In order to convey the value of environment, health, and safety (EHS), you need to learn—and sometimes teach—the business languages you need to gain the attention of organizational leadership. Read the transcript of our recent EHS on Tap podcast episode where we talked about this subject with Pamala Bobbitt, Vice President of Product Marketing at Cority.
This episode was originally released on June 17, 2019, and you can listen to the full audio here.
Justin Scace: Hello everyone, and welcome back to EHS on Tap. I’m your host, Justin Scace, senior editor of the EHS Daily Advisor and Safety Decisions magazine.
As an environment, health, and safety professional, there’s a good chance that you’ve gotten the feeling that you are perceived as a cost center by senior management. However, whenever you try to communicate the value of EHS in a meeting, are you met with blank stares, sideways looks, or just in general feel like you’re speaking a foreign language? It’s a perpetual challenge for professionals in this field, and knowing how to communicate is a must.
But how can you learn the lingo you need to convey value across the company? Well, we’re getting some help in today’s episode, sponsored by Cority, as we’re talking to a dedicated EHS veteran who can help you learn the language you need to make an impact within your organization. Joining us today is Pamala Bobbitt, vice president of product marketing at Cority, where she is in charge of driving the go-to-market strategy and product vision for the company’s unified true software as a service platform.
Pamala began her career as a field chemist specializing in hazardous waste management before becoming an EHS manager for a leading automotive supplier. After spending over 15 years as an EHS professional in progressive roles across the pharmaceutical, chemical, and automotive industries, she leveraged her deep regulatory compliance expertise and passion for technology and entered the EHS software industry. Pamala has over a decade of industry experience working with prominent EHS software vendors, helping enterprises map complex business processes into successful technology programs that drive measurable outcomes.
Pamala, welcome, and thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us at EHS on Tap!
Pamala Bobbitt: Thank you, Justin. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Justin Scace: Great. So, what are some of the big communication issues that happen between EHS and the rest of the company? Where are wires most likely to get crossed or other misunderstandings most likely to occur?
Pamala Bobbitt: I think it really comes down to the terminology that we use as EHS professionals when we’re speaking. We love our acronyms, that tech speak, and so we come across [as] we’re very skilled and we’re very passionate about what we do, and that’s one of the things where people kind of get lost.
So I always, when I have presentations, it’s kind of like The Big Bang Theory. If you’ve ever watched that, you have Sheldon, the character who is this very specialized, intelligent, and he knows his space and he talks to it very well, and when he’s speaking to Penny, who comes from Nebraska and has been a waitress and a pharmaceutical sales rep, she just looks at him and typically gives an eye roll and says, “Okay.”
Justin Scace: Yep.
Pamala Bobbitt: That’s to the extreme, but it’s how sometimes I think our internal stakeholders feel, because we don’t translate those acronyms, and we typically don’t make the connection for them, and that leads to perceptions of conflicting objectives or conflicting priorities.
Justin Scace: Okay. So, while attitudes are changing (we hope), too often the EHS department is viewed as a cost center within the business. So what business languages, if you will, do health and safety pros need to learn in order to change this perception?
Pamala Bobbitt: Well, the good news is I think that the perception is changing, and initiatives such as ISO 45001 and the whole ISO structure aligning the programs, the management system to the overall corporate objectives, is helping with that. But what you need to understand is, again, the point of view from those different stakeholders. So, if you take typically the different people who are interacting on an almost daily basis in operations, production, IT, that C-level, that senior management level, even HR, well you have to learn their languages.
So from an operations perspective, they know numbers, number of widgets out the door, percent downtime. The IT [perspective] is talking about management of their tech stack and their different systems and security. And the C-level, of course, it’s the dollar sign, it’s the revenue, how is this driving revenue. And from an HR perspective, the terminology is benefits and turnover and compensation. So those are the types of languages that you have to learn, the language of those different stakeholders, and translating your activities and how it impacts their business. So, translate it into their language.
For instance, the C-level is pretty easy. It’s getting easier now with a lot of statistics, and I’m sure we’ll go into it more, but what is the impact of this initiative to the C-level? I’ll also take, for operations, one of the things that we always typically—and again, I’ve been on a manufacturing line for a couple of times—and one of the things that I always got pushback on from a perspective of operations was taking people away for training. We all know that you have to do training.
And I’ll give an example here that was done in Australia that actually hits all three of those different departments from an operations, from a C-level, and from an HR [perspective]. So this was an initiative that was done for training, and typically the pushback for training is going to be operations says automatically, “Well, how long are they going to be off the line?” If you take a manufacturing line, how long are they going to be off, because they have to worry about putting people on. And again, what are they worried about? Hitting their numbers of how many widgets they’re supposed to get out for that shift and overall that day. And then the C-level is thinking about, “Okay, training costs money, but we’re trying to get better revenue and return on our investment.” And HR is thinking, “Okay, I focus in on the employee and turnover and benefits and compensation.”
So wellness is, as people know, is one of these key initiatives, and in Australia they did a study on mental health training programs. So they took a select group of managers, and they had a 10-to-1 return on the investment.
Justin Scace: Oh, wow.
Pamala Bobbitt: Yeah, and it really talked to all different things. So for one, that 10-to-1 investment. So for instance, you had that monetary value, so the total training cost was $1,017 Aussie [dollars] per manager. And then if you calculated the reduction that they saw in work-related sicknesses and absences because they were trained on how to recognize fatigue, stress, and mental health and can address it with the employees, because of the reduction in workplace illnesses, it saved $10.15 per manager’s line. That’s how you talk to the C-level.
From an HR perspective, you have less absenteeism. From an operations perspective, what does the less absenteeism mean to that production manager? It means that his people are going to be there. He doesn’t have to worry at the beginning of a shift that he’s got to put in maybe contractors, which then they have to do extra training, which he’s concerned that it’s going to take extra time for them to learn. From a safety perspective, if you have a contractor in there, you have to get them up to speed, all those things.
So you can take something like that, like a training, and really talk to all of the different perspectives, but then just change that language for HR to say, “Hey, they’re going to get their training, they’re going to recognize mental health. That goes to those benefits that you’re giving to the employee.” You’re going to address and concern the overall safety, the compensation, it helps drive down your insurance costs, which everybody benefits from, from the healthcare, especially in the U.S. But from a production [standpoint], it’s saying your people are going to be there more often.
And this was just a third of it. So there is really, if you think about from a C-level, there’s no better investment right now, a 10-to-1 investment, if you want to get some revenue, invest in your wellness program, because it’s getting a 10-to-1 return.
Justin Scace: Wow. So that’s a lot of different languages to learn between all those various departments that you mentioned. Who are the best people within an organization to turn to in order to get help learning the lingo? I realize it’ll vary depending on the business, but what are some best practices for EHS to find mentorship within a company when it comes to learning how to communicate with senior leadership or these other departments you’ve been talking about?
Pamala Bobbitt: Well the great thing is that EHS has always been at the table at cross-functional steering committees. So that would be the first place that I would start to look for your new “BFF” in another department. Typically, you’re engaging with these steering committees once a month or maybe once a quarter, but you can make that more often. Those are going to be the ones who are likely because they’re on the same committee with you, you kind of know them already, you have some common interests because you are on the steering committee. So it’s easier to start to have those conversations beyond the steering committee.
The other one that I always say is we all know and we can perceive that person who always seems to be everywhere in the company, that visual person, that person who people listen to no matter what department … approach that person as a mentor in a program. I’ve been very lucky in my career that I’ve had really great mentors to help teach me different perspectives.
Technology, when I first came over to the technology side and not really understanding what a relational database was or what it means for … the string was cut or all of these different things, and I wasn’t afraid to ask because I knew that they knew that I didn’t … it’s not that I don’t want to understand, it’s just I had never experienced it before. So, find that person that you feel you can have that conversation with and say, “Hey, can you just explain this to me?”
I do it now too. From a marketing perspective, I never knew what a hamburger was. And we were doing some work around a website and they’re talking about a hamburger. And I just raised my hand and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what a hamburger is. I do, but not in this context.”
And so that thing too, as an EHS professional, even as seasoned (that’s the politically correct way to say I’m old), the seasoned professional, to not be afraid to raise your hand and say, “Hey, I’m sorry, can you explain this to me because I haven’t experienced it before?”
So that’s another thing too. So, look for the steering committee, look for that person who seems to tend to be the “it” person within an organization. And also don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, I don’t know.”
Justin Scace: Yeah, absolutely. So one quick question for you, I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but what is a hamburger?
Pamala Bobbitt: Okay. Typically you’ll see it on an app, but you’ll see it on a bunch of web pages, where you have the multiple lines, and you know that you click that and it opens a menu.
Justin Scace: Oh, okay. Sure.
Pamala Bobbitt: That’s a hamburger.
Justin Scace: Oh, good to know, good to know. So it’s really about developing positive relationships within the company then?
Pamala Bobbitt: It is. Finding the person. And again, I say make new BFFs. It’s no different than you were in high school if you were navigating the different groups or wanting to learn more about a different sports team or a club or something like that. It’s that same kind of concept.
Justin Scace: Okay. What about external sources? I’ve heard a lot that in order to learn a language well, which is basically what we’re talking about here, learners should read books or watch TV shows or movies that are in the language that they’re trying to learn, essentially immerse themselves in the language. So should EHS professionals maybe be reading any particular publications, watching any particular shows or consuming any other kind of content that might help them bridge these business language barriers that we’re talking about today?
Pamala Bobbitt: So, I start with, if you haven’t read (and I’m sure most EHS professionals have read), actually read the monthly reports that are usually on the internal internet sites. That’s going to give you visibility and knowing what things are of concern to each department. Like what their objectives are. That’s a clue.
But as far as outside your own company, there’s more … it’s really great. Again, right now, there’s more and more, I’ve seen a couple of conferences as well, there are some things that we’re doing on webinars and such, but there’s a lot of conferences where you’ve got those sessions on how do you translate it. There’s also books. The ROI of Safety is a great one for translating and having that business case.
You always have to have a business case, because if somebody … for instance, if I would have just told you in that instance of the training that wellness provides you a 10-to-1 return on investment, people would typically look at me and go, “Yeah, right.” But I had the business case of this small little pilot with all the details backing it up, and then people go, “Oh, okay, now I understand where you’re getting it from.” So that’s a great book, ROI of Safety, that has a lot of examples to help you understand that.
And then, of course we all have taken these personality tests at one point in time, Myers-Briggs, there’s several of them. But go back to that and think about not just about where you end up on those scales, but when you’re trying to have a conversation and you’re trying to make new friends, you have to take in consideration where they end up on those scales.
So for instance, I have one that I keep on my desk with all the different people that I talk to about what are some of the cues and how do you recognize what type of person they are by the language that they use and how they speak. Knowing that, you can then change the way you typically speak and align more directly with them [and it] helps you build that relationship faster and stronger, because you’re going to relate to them not only from a language perspective, but you’re also putting it into their style of how they work.
Justin Scace: So of course verbal communication, which is mostly what we’ve been talking about here, that’s just part of the story. Some EHS professionals, they might not have the opportunity to actually speak at the C-suite table, and a lot of times will need to express their ideas and their concerns in written format through memos, emails, that sort of thing. So that’s a whole different set of limitations, but also opportunities. So, what are some good strategies for EHS professionals who need to communicate with business leaders primarily with the written word?
Pamala Bobbitt: I’d say with the “visual word.”
Justin Scace: Visual word, okay.
Pamala Bobbitt: So typically, what’s best and resonates with people is don’t give them too much information. And again, because EHS professionals, we have so much information, we have to pare it down so that people can absorb it. And now with technology and the ability to use visuals to convey that story, it’s faster, it’s what’s people are used to, it’s the trend going forward as all of these younger professionals come up, that’s what they’re used to. Snapchats. Snapchats and pictures, the visuals.
So it’s creating that visual, but just a little bit of context, more detail behind it. The picture should tell the story, and then you should highlight a couple of things related to that that are concise. Again, reread it to say, “Oh my gosh, if I’m using a technical word that they don’t understand,” then you need to translate that. And again, remember your audience.
So for instance, if I’m sending a PowerPoint dashboard of some graphs, whether it’s pie charts or bar charts or objectives versus objectives, it needs to represent what people care about. So for instance, we just did one with a customer where they wanted to show the program and the support of the program, and initially had talked about the fact that it was on schedule and on budget. Well, great, but the C-level, yeah, the CFO cares that that was on budget, but what else does he care about and what else?
So with this program, show that before the program and the project that your cost of transportation per container was $25, and now with the system, because you know and have visibility into this, you can optimize your transportation costs, now you’re driving down to $12 per container. And that’s huge. So giving that visual, giving them the visual, but also putting it in the context. Now, if I did that to operations, they wouldn’t care.
Justin Scace: Right.
Pamala Bobbitt: Or HR. But if you did that to the C-suite, then they’re like, “Oh, my gosh.” So again, tell the story and how it impacts your audience.
Justin Scace: Absolutely. Any particular statistics that you think are particularly powerful across these groups?
Pamala Bobbitt: Well, operations, they care about (especially if you’re in manufacturing), they care about downtime. So if you can translate that what you’re doing will optimize your uptime, or decrease the amount of downtime that you have, that impact, they are going to pay attention.
Justin Scace: Sure. So from a EHS perspective, they might be interested in your DART rate?
Pamala Bobbitt: Correct. But you have translate that, because they won’t know what a DART rate is. And so what you have to say is your DART rate relates to the number of incidents, which then can relate to the fact that you’ve got a line shutdown for a little bit of time based off of the incidents, and that if the DART rate … based off of that DART rate, then yes, your uptime is going to be more beneficial.
Justin Scace: I’ve found that a key to good communication in the workplace is to be able to see things from other departments’ perspectives and frame your conversations accordingly, which you’ve been talking about a little bit here. However, if senior management’s perspective right now is that EHS is a waste of money or a cost center, you don’t really want to reinforce that sort of thinking. So how can EHS develop this communication skill, this skill of viewing different business perspectives without sacrificing any of the urgency and importance that must be given to environment, health, and safety issues?
Pamala Bobbitt: That’s the thing about this now, is understanding this helping to translate and bringing it to it. It’s not changing that urgency, it’s just getting everybody on board with that urgency without them knowing it, in a way.
So let’s take the DART rate, days away from work, job transfer, or restricted job duties, that impacts operations. So for instance, the report that I would probably typically do, of course, from my perspective, is to do that DART rate and I compare it to benchmark and others and how we’re performing for my programs. So what I would do for a DART rate for operations then, same information, and this is where technology comes in, is that because you can bring all of these different uptime and downtime from your different systems that are capturing this, then you can do a report that shows, based off of the DART rate, here’s the correlation between your uptime and downtime.
And so when operations sees that that DART rate being low equates to increased uptime, then they’re on board. And you haven’t lost your sense of urgency, you’ve just got someone on board with you to know it’s a sense of urgency, because they now understand the impact to their side, from their perspective.
And of course, a DART rate to human resources, it’s the workers’ comp and case management and elements with potential turnover. So when your DART rate is low, of course for them, they have less administrative efforts going on with managing that case management (if it’s managed by HR). That’s my perspective from my automotive manufacturing days, is that went into HR.
But the other thing is that you have that DART rate, and then what it means now to the C-level. So for instance, you can translate that. Now I’m trying to come up with a … and that’s from a money savings, and of course overall putting it all together. Less absenteeism means people are there, which means that cost savings of having to bring in contractors, etc. Operations knows you’ve got more uptime, which means they’re going to meet their targets.
Now from an IT perspective … I’m trying to come up with an idea of why IT would care about the DART rate. But doing it all in one system, I think if you can find a system and make those interconnections, that’s where IT is going to come on board with it.
Justin Scace: Great. So we talked a little bit about this, but I just want to talk about it a little bit more: We’ve been talking a lot about EHS learning new business language, but what about the reverse? How can health and safety pros go about teaching other people in their company, from senior management to frontline employees? How can they go about teaching them the language of the EHS function and why it’s important?
Pamala Bobbitt: That’s a great question. You kind of reverse it. So, it’s kind of like the coaching perspective. So for instance, instead of saying typically where EHS would say (let’s take the training example because we took that and took it across), so typically EHS would say, and I’m guilty of it as an EHS manager, is to say, “We must do training. We must do training because it is required for us to do training, and you can’t argue with me because we must do it.” And that typically doesn’t go over well with anybody, no matter what department you’re in or who you are. If you tell somebody you must do, and don’t tell them that understanding of it. So it’s more of taking the time. We know why we’re doing it and we know the importance, but you have to take the time again to do that. So, if I wanted to do training and I was going to get budget for the training, what I would do is tie it to our corporate objectives.
So for instance, a lot of organizations—again, it’s a great time for EHS because everything’s aligning for us to really shine now—so, I talked about the ISO 45001. The other thing is that the C-level is really understanding the impact of safety culture. And one of those [things about] safety culture is making sure that the employees feel like they are working in a company that appreciates them and understands and respects them. And so putting wellness programs together … in Europe, they’re doing it a lot. We’re seeing more and more in the U.S. as well. We’ve done it a lot. I did one way back in my day a long time ago about smoking cessation.
But wellness is one of those that feel good. So the wellness program, it’s good for everybody. So the mental health training and the impact. So when you talk about it, everybody’s going to say, “Okay, what’s this cost?” And typically the conversation EHS, or me in my early days, would have is to say it’s going to cost this and here’s what I’m going to do, and we’re going to do it because it’s the right thing. Or typically, when we do training it’s required. But in this case it’s a nice thing, so that’s even harder to go by.
But again, if in my presentation to the group and the steering committee that’s presented, I say what it’s going to do for us is for one, from an employee perspective, we’re going to focus on and help address the employees. This is going to in turn right, based off of studies that have been done, reduce absenteeism. So from an operations perspective, that is going to impact the number of contractors we may need, it’s going to reduce our rate of any potential incidents, because we all know that our incident rate goes up with the contractors. Remember, I’ve already taught you what that DART rate means for the impact.
And again, so it’s when you’re presenting, making sure that you’re teaching and tailoring that presentation to each person in the room so that they understand … and they’ll start to get there’s reasons why we do this. Let’s take a mandatory training. Forklift training has to be done, and it has to be done every time the driver of the forklift has an incident. That’s the regulatory requirement, you have to do training. And we typically just say as we test people, because we’re so busy and resource-constrained typically, we just say you have to do it cause it’s required. And just leave it at that.
Well, add on the extra. It is a mandatory requirement, but why it’s a mandatory requirement is for the reason that it’s a refresher training to ensure that they covered anything that they maybe missed or reinforce, and what that’s going to do for you is the fact that you’re not going to most likely have this again because they get that refresher training, and yes, they’ll be away, but it’s paying it forward. So, if you have that conversation, then I think it’s better for them to understand why it’s important for these regulatory requirements.
Justin Scace: Definitely. So before we sign off, I have one final question for you. A lot of our audience is probably thinking, “Great, I’m already ridiculously busy and now I have to basically learn a new language as well.” It might feel a bit frustrating, as a lot of folks who work in this space feel, and I would say rightfully so, like the value of environment, health, and safety should really be very obvious at this point. Yet it seems like they’re always the ones who have to go the extra mile to convey value to business. So what words of encouragement or advice do you have for these professionals?
Pamala Bobbitt: I say right now is the time that everybody is up to listening, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort for you to think about it. Now if you haven’t thought that way, it does take, anytime you learn a new skill, it does take a little bit of time, but the benefit and reward is so huge. By thinking about making it personal to each person that you are speaking to, that just takes a little bit of time. It’s kind of like, take a breath.
So I’m talking to the plant manager, and so if I’m going into his office and then I walk in and typically I would always get that, “Oh no, here she is” face. You kind of set the stage for the conversation, which we know a lot of times we have to stress the urgency. But again, if you think about the skills of remembering who you’re talking to … One, what department are they in? And two, what’s their style? I’m a very open, fluffy style, and very extroverted. But sometimes a lot of people with maintenance, they’re very introverted.
So you have to think about, okay, I have to sense urgency, but if I come at them this way with a big story and all-encompassing, that might overwhelm them and they’re going to push back on me. But if I change my conversation and say, “Okay, they’re very straightforward and they just need to know the brass tacks,” and I shorten it to say, “Hey, I walked out on the line, there is a problem with the machine guarding. If we don’t address it quickly, then this is going to result in some downtime for you because we’re headed for quality issues, potential incidents, and maintenance problems. Why don’t we get together and figure this out so we can address it in the next maintenance shift?” And so they know, clear and precise, I understand the problem, I understand how it impacts them, and I’ve offered a solution. So from an operations perspective, that’s like, okay, great, very precise. What am I [going to] need to do it and how are we going to address it?
Justin Scace: Excellent. Well that’s some really good advice for our audience of EHS professionals. Thank you again, Pamala, for joining us today on EHS on Tap!
Pamala Bobbitt: Thank you! I hope it was useful.
Justin Scace: Yes, absolutely. And we’d also like to thank Cority for sponsoring this episode, and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. Be sure to keep an eye out for new episodes of EHS on Tap, and keep reading the EHS Daily Advisor to stay on top of your safety and environmental compliance obligations, get the latest in best practices, and keep your finger on the pulse of all things related to the EHS industry.
Until next time, this is Justin Scace for EHS on Tap.
|Pamala Bobbitt is Vice President of Product Marketing at Cority, where she is in charge of driving the go-to-market strategy and product vision for the company’s unified true Software as a Service (SaaS) platform. Pamala began her career as a field chemist specializing in hazardous waste management before becoming an EHS Manager for a leading automotive supplier. After spending over 15 years as an EHS professional in progressive roles across the pharmaceutical, chemical, and automotive industries, she leveraged her deep regulatory compliance expertise and passion for technology and entered the EHS software industry. Pamala has over a decade of industry experience working with prominent EHS software vendors, helping enterprises map complex business processes into successful technology programs that drive measurable outcomes.|
EHS on Tap is an environmental, health, and safety podcast by BLR’s EHS Daily Advisor. On each episode of EHS on Tap, our host will discuss emerging legal, regulatory, and policy issues with industry experts and the impacts to everyday safety and environmental professionals. EHS on Tap topics run the gamut of contemporary issues facing EHS managers and professionals today.