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Selling EHS by Selling Yourself

Feb. 25, 2014
To maximize the chances of your EHS programs seeing the light of day, you must develop your business acumen. Often, perspective is what prevents great EHS professionals and programs from blossoming. There's immense value in understanding what the organization expects from you as an EHS professional.

Have you ever wondered why you never get an invite to the “important” meetings?

Have you wondered why your ideas rarely, if ever, see the light of day?

Have you wondered why the organization is willing to roll the dice on regulatory compliance issues?

Have you ever wondered why others are climbing the organizational ladder – while your career seems to be stuck in neutral?

To answer these questions, we need to look at the three motivators for EHS buy-in. By understanding these motivators, you’ll dramatically improve your chances for success. The three motivators are: legal and social obligations, and financial impact. 

The first two motivators – legal and social responsibilities – are well-understood and don’t need to be discussed at length. The third motivator – financial impact – is the area that presents the greatest opportunity (and challenge) for EHS leaders to grow professionally and to ensure that their ideas and initiatives will see the light of day – and ultimately make the organization safer, more productive and more profitable.

The Right Business Mindset

We know that the most effective way to sell EHS in an organization is to gain management buy-in. The most effective way to secure that all-important management buy-in is to engage in a purposeful process of reputation building.

Reputation building begins through your understanding of the inner workings of the business in the eyes of the organization, and by applying the four “B’s” in your approaches:

  • Be brief.
  • Be prepared.
  • Be inspiring.
  • Be gone.

Let’s focus on the second “B” – “be prepared” – through a discussion of several of the most utilized financial terms and how EHS programs are linked to the business process. The goal is to show you how to sell yourself so that the organization will buy what you’re selling by:

•    Positioning yourself with the right business mindset.
•    Learning how to look through the business lens and develop strategies that are effective.
•    Understanding the value and art of perspective discovery.
•    Understanding the value and art of perception management.
•    Understanding and applying the four “B’s” of business to your approaches.
•    Understanding some of the most frequently utilized financial terms and how they are directly related to your EHS program.
•    Learning how to develop and implement an effective reputation-building plan and, ultimately, how to sell yourself in the process.

The process of selling yourself starts by establishing a proper business mindset. What does this mean? It means that your thought processes are driven by a business engine designed to power improvements in EHS performance. How do you know if you have the right business mindset? Start with your thought processes.

The right business mindset focuses on driving EHS performance by selling your idea the same way any other entity sells the organization on any product or concept. Understand that you’re selling an initiative that is competing with many other great initiatives. You’re bringing to the table a request that, at first glance, appears to be a detriment to the bottom line.

Remember: At the end of the day, most publically traded and privately held companies are in business to turn a profit for their stakeholders. Establish this mindset and you’ll be well on your in your efforts to sell a great EHS program.

Look Through the Business Lens

When you have the right business mindset in place, it’s time to look through the business lens and develop strategies that are effective for your organization. Of course, no one solution is a panacea. But viewing the scenery from a different lens can focus your efforts in way that maximizes your chances of achieving your desired results.

Often, perspective is the culprit holding back great EHS professionals and programs from blossoming. In many cases, the EHS professional simply is packaging the product in a way that the organization views as an acceptable risk. This translates into no management buy-in, no funding and no sale for you.

So, which lens is the “right” one? While there are significant variations in organizations that drive perspective (such as type of business, customer/client expectations, personalities, size of the organization, sales figures, etc.), there is a common thread woven through most corporate flags: the health of the bottom line.

Programs and initiatives that enhance the organization’s bottom line achieve support, buy-in and, ultimately, funding. Imagine yourself in your CEO’s chair and develop strategies that are consistent with what’s driving his or her decisions. Look through the CEO’s business lens (or the COO, the CFO, etc.) and you’ll have the ammunition to close any gaps that are preventing full alignment with your views.

Perspective Discovery

The value of understanding what the organization expects from you as an EHS professional is immense, and the approach to its discovery must be handled artfully.

Most of us EHS professionals are focused on the technical and compliance-related elements of our work. Our performance drivers originate from the deep roots that sustain the concept of protecting people, the environment and property in the workplace. While, at the heart of things, that is what we do, we also must learn to apply the art of perception discovery to be successful.

Perception discovery is a term that describes the process of determining what’s expected of you and when it’s expected. Typically, there’s no right way or wrong way to approach this art. It simply must be learned and exercised.

A simple way to start is to ask for your organization’s perception of you, your approach and your effectiveness. This strategy typically only will produce limited visibility into the organization’s “real” perceptions.

The next step is for you to evaluate the organization’s reactions to your ideas and proposals. By doing so, you’ll start opening up the aperture and begin to see the “true” organizational perceptions of your work.

•    Are you invited to important meetings?
•    Are you included in major decisions?
•    Is your name one of the first to come up for promotional opportunities?
•    Do company leaders seek your professional opinion to help solve complex issues?

The answers to these questions will start you on the right path to data gathering – a very important step in the art of perception management.

Perception Management

There are many books and references on approaches to perception management. Many of them focus on managing the perceptions of other people, some focus on managing your own perceptions, some focus on managing organizational perspectives. Here’s the most important takeaway: Understand that you must drive the bus or the bus will drive you.

Work with your organization to ensure that all of the key players completely understand your deliverables; your approaches; your goals; your actions; your re-actions; your sensitivity to the protection of the bottom line while eliminating or mitigating the risks; and your willingness to offer the best professional EHS service for the best value on the planet.

The perception of the organization, relative to your work, is in your hands. Make it happen. Be the driver.

In Part 2 of this two-part series, J.A. Rodriguez discusses how understanding and applying the four B's can help you take your career to a new level.

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