In the last few years, the chemical industry as a whole and companies individually have made a sizable and conscious effort to raise their focus on sustainability and to establish ambitious objectives to drive in this worthy endeavor. All industry-leading companies have started producing periodic (annual/semi-annual/quarterly) sustainability reports informing stakeholders of the many initiatives and progress in driving sustainable operations. Even a recent article in this periodical highlighting the current review of Responsible Care (American Chemistry Council’s environmental, health, safety and security initiative) mentions including sustainability principles to help it evolve and maintain its relevance as a beacon for the industry. These sustainability efforts are laudable, and some are even exemplary. Still, they will be incomplete if they are not extended to touch every member of the organization, from the top floor to the shop floor.
Because of the nature of chemical operations with their inherent risks, the strength of the whole system is dependent on the strength of the weakest link rather than the capability and knowledge of best-performing team members. Therefore, an organization’s level of success in sustainability, just as in environmental, health and safety and other core aspects, is largely driven by the organization’s capacity to raise the floor, so to speak, . By that, we mean to raise the ability and knowledge on those subjects across the whole organization, especially the worse performers. The more the sustainability habits, knowledge and actions of the weakest performers on the team improve, the stronger the sustainability performance of the entire organization.
This makes it paramount to ensure that every member of the team is touched and enthused about participating in driving sustainability and any other core operational imperative in lieu of imperative in a consistent and recurring manner.
In driving that team engagement, setting aside the obvious levers of development and training, a mature or robust Management Operating System (MOS) is crucial. A mature MOS has several characteristics that drive every team member to raise the bar:
Provides recurring, formal venues (meetings) where all team members can be engaged, informed and even pushed to drive sustainability.
Takes the measurable top-level corporate objectives and breaks them down to measurable periodic indicators with a shorter review period that drives attainment.
Drives agreement, captures and follows up on proactive and corrective actions to address challenges and issues.
Nowadays, it is somewhat common to start a shift with a safety huddle or have a safety share/moment at the beginning of all meetings. The more advanced MOS might incorporate a review of safety audits or observations. These have been significant steps forward in driving safe operations. A genuinely robust MOS that drives good environmental, health, safety and now sustainability behaviors is built so that every team member attends a periodic safety meeting with his/her team or peers. This meeting will have a standing agenda that includes training, learnings and observations, EHSS KPIs, communication and team sharing and discussion around safety and sustainability learnings and challenges. This system touches everybody and pushes all to keep engaged and participate. Nobody can hide. All team members are connected and pushed to participate.
KPI (KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATOR) TREE
Those mid and long-term goals laid out in the periodic sustainability reports to the public by leading chemical corporations have clear plans and periodic presentations of results established by the person conducting the sustainability initiative.
But those organizations with a robust MOS in place will be more agile in reviewing progress and making adjustments through the capability to take these high-level KPIs and unfold them into KPI trees. These KPI trees also have reviewed components more frequently and can help the team be proactive in making adjustments. This process establishes a plan and target for each indicator, how the indicators are calculated, how often it should be measured and reviewed, and who is the person accountable for delivering the target.
Most importantly, any RCA performed requires that we capture corrective actions to address the root cause and follow up on those actions. A robust MOS uses an action log or tracking tool that captures the issue, action, owner and due date for the action. It incorporates reviews of the action log in the appropriate meeting to resolve problems and issues permanently. Nothing is allowed to fall through the cracks
Sustainability, environmental, health, and safety are extremely important, and it is wonderful that the industry as a whole is continually improving performance in those areas. The key message to take away is that the performance in those aspects is not driven by the team’s superstar but by the level of strength or weakness of the least effective/knowledgeable team member. So improving the knowledge and capabilities of the lower ends of the organizational hierarchy is the key to superior performance. A robust Management Operating System is the most effective means to raise and continue to raise that bar.