Engagement Holds Key to Sustainability

Posted by Matthew Gardner on Nov 30, 2015 3:40:00 PM

Editor’s Note – Matthew Gardner, Ph.D., is Managing Partner of Sustainserv.

The most successful corporate sustainability efforts are based upon engagement with employees, management, suppliers, customers, regulators and the communities in which the companies are located.

InnovationSmall-3Such engagement requires that the company take into account the needs and expectations of its stakeholders. It also requires focused and well-planned communication and outreach efforts.

“Building strong relationships and meeting the needs of our stakeholders in innovative ways is critical to our business” said Pat Centanni, Executive Vice President and Chair of Executive Corporate Responsibility Committee at State Street Corporation in their 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report.

When done right, the results of a well-designed stakeholder engagement program can include powerful and enduring alliances based on mutual trust, and shared understandings of what each group can expect from the other with respect to sustainability performance.

State-of-the-art stakeholder engagement programs are quite comprehensive, and include several key attributes:

  • Commitments to transparency and disclosure;
  • Openness to discuss mutual needs and expectations;
  • The ability to tailor communications and outreach to different audiences;
  • Support of senior leadership.

Each of these topics implies risks and opportunities to an organization. The idea of transparency and disclosure can be quite intimidating to many companies. At the same time, the path to mutual trust and license to operate requires a willingness to discuss successes as well as failures candidly and credibly. While it is important to listen to the needs and expectations of your stakeholders, managing expectations is equally important to let them know what you can and cannot address.

“Maintaining open and constructive conversations strengthens our relationships, helps us to understand other views and guides our decisions on what our commitments should be and how to deliver on them.”

Coca Cola, on stakeholder engagement

Whether your company has the resources to undertake a truly comprehensive and expansive stakeholder engagement program, or must focus its limited resources on those stakeholders and those material topics that are most important for success, stakeholder mapping is a valuable approach. The Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability is just one example of an approach to get the most out of stakeholder engagement and to ensure no constituencies have been overlooked.

The AIM Sustainability Roundtable on December 10 will host a discussion of successful stakeholder engagement initiatives that demonstrate the ways that companies of different sizes and sectors can successfully identify and engage with key stakeholders and showcase the benefits that such engagements can bring to all parties. 

Register for the Sustainability Roundtable

Topics: Environment, Sustainability, Productivity

Secret to Lean: Employee Development

Posted by Bruce Hamilton on Sep 5, 2014 2:25:33 PM

Editor’s note - Bruce Hamilton is President of GBMP, Inc., ( a not-for-profit located in the College of Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Twenty-five years ago a book called The Machine That Changed the World coined the term “Lean.” It was the first time the term was used to describe what had been previously referred to as the Toyota Production System, or TPS.

ManufacturingWorkerSmallThe book, which was written by a distinguished academic panel, legitimatized the techniques and tools being used by The Toyota Motor Corporation and captured the imagination of industry and lawmakers alike.

What was not as well understood at that time was the profound impact the use of TPS methods would have on employee development. Previously disengaged employees became excited about solving problems and making improvements. The mantra (first echoed by Japanese industrial engineer Shigeo Shingo who is considered the world’s leading expert on manufacturing practices and the Toyota Production System) “easier, better, faster and then cheaper” implied that Lean methods when properly understood not only improved a company’s competiveness through higher quality, shorter lead-times and lower costs; it also gave every employee a personal challenge to make their work better.

The concept of workforce investment and development, it turns out, was more of a sea change for industry than the technical aspects of Lean. For more than a decade, most manufacturers glommed onto the tools without understanding the essential ingredients of employee understanding and participation – every employee, not just a small “A-team.”  Results from this well-intentioned but hollow approach to improvement were mostly disappointing.   Apparent advances made through “improvement events” did not stick because neither employees nor managers really understood the “know-why” behind the know-how.  

In 2004 on the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), Jim Womack, founder of LEI and principle author The Machine That Changed the World, declared “The age of tools is over.”   What had been implicit in the Toyota Production System from the start – the focus on people – was finally becoming apparent to at least some industry leaders. Today, yet another decade later, the concept of employees as the “most valuable resource” is finally gaining broader traction. At its Lean Transformation Summit in March, LEI’s current CEO, John Shook quoted another TPS aphorism that sums up the importance of people to successful Lean transformation: “Build people first, then products.”

The 10th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference (October 1-2, 2014 at the Mass Mutual Center, in Springfield) will pick up the same theme with a program entitled Lead, Enable and Nurture: Putting People First. Featuring both nationally recognized Lean advocates from manufacturing and healthcare (Goodyear, Whirlpool, ThedaCare, IBM, MillerCoors and more) as well as local employee improvement teams sharing their Lean transformations during panel discussions and in the innovative “Lean Lounge,” the event is expected to draw more than 700 attendees from more than 200 different lean thinking organizations.

No surprise - many of those organizations will bring large numbers of their employees. These companies know that it’s those people who will ultimately drive their LEAN process.

Register for the Northeast LEAN Conference


Topics: Manufacturing, Productivity, LEAN

How Does Technology Affect Productivity?

Posted by Andre Mayer on Apr 9, 2014 2:49:00 PM

"Has technology allowed your company to produce more goods or provide more services than a decade ago with the same or fewer employees? Can you quantify the economic effect?"

ProductivityOn AIM's March Business Confidence Survey, 62 percent of the employers who responded said "yes" to the first question. The second question proved harder to answer for many.

The 37 percent reporting no significant impact were almost all smaller firms (fewer than 100 employees) and were largely in services or other non-manufacturing sectors, although there were a few manufacturers – "everything is still handmade" said one.  A few members chose "not applicable" either because they interpreted the question narrowly or because they were not in business 10 years ago.

Those who were able to quantify gains often reported productivity increases in the 10-25 percent range, but one manufacturer doubled output without adding workers, and a non-profit service provider more than tripled productivity. Some manufacturers noted that productivity improvements did not strengthen their bottom lines due to downward pressure on prices, while companies in various services industries cited offsetting costs from new regulations.

Respondents' comments revealed the complexity of technology's impact. One noted that although productivity per se was unchanged, it could now offer an expanded range of services. "Not 'more' … just better" was a recurrent theme.

"We are handling requirements for new customers that we would never have been able to handle with our legacy systems," have the "ability to market to a larger audience," can "identify more jobs to bid on" thanks to new technology, respondents said.  In the construction sector, better cost estimation is key: "You cannot operate today without a good software program to control cost and show market trends."

The effect on staffing levels was mixed; the largest group of employers seems to have held steady, others downsized, and some reported adding jobs as a result of technology.  

Topics: Technology, Productivity, Profits

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