU or a kWh really represents, so making an appropriate comparison can help them to understand.

For example: “Last month we saved enough electricity to drive an electric car across the United States,” is generally better than “Last month we saved 986 kWh.”

These types of word pictures help people to understand that their actions do have an impact in your organization. You’ll want to be sure that you announce new projects and completed projects and also hold celebration events, which can be as small or as elaborate as you like.

Press Releases/Social Media
Don’t be satisfied just promoting your successes internally. Share the good news externally whenever possible through such venues as blogging, press releases, case studies, social media, and more. When you promote externally, you are connecting your organization’s brand to your energy successes. As an energy management professional, you’re in a unique position to help shape the company brand as an energy-conscious, energy-efficient brand.

TACTIC #10: Network

The last tactic involves reaching out to others beyond your own organization. You will want to tell everyone about your successes, and learn about what works for others. Some of the best venues for networking are conferences, but conferences can be intimidating, so start with a smaller conference where you can feel comfortable reaching out to others.

Engineering society meetings offer a great way to network. These organizations are almost always seeking guest speakers, so it can be an inexpensive way to talk about some of the things that you have been doing in your organization. With planning, you can even build opportunities for feedback right into your presentation.

Local community groups are often seeking to broaden their understanding of energy issues. Look for local and regional events to present at. You might be surprised to discover just how many people will turn out for a public meeting, especially if the topic title is intriguing, and is advertised well.

Another networking venue is user group meetings. EnergyCAP, LLC has a Catalyst Training for Savings Conference, for example. Energy management software users attend to learn about the latest software updates and to meet other people who are doing energy management at their respective organizations. Networking at training events like this one gives you a chance to find out how your colleagues are managing their challenges—which are often similar to yours.


This eBook has provided 10 Tactics to help you become even more effective in saving energy and money for your organization.

Remember, your energy management program hinges on your leadership:

1. Be sure that you’re seeking meaning in raw data (like constellations in the night sky)

2. Check your data for billing mistakes (remember: garbage in— garbage out)

3. Keep track of your found savings (log all savings details)

4. Automate processes wherever possible (spend your time on analysis—NOT data entry)

5. Remain mobile and agile (get out from behind your desk and into the physical plant)

6. Communicate with stakeholders (take time to build relationships with key personnel)

7. Build your team (success will depend on your ability to get others involved and excited about your plans)

8. Develop key performance indicators (they will help you establish SMART goals)

9. Celebrate your successes (take the time to tell your story to the world)

10. Network with other energy managers (it’s fun to share success and learn about what others are doing!)

We hope these 10 Tactics will help you enjoy the exciting, rewarding, challenging, and sometimes frustrating life of an energy management professional, and we honor you for your work.

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