I talked to my mom earlier this week. She’s the director of a professional organization that is starting to lose steam. She’s led the organization for decades through highs and lows and excellent conferences. Their membership numbers are in decline. Engagement among members is down since covid and hasn’t recovered yet. The organization is running low on funds. I asked her, “have you given any thought to a potential sunset of the organization? Maybe it’s lived out its purpose in this form.” She told me later that this was the word that she needed to hear: sunset.
It’s hard to watch the ending of things. People are often bad at saying goodbye; that’s true for programs too. Programs and organizations often outlast the people who build or work on them. When they come to an end, people may feel guilt or sadness at the loss. I prefer the term “sunset” to the less-euphemistic “ending” or the too-military “drawdown.” Yes, sunsets signify the end of a day. But they can be beautiful too, if we let them be. I consider these things whenever I need to sunset a program or organization.
consider the people
Organizations and programs that serve the public come to an end all the time. It’s frustrating. These programs go away after losing a single grant while the Metaverse is free to waste billions. Before it shuts down, find alternatives for people who use the program. Fight like hell for this! If none exist, lobby decision-makers to lengthen the shutdown timeline. Insist that staff have plenty of notice to plan their next steps.
consider the program
What lessons did you learn while the program operated? Who else could use the tools you created, resources you identified, or remaining funds? Is the rise and fall of your program a cautionary tale for the company? How will the people in charge learn from this decision?
consider the future
Most programs and organizations serve a purpose. It’s up to us to decide what short-term or long-term value it held. What could be next for this organization? If the program’s goals have changed, how could we better meet them next time? Ending a program is an opportunity to build a better one. What should we do differently and what should we preserve? What might a new leader or leaders create to meet the moment they’re in?
Program managers and organization leaders invest a lot into their body of work. We can’t take that for granted any more than we can take the ending personally. The sun will be back in our lives soon enough.