11 Dec, 2017 | Auditing

If, like me, you’re interested in the topic of management systems you will have: listened in to many conversations; followed many social media threads, and; read many articles in print about the future of management systems standards and, apparently, that future is …

Is this our Dead Sea Scrolls or Rosetta Stone discovery? Is Annex SL ‘our’ equivalent of the Enigma machine to break the code of Quality, Environmental or XXX Management (insert your favourite management system standard discipline here)? From now on automagically will we be able to translate ISO standards into a fully integrated management system our organisation’s leaders will be falling over themselves to support?

With no desire to rain on anyone’s parade I will serve a note of caution: Don’t build this up to be something it is not; at risk of it becoming a damp squib. I’ll get back to what I think are the benefits of Annex SL shortly but, for the purposes of this article want to cover some of the things Annex SL just won’t do. Let’s take one simple example: ‘5.2.1 Establishing the XXX policy’. It goes without saying that all the requirements under the heading have no meaning unless we replace XXX with ‘Quality’ (or any other flavour of policy). If we do this ‘find and replace’ to put the requirement into an ISO 9001 context are we any nearer value? I suggest not. It remains a simple set of discipline-specific requirements for what a quality policy statement shall cover.

We can even do what many organiSations and consultants do, and generate a company specific policy that ticks off all the requirements from ISO 9001 (in this case). Apologies to any ‘Joe Bloggs Ltd.’ out there:

At Joe Bloggs Limited, we have established and implemented and will continue to maintain a quality policy appropriate to our organization and to support our strategic direction. We are committed to satisfying applicable requirements. We maintain an annual set of quality objectives and will continually improve our quality management system.

Simples! Our ISO 9001 policy is now in the form of ‘documented information’ and we can now kick on, or can we? IMHO with this Quality policy we are no nearer providing any organiSational value and so, while Annex SL has many virtues, it hasn’t solved any problems yet. In order to deliver the intended value of improved Quality that ISO 9001’s policy requirement is aimed at we have to develop a meaningful Policy statement and, to do that, we need to understand the background as to why a policy statement is necessary in the first place.

  • Policies can be useful for a variety of reasons – for Quality they provide a means to reinforce a culture of customer focus and improvement.
  • The statement, and the fact it is endorsed by the organisation’s leader(s) communicates the importance of quality to internal and external interested parties (e.g. employees and customers).
  • The policy statement is intended to inspire employees to direct their efforts towards satisfying customer requirements. For me an effective policy statement needs to be RED (sic). It should:
    • Resonate – so for readers to it should reflect the organisation that has signed up to it
    • Enthuse – nothing bland will do here, readers should be inspired to continue good behaviours and change bad ones.
    • Drive – objectives and targets mentioned in the policy should become the key metrics for employees to address to enable the organisation to satisfy its customers and improve performance

Where Annex SL contributes is through providing common text and structure so ISO Technical Committees aren’t spending all their time trying to find a better way of saying ‘the organisation shall have a XXX policy’. They can spend the majority of standards development time ensuring that all the discipline specific requirements are as good as they can be. So ISO TC 176 can spend its time looking at how good and excellent organisations manage quality and building those practises into the next edition of ISO 9001.

To improve understanding on the purpose of a policy statement there are a number of resources available on the Internet. Perhaps start with the Chartered Management Institute – here. Further detail is provided by Jisc, a service provider for UK Education and Research sectors. While aimed at education providers (and apparently archived) the guidance remains relevant – here.

Paul Simpson
Bywater Associate
Providing consultancy and training on quality strategy and implementation.