Getting Over the Hump

by Jeffrey Whitford
Aug 2, 2018 12:10 PM ET
Photo courtesy of Money Inc.

Originally posted by Money Inc.

I recently had an unprecedented experience: I got to an airport early. Not “Jeffrey early” meaning the boarding announcement is beginning as I hit the gate, but “normal people early” — a la two hours early. This afforded a unique opportunity — I actually sat down and ate a meal rather than taking food and shoving it in my face while hot-stepping it to a departing plane.

Lest just eating a meal, I was doing double duty and taking a call during lunch. I was listening to one of my team members circling the horn with another set of stakeholders for the umpteenth time, or at least that’s what it felt like to me. I have to give him credit — he’s done more leg work than any individual should ever have to do on a project. Our company loves the word “align”, it’s how we work. In my opinion, to be frank, the amount of aligning on this project had passed excessive months ago. Our company culture is built on it though, so we need to be cognizant of that lens and see how we can leverage aligning and then break things loose a bit quicker. The sharpening of this skill is a consistent and painful growth process for all of us.

As we got deeper into the call, we were struggling to move forward. I tried to chime in here and there to nudge us back from the off-road track we had somehow deviated into. I struggled and became frustrated, so much so that a few people were looking at me as I had gotten into line to board the plane — possibly because I was using a giant iPad as a phone for the call and my voice had gotten a little louder than intended. An area of focus for myself is staying present in these moments, but that level of presence is also difficult at the time. I missed the big picture by just harboring my viewpoint, getting frustrated and not putting myself in my colleague’s position.

Now that you have color of the situation, the question is: what is this all about? As part of a massive rebranding, our organization is completely changing the design and look of our packaging and labeling. Since I have responsibility in two places, Corporate Responsibility and Packaging and Labeling, it was a great opportunity to marry both of my jobs to identify an opportunity to set the stage for a first in the life sciences industry. Long ago, I consciously stepped right over a packaging framework to get right to the development of our Green Chemistry practice. We saw that the easy conversation was packaging, but we could differentiate by going straight to driving sustainability into our products. Sometimes you’re strategic and sometimes it’s just straight-up right place, right time luck. That delay provided the opportunity for not only synergy but scale and, with that, the runway to develop a packaging sustainability framework that will not only be industry-leading, but also will move us to a position that is pushing boundaries — regardless of industry.

With that comes hesitancy about exploring uncharted territory — especially from our operational partners in the business who like certainty and black-and-white situations that can be planned for. This is where presence in the moment becomes key — having presence to walk colleagues through this space and help them see the commercial advantage that they can provide in what is typically a benign topic area that most people see as waste. Except — when you’re working each day to find solutions that are economical and also help ensure the safe transit and containment of our products for customers — how other characteristics can be employed is often seen as additional costs, effort and work. The realization, though, is that this can be a powerful point of view and position because it empowers people to expand the viewpoint of their contribution but is not easily seen if you work in a silo as most of us typically do. That’s where our responsibility comes in to show up, shine the light and share the data, research and voice of customers that provides valuable lighthouses to clarify the picture even more.

So where did we land? Our team continues to align with our internal stakeholders, but also moves forward with clarity about the requests and how we can tap things that are already at our fingertips. We’ve paired that with a commitment to work through any other challenges that come up in partnership. The reality is that the possibility of what we can do is powerful and big. We can put a stamp on the industry that fundamentally changes our impact from this point in time forward, all around the world, by being present and bringing our colleagues along for the journey.

Jeffrey Whitford is head of global corporate responsibility for MilliporeSigma.