Monday, November 24, 2008

Environmental Management Systems - Cornerstones to Sustainable Systems

Whether immediately evident or not, management systems are imbedded in most operations. This is true not only of the environmental and safety aspects of an operation, but most other segments of the business, from product development and accounting, to filling customer orders. Systems audits consider the effectiveness of the systems built to accomplish a specific objective.

The underlying goal in developing a management system is to prepare a sustainable system – one that is adequately robust that it can still operate effectively even if changes occur within the operation. One common change that could impact systems is staffing changes, as key individuals transition to other positions or other companies. A SUSTAINABLE management system will be able to accommodate changes, so that the objective (e.g., regulatory compliance, accurately filling orders, etc.) is continuously met.

Below are four characteristics of sustainable management systems:

Commitment of Staff. One of the common perceptions of the “systems” approach is that it takes the burden off individuals to accomplish the objective. Although somewhat true, it is important to recognize that the burden often shifts to many individuals, each of which has a specific task to complete.

The commitment of all staff who assume a role within the system is critical to sustainability. If any one individual fails to fulfill their role, the system will begin to fail. Over the short-term, others may compensate for the lack of commitment by taking on more roles, but ultimately the system will fall apart because it is not operating as it was designed.

Effective Training. Sustainable management systems will assure that training is not only given as scheduled, but will also assure that the training is effective – ineffective training is the root cause of many, if not most, system failures.

We train and train, but they just don’t get it”. If this is the case, it is time to consider the root cause – the problem is more likely with the training, rather than with the trainees.

In sustainable management systems, training is not limited to the classroom. “On the job” training is just as important and often is more effective. However, it requires the commitment of managers and supervisors who can provide it.

Frequent Feedback. Systems often fail because no one recognized a system breakdown was occurring until it was too late. Sustainable systems are not perfect systems – but, they are developed to assure that systemic problems are identified and corrected early. By self-correcting, the overall system not only improves and becomes more robust, it also adapts to the changes within the organization.

Management Commitment. No system can be sustained without clear management support, which is connected to the top levels of the organization. Local management support is important, but without top management endorsement, systems tend to become “pet projects”, ending with any changes to management staffing or structure.

Developing sustainable management systems takes careful consideration and planning. Referring to the four areas described above will enhance the sustainability of the system and will improve the ability of the system to evolve as the organization changes.

For further information contact Caltha LLP at
Caltha LLP Website

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