Redesigning EHS amid the chaos

It seems strange to talk about organization amid all the current national and global turmoil.  But people still have to do their day jobs and fulfill their responsibilities to their companies, their people and themselves, so the discussion goes on.  Especially because turmoil – much less dramatic than on the national stage but disruptive all the same – is going on at so many companies.

The challenge for high value, low visibility functions – like EHS – is to redesign themselves for life after the turmoil, without having the luxury of waiting for all the smoke to clear.  The most visible situation is post-merger. But the same chaos and need also exist in other corporate disruptions including acquisitions, corporate splits, the dreaded “new strategy” and ensuing reorganization, or simply massive downsizing (“de-organization”).

Let’s face it.  In most of these corporate shuffles, functions like EHS are an afterthought. It would be nice to think this will change as companies mature, that senior management will recognize the virtues and talents of the EHS organization and protect the exceptional people and programs that have already been established. Sadly, that’s unlikely to happen. Irrational and arbitrary cuts will happen. The EHS organization will have to find ways to step up both efficiency and effectiveness, not trade off one for the other. EHS leaders have to deliver the value their company needs within the budget and organizational envelope the company wants.

Organogram AbstractionThis is serious stuff. Bringing two companies’ EHS departments together post-merger isn’t like hosting a wedding dinner where the biggest problem is keeping the two families apart, containing the obnoxious relatives and stretching the alcohol budget.  This goes well beyond drawing up the tables and assigning seats. This is a serious strategic process with implications for business performance, EHS performance, and careers.  It requires asking the tough questions — even if you have to answer them yourself.

Some EHS leaders do a great job of this.  In one recent acquisition the EHS leader of the acquirer framed the strategic questions even before he was sure he had the top EHS job.  As soon as he got the nod, he developed clear hypotheses of what the new, merged company would be like and what it would need from EHS.  Without waiting for guidance, he proposed cutting out an entire layer, designing new centers-of-excellence based on emerging needs, and staffing those centers based on skill rather than prior job levels. At a stage where his peers are often waiting for direction and facing budget death of a thousand cuts, he has a plan, won approval (or acquiescence), and is busy creating an effective new leadership team.

A colleague and I pulled together some of the lessons learned from lots of painful experience in a new article, After the Deluge: Designing EHS Organizations for Post-Merger Companies.  Take a look.  Share your experiences, either in comments on that article or back on this blog.  And good luck to all.

[Opinions on this site are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of Nadler Strategy’s clients or partners, or those cited in blogs. To share this post, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to nadlerstrategy.com.]

New home: Nadler Strategy LLC

Dec 2015 LogoI am pleased to announce that my full-time professional home is now Nadler Strategy LLC.

A few years ago, I viewed this possibility with fear and dread.  The idea of “going out on my own” after turning 60 seemed daunting, if not outright crazy.

A great friend helped me focus on what I feared: the risk of no corporate employer, and the loneliness of truly being alone professionally. He helped me look at the opportunities instead of the fears. By managing my projects and platforms as a portfolio, I could reduce the risk substantially.  With the chance to work more flexibly and choose my projects, I could become more closely connected with great colleagues, both old and new.

Now, this is something I’m approaching with excitement. With the turning of the year, I wrapped up a great 20-year run with ERM.  I launched this stage almost a year ago, when I began to work from multiple platforms. Much of 2015 was spent testing, learning and developing new approaches and connections. I found a number of intriguing opportunities beyond the corporate consulting model.  I found I was better connected and less alone than before.

It’s now time to move into that world full-time. I’m looking forward to offering strategy, sustainability, facilitation and coaching services through the Nadler Strategy platform.

I will continue to work from other platforms as well:

Other opportunities and collaborations are taking shape.  I’ll explore those in future blogs and as they ripen. Until then, please feel free to follow me on Twitter or Facebook or visit my web site.

Best wishes for a happy healthy and productive new year.

[Opinions on this site are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of Nadler Strategy’s clients or partners. To share this post, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to nadlerstrategy.com.]

Corporate roles, personal journeys

I recently brought together seven colleagues for a ‘Micro Forum’ in Chicago, IL to share their strategic and organizational perspectives. It became a vivid reminder of the very human side of our work relationships.

All the participants were VP-level leaders in corporate environment, safety, sustainability and/or energy functions. They came from a wide range of companies and sectors from transportation to health care and technology to household-name consumer products. They shared many of the same strategic and organizational challenges. Behind those, though, they each had very unique personal journeys.

For seven people in roughly the same roles, the range of their stories was fascinating. Some were lifers, with their whole career in one company. Others were in their third or fourth or fifth company – in one case, just within the last five years. Some had spent their whole career in the same function but with different companies, while others had been in multiple functions in one company.

They were at very different stages of their careers. Some were nearing the final lap. When asked what they hoped their personal story would be three years from now, some were hoping to be gone from their companies, retired – but they still had things to accomplish before going. Others had one last big initiative – or promotion – in their sights before retiring. Their journeys over the next few years involve choices about timing, negotiating exits (if they expected to have any say in it), geography and what to do next.

Others were entering the prime of their careers. They faced choices about balance: balancing families and work, balancing the ambitions to move up (which might mean leaving their functional area) with the ambition to do more within their function (which might limit promotions).

They opened up to each other. Some had only met over dinner the night before. Others only met when they walked into the conference room at 8:30 that morning. By 10:30 they were sharing. By noon they were asking each other for advice.

I had the great opportunity to sit and listen. Several things jumped out at me:

  • How committed they are. Despite setbacks and frustrations, all deeply care about helping their companies do better at protecting their people, communities and the environment. All are genuinely proud of their accomplishments. None of them sit in the C-suite, but they are leaders, truly leading from below.
  • How valuable this was. “Peer-to-peer” isn’t just a technology file-sharing geek term, it’s an important human concept. These can be lonely roles. The participants quickly realized they were sitting with genuine, smart, trustworthy peers. There was a clear sense of relief in the room, as people opened up, asked for help with real problems and offered support.
  • How hard it is to be proactive about your career. These bright, realistic people spend a lot more time planning for their companies and programs than for their own careers. They know they need to be prepared for what may come, both opportunities and disappointments. Those in mid-career know that no jobs (or even companies, these days) are secure. Those late in their career know that windows may be closing and options may be narrowing. Yet they struggle to find the time and mental space to create the options they want rather than waiting to react to what happens.

Most importantly, I was reminded that everyone we deal with has their own personal journey behind their organizational role. It’s all too easy to fall into dealing with them solely in terms of their roles, without understanding (or caring or helping) with their personal journeys. I convened a bunch of corporate officials. I spent valuable, affirming time with a room full of people. That was a healthy reminder, especially this time of year.

[Scott Nadler is a Senior Partner at ERM and Program Director at US BCSD. Opinions on this site are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of those quoted or cited, ERM or its partners or clients, or US BCSD, its members or partners. To share this post, see additional posts on my blog or subscribe please go to snadler.com. I also invite you to follow me on Facebook or Twitter.]

Sustainable Platforms: Launching the next stage

Welcome to our new world of multiple platforms. One professional platform no longer needs to fill every need.

Many of us working in sustainability at this stage (I’m 60) find ourselves with lots of experience and interests – more than fit in any one role. My friend Chuck Bennett and sustainability recruiter Ellen Weinreb explored this challenge well in two articles last fall talking with a half-dozen of us “sustainability veterans”, including tips for “sustainability veterans who won’t quit”. There are other things we want to do professionally. At this point in our lives, we don’t want to delay getting on with them. I’ve gotten a lot of signals in my personal life recently that have reminded me forcefully not to put this off.

US BCSD logoSo effective today, I have a new platform. I am Program Director (part time) with the US Business Council for Sustainable Development. US BCSD is “an action-oriented and member-led nonprofit business association that harnesses the power of collaborative projects, platforms and partnerships to develop, deploy and scale solutions to ecosystems, energy, materials and water challenges.“

Oversize logoBut today I am also delighted to remain a Partner at ERM, a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk and sustainability services. In fact, that remains my day job and my main platform. I will continue to provide corporate clients with help in strategy and management for environment, health and safety (EHS); and in linking sustainability issues more closely and effectively with their business. I look forward to continuing to serve my clients there.

And today I continue a lively conversation with a number of close friends and respected colleagues working in academia, in the investment community, and elsewhere using private means to achieve public ends. They are creating fascinating and hopefully sustainable platforms like Gastameco and its “innovative projects in the field of social housing” such as its We Crociferi development; or Co-Creation Ventures and its Stock Pot Malden “culinary incubator and commercial kitchen”.

I want this next stage to be the culmination of my professional life, not an epilog. For 40 years I’ve worked in the public-private frontier, in one way or another. For 40 years, I’ve helped drive change, hopefully in productive and constructive ways. For 40 years, I’ve worked in different aspects of strategy and management, economic development, and sustainability. Now, I want to pick and choose more of how I work on those issues. I want to apply everything I’ve learned. I want to keep learning.

In the long run, will this strategy of multiple platforms help drive more progress in sustainability? Will this mix of multiple platforms prove sustainable, personally and professionally?

I invite you to learn with me, by following these organizations, or following my journey on this blog or on Twitter.

[Scott Nadler is a Senior Partner at ERM and Program Director at US BCSD. To share this post, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to snadler.com. Opinions on this site are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of those quoted or cited, ERM or its partners or clients, or US BCSD, its members or partners.]