The musical Hamilton offers many lessons that go beyond the context of its subject matter. Here are five EHS takeaways from its most popular songs.
What made Hamilton such a smashing success?
This seemingly strange concept -- a hip-hop musical about the Founding Fathers? -- turned into a runaway hit on Broadway, earning numerous awards while becoming one of the most popular and profitable shows of all time. It’s back in the spotlight now, having recently become available to a much larger audience through the Disney+ streaming service.
There are many different aspects of Hamilton that make it an incredibly entertaining and enjoyable experience. But what I love most is the way its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda managed to take important historical events and give them a completely new spin, re-energizing our collective desire to learn about these pivotal figures in the nation’s legacy. Not only that, but the musical ties deeper life lessons into its songs and stories, which go well beyond the context of 18th-century America and its revolutionary origins.
We’re not exactly founding a new country, but this does feel like a formative moment for the future of the environment, health, and safety (EHS) profession. So, in Miranda’s spirit of providing a fresh perspective and drawing broader takeaways from the source material, let’s rise up and find EHS inspiration from some of our favorite songs in Hamilton.
Drawing EHS Inspiration from 5 of Hamilton’s Best Songs
Don’t Throw Away Your Shot
One of the first songs in the musical features a young, scrappy, and hungry Andrew Hamilton declaring “I’m not throwing away my shot” as he sizes up the incredible opportunity before him. With plans being devised for a revolution, Hamilton knew his intelligence and eloquence could play a key role, and he wasn’t going to let that chance slip away.
This is a big moment for EHS as well. The onset of a global pandemic has brought new gravity to what “health and safety” mean in the workplace. One example is in retail, where the EHS function is quickly becoming business-critical. Ensuring that both employees and customers feel as comfortable and safe as possible is now essential to the long-term health and viability of many businesses.
EHS managers should continually communicate upward the urgency of their responsibilities, while making a case for more resources and greater visibility. It shouldn’t be too difficult to convincingly get the points across in our current environment.
You Want to Be in the Room Where It Happens
When Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison reach a famous compromise during a private dinner in 1970, Aaron Burr laments his exclusion from the decision-making process in one of the musical’s most memorable songs, “The Room Where It Happens.”
No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens
Too often in the past, EHS has not been in the room where it happens. Major business decisions were made without involvement or input from those overseeing matters of environment, health and safety, as those concerns were too frequently viewed as secondary priorities.
Now and going forward, that’s not a tenable stance for an organization. EHS should be a central focus from a strategic planning standpoint. Leaders in the department can advance this cause by proactively speaking up and bringing ideas to the table, while illustrating how employee health and safety are tied to each component of business operations.
Get Yourself a Right Hand Man (or Woman)
Staring down complex and overwhelming challenges as the war unfolds, General George Washington comes to recognize that he can’t go it alone. “We are outgunned, outmanned,” he cries. “Outnumbered, outplanned. We’ve gotta make an all-out stand. I’m gonna need a right-hand man.”
That right-hand man, of course, is Hamilton, who becomes a close ally and confidant of the country’s eventual first president.
EHS managers may be feeling overwhelmed right now in their own rapidly evolving duties. There’s more to account for than ever before, and more pressure to get it right. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Through the two steps above, you can clearly demonstrate the indispensable value of EHS as a core business focus, and why it’s deserving of more personnel and resources.
As we’ve written recently, it can be especially valuable during the COVID-19 crisis to work with a consulting firm capable of offering expert support and lightening your load.
Must Be Nice to Have Management on Your Side
Seeing the sway that Hamilton has with President Washington by virtue of being his right-hand man, the trio of men opposing his ideology -- Jefferson, Burr, and Madison -- speak enviously of his influential position. “It must be nice, it must be nice … to have Washington on your side.”
As an EHS manager, syncing up with management and the C-suite is a critical factor in raising the department’s profile and impact. Executive leadership sets priorities and expectations across the organization, so if EHS is routinely on their radar, it’s much more likely to be on everyone else’s.
In the past we’ve shared tips for engaging stakeholders to drive EHS and sustainability initiatives forward.
Write Like You’re Running Out of Time
The only reason Hamilton exists is because of the non-stop work ethic of its creator, who spent years bringing his unlikely vision to reality. The show’s protagonist, too, is defined by his relentless work ethic. The song “Non-Stop” details the drafting of The Federalist Papers, a series of 85 essays defending the U.S. Constitution. The work was divided between three men: John Jay wrote five, Madison wrote 29, and Hamilton wrote the other 51.
“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” sings Burr. “Write night and day like you’re running out of time?”
Mister Burr (sir), I’ll venture to answer your inquiry: Hamilton understood the importance of documentation. The most effective EHS managers do too. Documenting processes and policies is a foundational element of a comprehensive EHS management system built to stand the test of time.
Don’t Wait For It
Now is the time for EHS managers and professionals to take the lead, helping set their organizations up for long-term success by building out strategies and policies designed to maximize the health and safety of all parties involved (not to mention a planet that needs our sustainability efforts more than ever).
Hamilton -- both the smash-hit musical and the fiercely determined man it portrays -- offers plenty of inspirational lessons for EHS leaders who want to seize this moment and spearhead the movement toward a healthy and safe future in this time of ominous uncertainty.
For more guidance and inspiration drawn from popular content available on your favorite streaming platforms, check out our lessons on avoiding counterproductive EHS practices, courtesy of the Tiger King himself.
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