The fine art of selling your OH&S ideas

The task of advising and assisting others in the management of OH&S is to get good ideas past the intention stage to the implementation stage. We do that through the expenditure of resources. Basically, the only two resources any corporation has are time and money.

Be clear, what we are talking about here is getting your piece of your employer’s or client’s resource budget. Every company has an amount of resources that is finite. This is typically called the company budget. Consider it the “resource pie” which is basically the total time and money that is available during any one time period to do what the company wants to accomplish. This resource pie will be divided into pieces and allocated to all of the things a corporation needs to do in a defined period of time. Knowing how big the pie is and how it’s been sliced into the many allocations a corporation needs to support is the first step in understanding how to get some of this pie for your OH&S programs and initiatives.

The first mistake that one can make when looking for approval for new initiatives is in believing that there are new resources available for the asking. Moving budget money from one program area to another is the far more likely scenario. That means every time you are asking for approval from your company/client’s management team you are not only asking them to get onboard with your new idea but you are also asking the management team to give up other ideas that they have for their budget allocation. This is a tough job, indeed. 

Power of the stakeholders
It’s all important that you get to know your stakeholders. These are the people who need to be convinced to support your ideas. Each initiative can have many of the commonly accepted stakeholders: the line management staff and the employees, perhaps the labour unions and, in some cases, the family of the employees. Knowing your stakeholders and their power is all important to your success. Here are some of the stakeholders you’ll need to consider:

Power to approve or block
Without their agreement, these stakeholders can ensure that your ideas will not be approved. They are the ones that can approve the implementation of your idea, or can stop the idea from ever becoming a reality.

Power to implement
These are stakeholders whose activity you are counting on to facilitate the actions necessary for your ideas to work. Typically, they will be the management staff, frontline supervisors and employees. These are powerful stakeholders, yet all too often are not consulted before approval is sought and gained. Without these stakeholders on your side, your newly approved idea will quickly die a painful death.

Power to persuade
These stakeholders can help you persuade other stakeholders to align themselves with your ideas. Your organization is filled with people who can help you influence others if you take the time to get them on board early in the process of selling your ideas.

Intention to implementation
Great ideas are simply unrealized intentions. They aren’t worth much to anyone unless they are actually implemented. It becomes necessary to develop a plan of implementation if real change is going to occur. Below are some suggested steps to get your intent implemented.

1.) Identify what the real problem is
The funny thing about safety is that there are very few absolutes. Certainly, if there’s a situation where workers are being overexposed to a known harmful substance that can be measured and validated against some standard, then life becomes pretty easy. Risk perception often plays a big part in our evaluation of safety problems. This is where your research and discussion with your stakeholders begin.
2.) Examine the causes of the problem
They say that a problem properly identified is a problem half-solved. Most well-defined problems have only a limited number of solutions. In solving safety problems, it’s a very good thing to be sure you know exactly what the causes of your problem are.

3.) Examine possible solutions
Here’s where the hierarchy of controls really comes in handy. Examine which of the available solutions will best solve the problem. For example, if employees are experiencing eye injuries don’t just buy a lot of safety glasses and make a new safety rule, when perhaps the solution is to change your process and remove the possibility of creating harmful things that could cause eye injuries.

The list of the hierarchy of controls is not universally accepted but here’s a general approach used by many: eliminate, substitute, engineer, administrative, personal protective equipment.

4.) Evaluate the cost/benefit of the selected solutions
For every solution you consider you need to place a cost value in terms of time and money, for both the solution and the cost of not implementing the solution. Be sure to consider the legal, moral and financial costs and rewards for implementing or not implementing the solution.

5.) Develop recommendations
Once all the hard work is done, one or more possible recommendations will become logically obvious in most cases. The least costly with the most benefits usually stands out. Work those ideas into a meaningful plan of action.

6.) Test the strength of the recommendation with your stakeholders
Here’s another opportunity to check with the stakeholders. How do they see the solution’s merits? Would they support the recommendations? Which one makes most sense to them?

7.) If necessary, make adjustments to meet the needs of the stakeholders
You will need to change the recommendation details to address any concerns that your important stakeholders have raised. Failure to do this will ensure your idea ends up in the dumpster.

8.) Formally propose the recommendation
Now you are ready to get on the “approval stakeholder” meeting. You’ll be going in with confidence that things will go the way you have planned them. You should know the number of votes you have supporting your recommendations before you ask the question. To ask for approval without having confidence in the outcome is why most recommendations don’t get approved.

9.) Celebrate and implement
Once your idea is approved, take some time to celebrate with all the people who had anything to do with the work it took to get here. Then, implement the idea with the confidence that those who will need to cooperate to implement the idea are already on board!

Nothing in life is a sure thing but you can dramatically improve the chances of your OH&S ideas being approved by following a plan to get your stakeholders on board with the idea. To fail to do so makes it more likely that your idea will never get off the ground.