Archive for September, 2011
Why do bad hiring decisions haunt good people? I’m involved in making an important leadership staffing decision as I write and I’ve researched some of the latest thinking to help minimize the potential for a poor staffing decision and thus prevent the long term damage that it causes.
I’ve been guided in the past by the timeless “3 C’s” of character, competency and chemistry, but I wonder if I can embellish this based on recent research. I found the work of Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran in the book, “Why are we Bad at Picking Good Leaders” (2011) most useful. They described what they feel are the essential attributes of effective leadership under the headings of:
- Integrity: the foundational attribute, honest, ethical
- Empathy: feel with people, social savvy, combined with integrity drives trust
- Emotional Intelligence: evident self mastery skills: “know yourself, control yourself, and improve yourself.”
- Vision: forward-thinking with a sense of possibility and wonder, innovative
- Judgment: focus on the important while seeing the “big picture”, take decisive action
- Courage: the ability to “act with grace under pressure”
- Passion: the drive to achieve, learn and master
In hiring decisions I’ve been encouraged to do my homework by the axiom “ You will get what someone has already gotten… no excuse for surprises.” I found the techniques that Cohn and Moran suggest, such as scenario discussions to be most useful for determining whether a candidate does indeed possess the desired attributes or not.
Help me out please. Have you ever made a poor hiring decision? What lessons can you share from the experience? What attributes do you view as important for leaders to possess and what techniques to you use to assess competency during the recruiting process?
We’re just about a month away from the 19th annual EHS Management Forum in Tucson, Ariz. and I certainly hope that you’ve registered because this is a must-attend event. I’ve been working with the Forum Planning Committee since early this year to assemble yet another set of outstanding keynote and breakout session speakers. While others may have laid claim to the moniker of the “best Forum ever!”, I think that you’ll be hard pressed to find a better array of EHS and sustainability experts anywhere else.
It all starts with our breakout sessions. As you know, NAEM draws from the best-of-the-best when it comes to EHS and sustainability practitioners – primarily our own members. We’ve kept an eye on the tactical and technical basics with the “Foundational EHS Excellence” tract. That’s accompanied by our hot-topic tracts of “Defining & Delivering Sustainability” and “Supply Chain Strategies” where you’ll hear what’s working for other companies. Finally, the “21st Century Leadership” tract will showcase decision-makers’ strategies for future success. All-in-all, there’s not a single breakout session that wouldn’t make for an excellent stand-alone workshop.
We all know that it’s the keynote speakers that get top billing, and we’ve secured some great thought-leaders there as well. We’ll kick-off with Andrew Winston who co-authored Green to Gold and recently released his latest book Green Recovery. In the latter, he encourages businesses to seize the opportunity presented by the current economic conditions and “get lean, get smart, and emerge from the downturn on top”.
The second day will kick-off with a look into the global economic, technology and resource trends impacting corporate sustainability. That conversation will start with Jason Schenker (President and Chief Economist at Prestige Economics), transition to Howard Brown (Founder of dMass) and wrap-up with some perspective from an NAEM member on what it all means to their company.
The final keynote will come from Eric Henry, President and co-owner of TS Designs. Eric’s learned first-hand just how global economic forces can impact a small t-shirt printer in central North Carolina. He and his team have innovated to keep their business profitable while remaining committed to sustainability along with their local community. Attendees will walk away with a keen understanding of how they go “from dirt to shirt in 750 miles”.
Between the always-incredible exhibitors and the Thursday evening event at the Savoy Opera House, we’ve got a full agenda that will leave you saying, “Now, THIS is the best Forum ever!”
Over the years, I’ve met environment, health and safety (EHS) managers who are convinced that by driving safety and ergonomics through a grassroots approach, some day the initiative will catch on with supervisors, managers and company leaders as an infectious commitment.
“If you build it, he will come” may have worked for Ray Kinsella in the movie “Field of Dreams”, but let’s get real folks: This approach is a shot in the dark for quickly and effectively improving and sustaining safety and performance in the workplace.
Indeed, the key elements of leadership in maintaining an effective and sustainable ergonomic improvement process are no different than those of an EHS system, company culture, or any other aspect of a business. The bottom line is that leadership must occur from the top.
A wise person once noted, “What interests my manager motivates me.” This is the key to leading a safety and ergonomics process over time. Think about it: At work your priorities and activities are guided by how your manager tracks and measures your performance. It is our experience that when managers, engineers, supervisors and employees have a clear understanding of their involvement in the effort to improve workplace ergonomics (and they are held accountable to those expectations), effective workplace changes are made.
Yet leading an ergonomics process is not usually intuitive to many in top management roles. As an EHS manager, however, you are in a position to coach top management on the few things they need to do; simply put, they need to hold their direct reports accountable for ergonomics performance (see my prior blog on effective goals and metrics for ergonomics). The four most important things they can do to make sure this happens are:
- Set clear expectations (responsibilities, goals, roles, targets)
- Provide people with the resources, tools and training they need to meet their responsibilities
- Visibly and actively monitor and track progress
- Take action when expectations are not met
Fortunately this four-step approach is not foreign to managers and supervisors. They follow some form of these steps to complete work, build widgets and manage production. Leaders in safety should apply the same approach (accountability) to influence, guide and lead their organization to success. It’s all about planning, managing and following through.
Kurt, my climbing instructor from several decades ago, was a great illustration of how not to lead by example. His immortal words “Do as I say, not as I do” sent a mixed message. While he told us to wear the correct helmet and always climb while belayed, he climbed bare-headed and without a lifeline. He was technically knowledgeable, but clearly not a leader.
On the contrary, Dave Packard, Bill Hewlett and Bob Hall were true leaders, who set expectations for performance (including safety) and held people, including general managers, accountable for the quality and safety of their workplace.
Whether you base your company ergonomics program on Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) models, the Safety Management System, lean manufacturing or continuous improvement, strong and visible leadership by people in top management is critical for ensuring that engineers design tools to fit the first time; employee teams reduce exposure to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) risk factors before injuries occur; and that employees adjust their own work stations to best fit them.
If improving ergonomics is a priority for your organization, does your top management team lead by example? Have they set performance expectations, goals, and clear roles? Do they track performance?
If not, what have you done to best prepare them to lead?
This month in our ‘Emerging Leaders’ series, we introduce you to Kimberly Wallis, a master’s candidate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and a student member of NAEM. This summer she worked on energy issues as an intern with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
These days, a job in the hand is definitely worth more than two in the bush. No elected official is going to even consider a move that might cost their constituents jobs. So, convincing legislators in Ohio to invest in renewable energy, rather than in coal, one of their main industries, seems like a hard sell. Vague statements about ‘the green economy’ and ‘green collar jobs’ aren’t going to cut it with the legislators or with their constituents. “Maybe I would get better pay at a wind farm,” thinks the technician. “But I don’t know where these jobs would come from, or how many they would be. I’m better off just sticking at my old job.”
How many, where, and how much? Those are the questions the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) tried to answer regarding clean energy jobs in the Midwest states, including Ohio. It’s hard to convince people to give up the status quo for uncertainty, even if evidence shows that the change will be beneficial, so UCS put resources into erasing some of that uncertainty. As an intern there this summer, I helped paint a picture for Ohioans of what a different future might look like.
How would the change affect a household’s monthly energy bills? What would the net jobs increase be, not countrywide but in Ohio? In short, how would investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency impact the daily life of an Ohioan, and is it worth giving up the certainty of the status quo?
It’s not enough to tell people what not to do. It’s not even enough to tell them what to do instead. “Better the devil you know” – and uncertainty is always a devil. Painting a picture of what the future could look like gives people something to strive for, whether they are in your community or in your company. It’s the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement – and as the vision becomes more specific and tangible, it becomes more persuasive.
A call to “decrease waste!” or to “reduce GHG emissions!” isn’t going to convince anyone to give up the security of the status quo. What are you offering them instead, is the question.
When it comes to making the case for new EHS and sustainability programs, what tactics have you found to be most effective?
Kimberly Wallis is a graduate student in environmental management at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, where she focuses on energy issues and effective communication. She is particularly interested in how individuals and organizations change.