A management system has a place within how we can operate to eliminate variation from the processes that impact the operations of a business. Many commonly known management systems, such as ISO 45001, ISO 14001 or ISO 50001 (energy management), are implemented by EHS and risk management professionals. It’s critical to implement elements of continuous improvement within these management systems to enable long-term sustained success.

In my career I’ve implemented and managed several management systems. Organizations that have a management system focus can turn this into an organizational operating system. Few are able to truly integrate to this level, though. This is my chess to checkers comparison.

Stark differences

Some argue there is no difference between a management system and operating system, but there are stark differences. When an operating system is implemented to improve the organization and eliminate variation from processes with a continuous improvement aspect, it improves core efficiencies within the business. A committed approach to an operating system also fosters cross-functional support. You can drive short-term climate change with a management system, but in time complacency will creep in. In comparison, an operating system fosters culture change and enables a sustainable approach that will endure beyond the tenure of any one leader. 

Shifting from a management system approach to an operating system is about making the operating system foundationally built for people. You shift from a “Numbers” to “Names” approach. From “numbers” to “names” is a critical paradigm shift for EHS. This emphasis on people and names gives EHS professionals a strategic vison to help foster broader thinking.

The operating system perspective looks at how to manage risk(s) in a holistic, systematic approach. Enterprise risk management (ERM) is a good example of this thinking. Look at the risk, understand the risk, and drive improvement for all avenues of the business. And in the process, make EHS an integral part of the business solution instead of a barrier – or something in a silo.

What’s your objective?

If your intent is to drive short- term quick improvements, a management system approach can be a solution. If your organization is truly set on delivering long-term sustained successes across business lines within the organization, the operating system will culturally and strategically shift the organization in that direction.

Anyone reading this should be feel my passion around instilling the environmental, health, safety and compliance (EHSC) profession into the core of the WHY for an organization – the reason it exists and its purpose. The operating system approach is an enabler to shift the WHY message (the organization’s mission and values) to names and not numbers.