Explaining the value of EHS to an executive

Talking Shop: Effectively Communicating EHS&S Risks to the C-Suite

February 6th, 2020

Many executive leaders feel pressured to focus on short-term growth targets and may not have the bandwidth or foresight to monitor and understand EHS&S risks. However, without C-suite sponsorship of programs and initiatives, EHS&S will continue to be viewed as a cost center instead of an opportunity to increase business continuity and build resiliency.

That’s where effective and strategic communication comes into play. By deeply understanding their organization’s environment, collecting accurate data, and tracking leading indicators and industry trends, strong EHS&S practitioners can craft compelling messages that entice executive leaders to support their cause. After all, saving lives, achieving regulatory compliance, and ensuring responsible business practices should be top priorities in any company.

Talk the Talk

So how do you obtain the best information to present to the C-suite? And more importantly, how can you foster the executive buy-in that you so desperately need in order to champion and invest in EHS&S? While there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all answer, we can learn from others who are leading the charge at their companies.

During the recent NAEM Forum in Toronto, Canada, several Antea Group colleagues and I had the opportunity to learn from three industry-leading EHS&S professionals as they shared failures and successes on their journeys toward transforming their companies’ EHS&S cultures. Thanks to Charles Malaniak, Corporate Environmental Manager for Wakefern Food Corp; Lara Malatesta, Director of Environmental Risk & Compliance and Global Safety & Risk Control for Aramark; and Mike Miller, Vice President of Risk, EHS & Sustainability with Advance Auto Parts for being willing to share their stories! Here are the five key messages that we found to be the most important considerations for EHS&S change agents:

  1. Open the communication lines. You can’t just sit behind your computer expecting that EHS&S risks will find you--you need to be out in the field, interacting with your teams. When you take the time to observe and listen, you identify problems that you didn’t know existed. It may not be feasible to visit every location; however, there are innovative approaches to team communication and insight collection that may help. For example, implementing an internal social media platform or initiating a contest with tangible rewards can help funnel insights and collect best practices. Keeping the pulse on the state of EHS&S at your company will help you communicate the most up-to-date information to your C-suite and will also demonstrate your leadership and commitment to the organization.
  2. Implement a well-defined risk assessment process. There are many tools that companies utilize to assess risk, including self-assessment checklists or partnering with external consultants. No matter how you do it, having a clear and defined process helps your team collect reliable and accurate risk data. Analyzing this data and trending over time will provide valuable insights as you prepare to present to the C-suite. Packaging this message is critical for justification and prioritization of both time and resources.
  3. Embrace both top-down and bottom-up communication. As an EHS&S leader, you are the go-between from the employees in the trenches to the upper echelons of your company—a unique position critical to creating an effective EHS&S culture with buy-in across all organizational levels. Building that relationship and trust by being a two-way conduit will help your organization break down barriers. Additionally, knowing the players and their motivations will help you craft a compelling message--not only to the C-suite for sponsorship, but to the teams of EHS&S implementers.
  4. Speak their language. When speaking to the C-suite, structure your request using a business mindset. Show how your solution will enhance growth, client/customer retention, operational efficiency, etc. You will need to address their concern of how investing in EHS&S will help your company be more profitable and more resilient. If you are not sure, solicit advice from a mentor or coach to help you get more insight into the business mindset.
  5. Sell your message. Essentially, you are selling the change you want to make to the organization, but the C-suite have many demands on their time and attention and to really stand out you need to market your message effectively. You may find some helpful tips from a book that has stood the test of time--How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Not Just Big Talk

By taking the time to understand and speak to the concerns of your executives in language that’s impactful to them, you can position EHS&S as a true value-add to your organization, helping the C-suite to understand that its impact goes beyond checking a regulatory box or avoiding a worker’s comp claim. Not only will that deepen and strengthen the EHS&S culture you’re working to build, but it can help shine a spotlight on the great work you and your team do and the real impact that work has on your company’s resiliency and profitability.

Need some helping talking to your C-suite? Contact us today to discuss how we can support you.

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