Speaking Out: Doing the Right Thing (And Doing It Successfully)

Oct. 1, 2008
Some EHS professionals strongly object to the amount of regulation in their industry, or to specific requirements. Others are frustrated by the hoops

Some EHS professionals strongly object to the amount of regulation in their industry, or to specific requirements. Others are frustrated by the hoops that must be jumped through to prove compliance. A fairly common attitude is that compliance is a necessary evil — a way to motivate corporate and individual behavior that's all stick and no carrot.

I want to leave aside compliance in those terms and discuss something more positive, and more important: that old intangible known as “doing the right thing.”

Almost all of us are given this directive from an early age by parents, teachers, religious leaders and other mentors. It may manifest as a specific behavior, or as something general like the Golden Rule. The definition of “right thing” may vary depending on moral, philosophical or cultural values, but what's noteworthy is that this ideal has become much more prevalent in business and the media in the last decade. Corporate ethics, social responsibility, green initiatives — clearly, businesses are paying more attention than ever to doing the right thing. And that's a good thing.

However, wanting to do the right thing is just the start of the journey. Good intentions need to be translated into good actions. In the world of EHS, risk management, HR and related functions, that means implementing effective programs that achieve measurable results.

Implementing effective programs is particularly important to us at PureSafety. Our company was founded in response to a workplace fatality at Thompson Machinery — the only one in its 60-year history. They were doing the right thing — formal safety programs, dedicated safety resources, a strong safety culture — but this accident led senior management to ask, “How can we do more to improve safety programs and prevent another tragedy?” In a real sense, PureSafety is an ongoing answer to that question.

Partnering with over 1,000 organizations in over 20 major industries has given us some good insights regarding what it takes to turn wanting to do the right thing into doing the right thing successfully.

Knowledge Delivery and Employee Development — Sometimes, doing the right thing involves common sense behaviors like keeping a work area clean or responding promptly to an injury. But often it requires knowledge that is more complex and technical. We're not born knowing proper management of confined spaces, for example, or how many rescue breaths and chest compressions should be given when administering CPR.

Before we can do the right thing, we must know what the right thing is, and how best to do it. Proper knowledge delivery and employee development mechanisms ensure that everyone in your organization is equipped with the technical and procedural understanding to do the right thing.

Workflow and Management Systems and Reporting Tools — Having the proper systems and tools to manage workflow, assimilate data and efficiently and accurately report on program results gives decision-makers the business intelligence to best define the right thing and then continuously improve the organization's ability to do it.

Strong Communication and Collaboration — Having strong communication and collaboration between departmental systems and processes probably is the area that many organizations find most challenging. Often, corporate silos arise and begin functioning as if they were separate entities. In the worst cases, one department's “right thing” may even be at cross-purposes with another department's “right thing.”

But efforts in safety, risk management, human resources and so on are closely related — and clear communication between these functions will help everyone in the organization to see the big picture in terms of doing what's right. It will also help eliminate inefficiencies, encourage transparency and provide valuable interdepartmental insights.

The three areas above are a good starting point in evaluating whether your organization has everything in place to not only do the right thing, but do it successfully. Without the proper systems, tools and organization-wide communication, the “right thing” can be hard to define, and doing the right thing successfully can start to feel too much like a game of chance.

The stakes here are too high to let that be the situation — costs, productivity, employee morale and, in the most extreme cases, employee lives. In business as in other areas of life, doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it's always worth the effort.

Bill Grana is president and CEO of PureSafety. Grana has a diverse background in corporate development, law, finance and other business functions. He has led or been a top consultant to a number of early-stage and high-growth private and public technology companies, including serving as senior vice president, acquisitions, for iXL Inc., a leading Internet solutions provider, and as chairman and CFO for Zoaport, Inc., an animal health Internet start-up. Grana earned a J.D./M.B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis with a concentration in corporate finance and a B.A. from the University of Virginia.

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