Archive for March, 2012
So you know you need an EHS MIS, but the question you’re probably asking yourself is, “Where do I start”?
Whether you need a system to collect and report sustainability metrics, capture incidents, or facilitate compliance, the process of identifying the right tools is complex yet similar in nature. What we’ve noticed time and time again is that many EHS professionals often begin the process by focusing on the technology. This means perusing vendor websites, attending webinars etc. and, before long, find themselves receiving calls from software sales representatives. The momentum this process creates continues to sales demonstrations and ultimately a vendor selection.
Unfortunately, this scenario often occurs without EHS professionals ever having documented exactly how their team operates and what they want this software to do.
What I’d like to emphasize in this conversation is that many of our top recommendations on where to start, ultimately relate back to the “people, process, technology” triangle. The people, process, technology triangle underscores the importance of looking beyond technology as the sole (or even primary) factor in facilitating change. Software is an enabling tool. Sometimes we select software to embrace embedded best practices. But often we don’t. Sometimes we select software based on a prioritized “best-fit” with defined requirements. But sometimes we don’t. Clearly developing a prioritized list of defined requirements with stated and measurable objectives are critical first steps to selecting the “best” technology for your company. However, beyond technology, the people and process considerations are of equal importance.
Unless your company culture is “command and control” (which is usually not the case in today’s world) it is essential that company staff are emotionally bought in and invested in the technology solution. Opposed staff can quickly derail even the best of technology solutions. Including a wide array of staff in specifying requirements, listening to and documenting wants and needs, polling and gathering general input, is absolutely critical to a successful rollout.
From a process standpoint, technology can enable EHS workflow if, and only if, these work flows have been established, understood and at least minimallydocumented. If not, you will find yourself with no other choices than to embrace the workflow enabled by the software. While this solution may work some of the time, it won’t work if you have not consciously made this choice and are just being dragged along.
For those of you who have been through the EHS MIS selection process, what is your advice for how to begin this internal dialogue? How much time did you set aside for the planning process?
Joanne Schroeder is a founding partner of E2 ManageTech, where she is responsible for project management, system solution design, systems implementation, quality control and business development. She will be sharing her advice on the “Top 10 Things to Consider when Selecting an EHS MIS” during NAEM’s webinar on the topic April 18. E2Manage Tech is a member of NAEM’s Affiliates Council.
As I get older, the memories seem harder to come by, but I still remember very vividly attending what I think was the second EHS Management Forum in San Diego. Who could forget cocktails by the bay watching the sun go down? What was really memorable, though, was the information we shared, the ideas we generated and relationships we formed over those three days. It has only gotten better over the last 20 years. But much has changed.
For the better, environmental management is now more strategic and more visible in the organization. I remember my first meeting with the Chief Executive Officer — 20 years after I started with the company. We now meet with the Board of Directors annually.
I am also impressed with the quality of the younger environmental professionals that I work with and those that I interact with through NAEM. They are enthusiastic, dedicated and want to make a difference. They are smart, they have a global view and good business sense. I have no doubt they will continue to make improvements in the global environment.
Unfortunately, with the added visibility comes more stress and pressure to perform. Even as government enforcement has increased over the years, so too has the business pressure to do more with less. More challenging still, is that there are fewer black-and-white issues and more with shades of gray. We are not doing things because the government requires it, but because our shareholders expect it, NGOs are demanding it or the public thinks we should. But what is the impact on the bottom line? Sustainability provides an opportunity to be even more integrated with business processes and to become more strategic. But that requires environmental professionals to be more cognizant of business issues and to provide environmental leadership tempered by business reality.
As I look back, I am a little disappointed in my generation, despite the progress we’ve made. Yes, the environmental movement took hold and blossomed during our tenure, and the environment in the U.S. is cleaner today than it has been possibly since before the turn of the century. However, the choices still seemed to be framed as “black hats versus white hats” and many in the public believe the environment is dirtier than ever.
Having spent more than 35 years toiling for “big business” it is rather disheartening that there is little or no credit for everything business has accomplished through the years. Still, I’m an optimist. I think the environmental profession can continue to drive progress if we can develop a more nuanced understanding of environmental issues. What do you think?
How can we help people understand the true state of the environment? How can we better frame the environmental problems that do exist to develop better solutions? How can we educate the public better on environmental issues? And how do I get rid of this black hat?
Mike McGuire is Manager of Global Environmental Strategy for Deere & Co., where he is responsible for sustainability strategy development, environmental assurance, external reporting and supply management environmental assurance. He served as the President of the NAEM Board of Directors from 2003-2004.
At a February meeting of my company’s environment, health and safety (EHS) leaders, a guest speaker reminded the group how important relationships are in effective EHS management. The following day, I picked up the Feb. 20, 2012, issue of Time magazine that featured a cover article on the science of animal friendships.
I’m certainly not suggesting that animal friendships can teach us how to develop effective workplace EHS relationships, but these two incidents did remind me how the relationships we build as EHS managers directly impact the organization’s EHS culture. Here are a few of my observations on relationship-building principles that have worked to strengthen EHS culture in organizations:
- Emphasizing the team over the individual: This applies to EHS programs, projects involving cross-functional teams, safety committees, awards, and just about everything else within an EHS context except, perhaps,filling out regulatory agency required reports. The fact is that the EHS function can accomplish almost nothing on its own. Without interdepartmental relationships founded on trust, the EHS role can be lonely and frustrating.
- Acting as an enabler: Before approaching a person or team of people with an EHS issue, answer the questions: “What’s in it for each of them? And how can I help?” This exercise will start you down the path toward a consensus-based solution and help you develop an enabler’s mindset.
- Validating the other person’s perspective: When business leaders and core business process owners feel that the EHS people are cognizant of the demands of their jobs, understand the pressures they face and are aligned with the overall goals of the enterprise, they will be more receptive to EHS initiated projects, and more likely to include the EHS function in decision-making.
- Standing for what’s right: EHS managers who consistently act in the best, long-term interest of the organization (rather than doing what’s expedient, politically advantageous, or in the near-term interest of the EHS function) will, over time, build credibility and respect. These are characteristics of healthy EHS working relationships.
I am sure there are other important principles to relationship-building. What other principles or relationship-building experiences have had a significant impact on EHS culture in your organization?
I was recently approached by an environment, health and safety (EHS) colleague to suggest people who could possibly fill a staff vacancy. My colleague had little experience in hiring, since budget reductions and “ranking and yanking” had been all that was demanded over the last decade or so. To this point, replenishing the “bench” had remained a dream. I’d like to share the points I asked my colleague to consider and get your reaction.
- Ensure you have support for the budget increase: Your leader and your key clients must support the expenditure and accept your assessment of the value added. A solid business case exists for improving the value-added services provided to clients.
- Ensure your new hire advances your functional vision: Resist hiring to cover one-of-a-kind projects or cover temporary increases in workload. Seek temporary help to get you through. Also don’t hire to cover the inadequacies of a poor performer. Resolve any performance issues you have and keep this need separate from your hiring decision. Fill a position which momentum has already created and resist “staffing for growth” that is just around the bend.
- Think paradigm shift: Don’t rush. Step back. Dream a little. Resist the like-for-like option. What is the competency mix that increases your bench strength and allows you to advance your service offerings and better meet client needs?
- Be patient: Now you have the green light make a wise hiring decision. Take all the steps necessary to ensure you feel good about your hiring decision three years from now. Do your homework. Ensure you have the character, chemistry and competency boxes ticked.
What do you think? Your input to these points are welcomed and appreciated.
Early in my scuba diving days I learned a critical lesson about measuring progress. While diving in the dark, cold, and fast moving waters of the Pacific Northwest, I learned not to trust just what I saw, but also what was measured.
Watching the gauge for depth and compass for direction was essential for ensuring we were moving in the right direction and at the correct pace and depth to reach our objective. This practice of checking gauges (measures) and comparing the two points of (1) where you were and (2) where you are now, to verify progress and direction, has served me well on road trips, while hiking in the back country and in managing environment, health and safety (EHS) processes. Comparing metrics to verify improvement is a critical element of any environment or safety management system. But I am still amazed at how many organizations do not apply this practice to individual workplace improvements as part of their safety and ergonomics improvement process.
Milton Friedman, American Economist and Nobel Prize Winner, stated it clearly: “The only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of prediction with experience.” This simple act of comparing two points of data to validate change is a core element of EHS management system and continuous improvement process.
During Humantech’s recent benchmarking study of ergonomics program/process management, we explored if and how organizations verify the effectiveness of workplace changes and improvements. We found that:
- Only 59 percent conducted formal follow-up assessments (reassessments) using the same risk assessment tool used in the initial “ergonomic” assessment. Of these,
- 80 percent used quantitative assessment methods, allowing them to compare “before” and “after” scores to verify that the improvement reduced the level of risk. These were predominately programs in the ‘proactive’ and ‘advanced’ levels of maturity.
- 41 percent interview or survey employees as their only or a supplementary method. These were predominately programs in the ‘reactive’ level of maturity.
- 23 percent use a lagging or activity-based method. These included tracking reduction of injury and reviewing project improvement records.
- 18 percent of participants do not conduct follow-up assessments.
The benchmarking study looked at the level of maturity and effectiveness of each ergonomics process and found that all of the highest performers included comparison of before and after metrics at both the program (strategic) level, and at the tactical (workplace improvement) level.
Frank Zappa summarized it well when he said, “Without deviation, progress is not possible.”
I’d appreciate hearing from you about your experience and methods for validating improvement of EHS and/or ergonomics programs and conditions.
- Do you compare before and after, or trust that change happens?
- Are you confident of the direction and magnitude of change?
- How do you measure change? By activity or results? With lagging or leading indicators?
- What challenges have you encountered?
- What best practices have you learned?
Walt Rostykus is a vice president and consultant with Humantech Inc., a consulting firm that combines the science of ergonomics with their unique 30-Inch View® – where people, work, and environment intersect–to deliver practical solutions that impact safety, quality, and productivity. When he is not travelling for work, Walt resides in New Mexico enjoying the great outdoors.
Over the years, I have seen many lists of attributes of a good manager. I’ve read business articles with lists of the top 10-25 traits of a good manager and books that spend hundreds of pages describing qualities that a manager should have to be successful. While there is plenty of good information in all those sources, I believe we only need to look to successful sports managers to distill all those words into the four key qualities. The qualities that define a championship coach are the same attributes that can help EHS and business managers succeed. They are:
1. Recruiting: All successful managers choose good employees. They select employees that bring skills to advance the team. They not only hire good people, but they hire the right good people. Good managers learn the strengths and weaknesses of their teams, understand what is missing to achieve the organization’s goals, and bring in the right people.
2. Prioritizing: A good manager can see the “end zone” and prioritize the necessary steps to reach that goal. This means sorting through the busy work and identifying the key activities/programs that will lead to long-term success. Letting go of activities that may seem good but don’t advance the organization can be difficult. There will be things that won’t get done, and that’s okay because they weren’t the important ones. Think of this as your game plan.
3. Delegating: You can’t just hand out assignments and expect your organization to grow. Delegation is a plan agreed on by two parties that establishes expectations, activities, and timelines. It ensures that the strengths of the individual are used fully within the team, and allows all members to contribute to the success of the team. Employees need a sense of the importance of what they’re working on – its importance to the company, its importance to customers – and need to know their role in accomplishing the goal. Employees who understand these items are more easily empowered to succeed. This is your play book.
4. Coaching: You must develop your people to do their jobs better than you can. Inspire them to be the best and transfer your knowledge and skills to them. This is the only way that you will be able to take on new challenges yourself. Think about how many championship coaches have had assistants that have gone on to be champions. A good coach or manager is not afraid of his team succeeding. Trust me: There is an infinite amount of work to be done and good managers will always be in demand.
What do you think about this list? Do any of these traits resonate with your experience? What advice do you have for those who are trying to develop these attributes?
This week NAEM’s Upper Midwest Local Networking Group met to discuss regional water management challenges and to explore best practices from around the world. We caught up with speaker David Crisman, Principal of EHS Management Associate LLC, to learn about his research on water management approaches in Australia.
GT: Why did you begin research water management approaches in Australia?
DC: In the case of Australia, what has been the most fascinating to me is the Murray-Darling River Basin. It’s 14 percent of the country area-wide, six percent of the water that falls on Australia falls in the basin. It’s something like half of all the agriculture comes from the basin. Just to give you an idea, 44 percent of the water consumed in Australia goes to agriculture, so you’ve got fairly substantial land area, not so big of an input (because the only input is rain) and a huge water take. And now even in a good year less than half of the water makes it to the ocean. So it’s like our Colorado River.
In Australia, the individual states control resources, so the federal government said, “Wait a second. We’ve got three major states drawing water and as the federal government, we need to say what is the environmental water needed just so it makes it to the ocean so we have aquatic habitat, we have tourism, we have those benefits that we don’t normally think about, rather than throwing it on a rice field.
I thought this was a really good example to look at because as industry people, we don’t think of water coming in; our requirements are always on the water going out. And in the industry, I used to work in (specialty chemicals), water quality was important. If you start taking too much water out of this area, you start having saline problems, you start having acidification problems. Even if I had a plant in this area, you could be saying, “Is it drinkable?” but also, “Is it even useful in a manufacturing setting?” We don’t think of the upstream side. We think of the wastewater side.
So I was really trying to get into that particular issue by taking a look at Murray Darling. I think the cutting-edge thought was what they came up with, which was to create a water market. They said, “The Basin has a finite amount of water and we’ve got to balance this whole water usage and it doesn’t matter if you’re taking it from a well or you’re taking it directly from the river, we’ve got to figure out that balance. It’s a commodity, there’s going to be years it’s in surplus, years that it’s deficient, so how do we, as Australia, buy water to lower the allocation within the Basin so there’s enough water for fish, for flow and all those other things?”
It’s a good technical problem.
GT: What are some of the guidelines of the water market Australia established?
DC: There’s permanent trades that going on – I can actually sell you my rights as a property owner—and there are allocation trades—I can sell you my annual take because it’s low this year. So if the tomato farmer decides it’s more worth his while to sell his allocation this year, he can give it to the guy who owns the vineyard. So what is the value of water? There are also regulations in place to ensure that the way you use the water on your land doesn’t impact others. So the legal framework is critical, too.
GT: How can those lessons be applied to water management in the Upper Midwest region?
DC: Everything has a yin and a yang. So the fact that we have constant supply is really great. We may never think about water coming into a facility, but when we turn the tap, we will have water. The negative is ‘Have I really been thinking of the cost?’ And will that price for water increase? And will it become a variable cost for me? Meaning that one year I will pay x, but two years later it may be 5x or something more. For businesses, it’s probably easier to plan on price than to deal with a disruption. So that’s probably an overall positive.
The next thing is quality. If I can get to a consistent quality grade it’s going to mean less disruption, less upset for my manufacturing process. But that again boils down to price. And then you start to see intangible benefits and impacts. People can’t come to work because their neighborhood is on fire. If you can have consistent supply, you can perhaps deal with drought situations. And of course there are lifestyle impacts in Australia because if you look up Australian water restrictions online you’ll see pages of instructions of when you can water your lawn, do your laundry. That’s at a more personal level but it could reach industry as well.
GT: How close do you think we are to seeing some of the approaches being used in Australia to be applied to the U.S.?
DC: It’s hard to say because it sometimes seems like if we want to focus on an issue, we need to have a crisis. Last year we were dealing with too much water. I think the question of quantity has to be driven by a drought. And certainly the Texas situation if it continues may end up pushing a lot of buttons because those Great Lakes look awfully tempting.
David Crisman is the Principal at EHS Management Associate. As the former EHS Director for a global, specialty chemical company, he is well-aware of the challenges facing today’s EHS managers. He continues to study trends to deal with water supply and quality issues throughout the world.
To learn more about NAEM’s Upper Midwest Local Networking Group, please visit http://www.naem.org/?LNG_Upper_Midwest