“What gets measured, gets done” is a popular saying in performance improvement circles. There is more though. Yes, true as this is, measurement—and I’ll go a step further here and say auditing—is just part of the “gets done” piece. When crafted within a context of breakthrough performance, EHS auditing and the audit function in an EHS department can be a catalyst for accelerated performance improvement and EHS integration. EHS auditing is commonly viewed as a necessary evil or burden to satisfy regulatory and legal requirements. Within this context, the results are predictable. There is little if any enthusiasm; there is a struggle; and there can be challenges with inter-rater reliability.
When EHS auditing is formulated through an organizational learning and systems thinking lens—supported by an integrated EHS management system structure—the function shifts from being summative to formative, as program evaluation professionals would say. There is a shift toward action research that fosters partnership in solving EHS challenges. Audits are viewed as opportunities to see things not previously apparent. Casual links and patterns are distinguished in a way that people can see their roles in the “organizational systems” and see possibilities to alter the system and their roles.
I have worked with several EHS departments to increase their performance and cohesiveness. In partnership, we’ve addressed performance beyond simply meeting regulatory compliance, examining ways that they can integrate EHS deeper into the organization and impact sustainability and CSR. In all of these engagements, I have started by getting the EHS management system up-to-snuff and firing on all cylinders. Beyond the EHSMS, we then focused on:
- Team vision: developing a strong vision based in the team’s collective wisdom.
- Communication skills: strengthening internal and external communication and generating alignment.
- Team learning: developing mechanisms for feedback, analysis, and integration.
- Systems thinking: strengthened skills in systems ID and mapping.
Due to increased uncertainty since the financial meltdown, companies have shrunk their strategic planning cycles, making it challenging to align internal structures and processes with changing strategies. EHS professionals have had to respond with greater flexibility and innovation in breaking down organizational silos to help generate alignment between strategy, structure, and process.
The recent issue of the McKinsey Quarterly included interviews with four corporate Chief Strategy Officers (CSOs). While the companies are diverse (Estee’ Lauder, Visa, Boeing, and Smith International) and the CSOs diverge on issues, there are several common points that EHS professionals should note. All of the CSOs discussed shrinking planning cycles—in many cases, what were once annual cycles are now quarterly or even monthly ones. They also echoed that business assumptions that once seemed indisputable are now coming into question. Read More