It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and lose sight of the fact that while waste is the subject, our business is mainly about people. Obviously, we wouldn’t have our jobs were it not for the people who hire us to provide a needed service; certainly our customers whom we serve define our tasks; but in the final analysis—and this may to some seem at first blush to be politically incorrect—it’s the people in our organization on whom we depend to accomplish those tasks who deserve our full and unwavering attention. Why? Because they are the ones who translate all those tasks into practice, and if they don’t get it right the whole system suffers. So where do our responsibilities lie?
Over the course of their working lives, our people will spend more of their waking hours on the job than they will in any other pursuit—including prime time with their families—the basis for a relationship that is often taken too lightly. It’s our responsibility to see that this relationship not only achieves the goals of the organization, but also equally meets the basic needs of its members.
Mention the term “employee benefits” and most of us will envision “perks” as a laundry list of items such as medical care, maternity leave, and retirement plans. I’d like to suggest another tier of employee benefits that we tend to overlook, but in their own way are equally important; such things as a safe workplace, commonly accepted work practices, equitable performance measures and avenues for advancement, and, underlying it all, a clear commitment to excellence in which all may share. Sound too “goody-goody” for the real world? I hope not, because I believe we’re talking about factors that drive right to the bottom line…personally and professionally.
Raising the Standards Bar
Standards are documented agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics, to ensure that materials, products, processes, and services are fit for their purpose. While it’s tempting to think the way we do things is always sound, rational, and reflects the highest level of human cerebral achievement, a more sanguine view suggests there’s always room for improvement. And that’s where standards come into play.
At their core standards are a framework that allow your operation to set out its objectives and then implement programs for measuring, correcting, and reporting on performance. But that’s only the surface. When fully implemented, the system allows you to anticipate and prepare for the kinds of challenges you’re likely to face in your day-to-day activities…especially the ones that require corrective action and invariably take you away from what you get paid to do.
Aside from the obvious advantages of standardization—reduction in any number of “misadventures,” decreased costs of rework or remediation, and reduced insurance rates—there are a whole host of related benefits resulting from the increased visibility you have into the workings of your entire operation. For instance, standards can help you define “best practices” that, in addition to helping you make your collection or transfer operation more productive or your landfill safer and more efficient, become benchmarks for future projects. A well-constructed standardization process can help you identify inefficiencies at all levels, and provide the procedures and metrics for evaluating corrective measures. With your indulgence I’d like to offer an example.
Every aspect of Naval Aviation is guided by standards known collectively as NATOPS—Naval Aviation Training and Operational Procedures Standardization—a program instituted in the late 1950s to rein in a prohibitively expensive accident rate. Despite the outraged grumblings of a few spoiled-brat aviators who saw their free-wheeling days coming to an end (I’m allowed to say this, since I was one of them) NATOPS has not only reduced the destruction and carnage by two full orders of magnitude, but it has increased our operational capabilities by a like amount.
Best of all, however, is what it has achieved in the realm of personal achievement and—this I believe to be far and away the most important part of all—moral grounding. Lacking objective, verifiable standards people can get away with almost anything with the simple justification, “It seemed right at the time,” never mind how boneheaded the act was. The consequences of such behavior are as obvious in waste management as aviation, but the real damage lies in the self-delusion such ignorance breeds.
The Pursuit Standards
The International Standardization Organization (ISO) has developed specific protocols such as ISO 14001, the internationally accepted environmental management system (EMS) to provide universally accepted standards for assessing the inner workings of an organization’s environmental practices. (For a quick look at the process you might want to go to www.iso.ch and follow the thread to the specifics of ISO 14001.) ISOs are management systems rather than performance standards. Thus instead of a proscriptive, “top-down” set of rules and regulations, ISO 14001 (for instance) operates at a cultural level, asking all participants in an enterprise to define their roles from the bottom up relative to the organization’s environmental policy.
Is it worth your while to pursue a standard such as ISO 14001? You can, of course, develop and manage your own standardization program—in this case in environmental management system (EMS)—rather than going to all the effort of obtaining a full-blown certification. But an ISO 14001 is at least worthy of your consideration, so you may wish to pose two questions for yourself: (1) How would you assess the value of an independent audit of your program in helping you refine your processes on an ongoing basis, and (2) what might it be worth the next time you’re dealing with a regulator to be able to say “We’re ISO 14001 certified,” rather than trying to explain the details of your EMS?
Then think about it in terms of an employee benefit.