During a session at NAEM’s 2017 EHS & Sustainability Management Forum, two members of a panel discussed having difficulty getting internal acceptance of leading indicators. Their cross-functional management teams just expected the typical monthly reports, and didn’t understand the value that tracking leading indicators could bring to the organization.
In the last decade, there have been a number of initiatives that put an increasing focus on EHSQ within organizations, including Sustainability, Industry 4.0, and ISO. These programs actively encourage the regular collection and reporting of data. At the same time, technology advancements have made it easier to collect and report on EHSQ data, creating an opportunity for organizations to focus on leading indicators as opposed to traditional lagging indicators.
Most EHSQ professionals understand that what they do isn’t just good for the safety of their workers, and the protection of the environment – it’s also good for business. So, why do so many EHSQ professionals have such a hard time promoting their value internally? Is it because EHSQ has traditionally been viewed as the “sheriff” within the organization – the group that says no? Or is it because EHSQ has been treated as a cost center? How can EHSQ professionals change these perceptions and get internal buy-in for all their new, impactful initiatives?
To help you secure buy-in for your next initiative, whether it’s embracing leading indicators or introducing a mobile EHS program, I’ve put together four tips that helped me get buy-in for new initiatives when I was an EHS Manager:
1. Change The Conversation
EHSQ professionals tend to be technical which can come across in their presentations and conversations. Start by changing your tone or perspective the next time you’re presenting or having a discussion. Instead of being tactical and straightforward, try explaining how your programs or regulations can actually benefit operational objectives. For instance, how do you think a Plant Manager would react if you started your next conversation with, “I have something that will increase our production by X%. The investment is $X and with the increase in production, resulting in increased sales, we’ll see a net gain of $X.”
2. Determine Your Target Audience and Objective
This concept is quite simple but takes a bit of thought and work. You should always consider your objective and your audience when bringing a new initiative to the table. What is it you need to implement or get approved and who will be impacted? In this case, let’s say your key stakeholders are your CFO, Plant Manager, and Operations Manager. Once you identify your target audience, you need to determine what’s important to them to properly convey the benefit of your initiative. Essentially, this is a translation exercise. A CFO is always concerned about money, the bottom line. An Operations Manager will be interested in increasing production, reducing downtime and ultimately – better quality.
3. Do Your Research
Next, find statistics that can support your initiative and help translate the value to stakeholders effectively. Yes, it can be difficult but thankfully, it’s getting easier. More and more studies on the impact of EHSQ as it relates to business are now being done by research firms and analysts (Aberdeen, Hanover, Bloomberg) and industry groups (NSC, ASSE, AICHe, NAEM.)
Let’s continue with our stakeholder examples from before. CFOs are concerned with money but do not like soft dollars. An easy way to find money is by taking advantage of incentives and tax refunds. For example, the EU is implementing them coinciding with the air regulations. Your Operations Manager would be interested in statistics like this one from an NSC report that states every $1 spent on the direct costs of an injury relates to $2.12 in indirect costs including: workplace disruptions, loss of productivity, worker replacement, training, increased insurance premiums, and attorney fees This goes up to as much as 17 times that in the construction industry. An investment in eliminating hazards and increasing training has been reported to bring an injury rate of 3.6 down to 0.5 (in a 900-person facility), resulting in $15 million savings in direct costs alone.
4. Tailor Your Message
Once you’re armed and ready, it’s time to have the conversation. This may need to be several conversations and take place in different styles depending on your target audience: impromptu, over lunch, or a succinct presentation. The key here is to deliver your message in a way your particular audience will understand. Maybe your Plant Manager is a visual learner so pretty pictures and graphs will resonate better with them. Sometimes it will take more than one conversation for your audience to truly understand – so don’t be afraid to be persistent.
Your journey to new EHS initiative buy-in may have some starts and stops and take some refinement along the way before you ultimately achieve success – but do not get discouraged. Your effort will pay off in the long run and EHSQ will be seen as the valuable asset it is within your organization.