“Stakeholder engagement” became a buzzword as the sustainability movement gained visibility and momentum in the 1990s, and today, every sustainability program has stakeholder engagement as a key part of the strategy.
But recently, stakeholder engagement has become a key strategy for managing EHS as well, especially in lower-risk environments like offices and retail stores. EHS risks exist in these environments – think slip/trip/fall hazards, indoor air quality, and emergency response – but don’t warrant a full-time on-site EHS manager.
If you are an EHS manager for a lower risk environment, you are probably already practicing stakeholder engagement strategies but may not realize it. By recognizing that this can be an important factor in your success, you can incorporate intentional stakeholder engagement activities into your EHS programs and allocate the necessary time and resources.
So what is stakeholder engagement? Who are stakeholders? What is engagement? What is the best way to do it? (Hint, you don’t have to buy a ring.)
Who are stakeholders?
There are many definitions for “stakeholder,” but I think of it as the people who are going to be affected by what you are doing, and the people who can influence the success of your initiatives. For lower-risk environments, the critical stakeholders might be:
- Employees, customers, and visitors (people affected by what you are doing.)
- Facilities Management, Human Resources, and Security (people who can influence your success.)
To identify your critical stakeholders, think back on who has helped you, who has made things difficult, and who has responsibilities that overlap with EHS. (This can be a great exercise to conduct with your team to identify critical stakeholders and make sure you’re not missing any.)
What is engagement?
Once you identify your critical stakeholders, your next step is to identify your engagement goal and then develop an engagement strategy.
The engagement strategy for each stakeholder will be different depending on your goal, the stakeholder, and your company operations and culture. Consider the following factors in developing the specific engagement strategies:
- Content and Goal – what is the information to be communicated and what is the action expected or desired when the information is communicated?
- Channel – meetings, e-mail, newsletters, postings are the usual channels. Be creative– consider holding brainstorming meetings to get input or use gamification platforms to engage the broader employee population.
- Frequency – could be ad hoc, scheduled, continuous. Don’t forget to consider whether ongoing engagement is needed to measure whether your program or initiative is truly effective.
- Drivers – factor in timing with other company activities (for example budgeting time and the end of the fiscal year are usually very busy times) and other initiatives going on, such as new programs or changes in the organization.
For example, if you want to get buy-in from security on how they can help implement a new emergency response program, you may want to engage near the beginning of developing your program, and an in-person meeting is probably the best channel.
For a new EHS awareness training program, you may want to get input from HR on how your new training program will align with or augment existing HR training requirements. Timing may be critical to avoid the annual employee review process, when HR is likely to be very busy.
You may need to engage directly with employees to communicate the importance of proper ergonomic workstation set-up to minimize injuries. A newsletter, online reference guide, or electronic posting might be the best channel for communicating this information, with a follow-up survey or contest to see if employees received the information and found it useful.
Tips for Success
Although the concept of EHS stakeholder engagement is simple to understand, it takes time and can be hard work. As an engineer by training, I didn’t learn this in school. But by watching and working with some great companies, here are some tips from my experiences based on what I have learned through trial and error:
- Identify key stakeholders for your particular initiative – they won’t always be the same ones!
- Plan and allow adequate time for the engagement process, especially in the beginning.
- Think about your goals for engaging with a particular stakeholder and think about their perspective – what would be a win-win for both parties?
- Be purposeful in your engagement. People are busy, so be respectful of their time.
- Be genuine and passionate. If you believe in what you are doing, your enthusiasm will be contagious, and people will want to be part of your team.
- Recognize their efforts. Give credit where credit is due.
In the end, you are aiming to build a mutually respectful relationship in which participation benefits both parties.
Many EHS managers focus on the technical aspects of EHS – regulatory compliance, incident investigations, and reporting. While these are important, stakeholder engagement can be a powerful strategy to achieve success in your EHS programs.
Engage other parts of the organization, such as facilities, security, and human resources to help build and support EHS programs and leverage limited EHS resources to create a safer and more productive workplace, build employee engagement, and enhance EHS culture.
About the Author
Peylina Chu is a chemical engineer with over 20 years of experience in the EHS, sustainability and management consulting business. In addition to traditional regulatory drivers, today’s companies must meet public and customer expectations, investor concerns and non-governmental organization demands. Peylina works with companies to help them manage the business aspects of EHS to be able to drive sustainable growth for the future. Recognizing that EHS management is much more than just compliance, and that EHS and sustainability issues have the potential to seriously disrupt business, Peylina helps to develop customized programs that are proactive, tailored to company-specific risk tolerance levels and incorporated into company culture from the C-suite to the hourly employee.
To learn more about Peylina’s work at Antea Group, visit: http://us.anteagroup.com/en-us/segments/technology-segment