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Getting the Most Out of Your ISO 9001 Management System - Part 1: I Can See Clearly Now

21 January 2019
Focus. What a wonderful yet elusive word. If we can truly focus on our jobs, our business, our goals, our objectives, we can be incredibly productive and effective. And yet, for most of us we find ourselves torn in many directions as we juggle our day-to-day responsibilities, causing us to lose our focus.  

As an entrepreneur with a business that’s crested the 3-year mark, I can identify with the overwhelming task of running all aspects of a business. Having worked previously for a start-up IT company, and then later as a director of a large, international organization, the challenge of focus remained as we successfully grew the organization both in revenue and in numbers of employees. 

As a matter of fact, focus didn’t become easier when adding employees, but more challenging as we struggled to figure out how to overcome the complexity caused by simply having more people. And as a consultant who has helped dozens of clients who continue to struggle with similar issues as they add five, ten, fifty and even hundreds of employees, I can attest to the fact that so many of us are desperately in search clarity and focus.  And that’s where two brilliant models come into play to help; ISO 9001 and the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).
Most organizations struggle with the balancing act of hundreds of issues. But what if all those issues could be boiled down into just six? And what if they are largely made up of things that you’re already addressing in your ISO 9001 Quality Management System? As we consider all of those issues that we struggle with each day and the idea of narrowing them down to just six key components, here is what the EOS model offers us:

  • Vision
  • People
  • Data
  • Issues
  • Process
  • Traction

In the next several articles we’ll attack each of these key components, discuss how the hundreds of issues that plague us each day that we have to address as leaders fall into just these six, and link them to various sections of the ISO 9001 standard where you may already be completely or partially addressing the issues. For now, let’s start with vision.
Vision – Webster explains to us the meaning of the word as “The act or power of seeing: SIGHT,” “something seen in a dream,” and “a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination.”
As we talk about vision as it applies to the organization, what we’re talking about is offering the “power of seeing” to everyone throughout the organization. It’s taking the thing that was originally a part of a person’s dream (before the company was even conceived), and then taking that “thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination” and helping everyone to see it, understand it, and maybe most importantly, understand their part in it. 
And this is where so many organizations fail. Here at the beginning. Instead of coming up with powerful and meaningful ways to help employees grasp the vision, the thing that should get your people out of bed in the morning, the thing that someone saw before the company even began, we get lost in the duties that are required to make that vision a reality. So, we hire people and write processes with the goal of fulfilling the vision, but fail to take the time to articulate to the team how each person personally fits into that vision and how the processes contribute toward making that vision a reality.  
Let’s take a look at one good example. My niece, Margaux, works for an organization called Mercy Corps. If you read just a bit of what’s written on their “About Us” page, you’ll instantly gain an understanding of their vision (in this case, they call it their mission):

Our mission: to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.

It’s unmistakable, right? So, when my niece was working as an Administrative Assistant, she understood the part she played in the big picture. She was “only” running reports in Excel spreadsheets, designing an automated invoice tracking system, reviewing expenses, etc., but she knew that the output was that if she did her job well, people might suffer less. Even now with her recent promotion to Program Operations Analyst, she doesn’t need a new vision.  It’s always been the same, she’s just filling a different role in that vision. 
That’s really easy with an organization like Mercy Corp where what they are doing is impacting the globe at a human level, but is it so easy with the organization that you’re a part of? Most of the time the answer is no. At least, not unless someone has already thought through it and articulates it clearly and simply to the everyone involved.  
The goal with casting vision is getting everyone in your organization 100% on the same page with where you are going and how you plan to get there.
By casting that kind of vision, we can attack the gruelling reality of a recent Gallup survey that reported nearly 70% of U.S. workers are either “not engaged,” or are “actively disengaged,” resulting in turnover, tardiness, conflict, etc.  Conversely, engaged employees are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work.  And to go full circle with this idea, what is it that we can be committed to?  Something that we can see!  If employees cannot see the vision, we cannot expect that they are all rowing in the same direction toward a common goal. 
In section 4 of the ISO 9001:2015 standard entitled “Context of the organization,” you’re already essentially addressing the vision of the organization. 
“The organization shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and its strategic direction…”
The indication here is that you know the strategic direction, so therefore you can determine the issues that are relevant.  And once each employee gets an understanding of how their role helps to resolve the internal and external issues relevant to its purpose and strategic direction, suddenly doing something as menial as answering a phone, or working on a production line takes on new meaning.
That said, you may not be articulating that vision down through the ranks, but that’s where ISO 9001:2015 section 5 “Leadership” comes into play, helping to communicate to the team the vision of the organization, through a defined quality policy and objectives. A key component of the 2015 revision is a desire to get top management personally involved in implementing the management system, and one aspect of that is to remove the middle man, formerly known as the “Management Representative.”  Now there is much more emphasis directly placed on the leadership team, and not on just a single individual. This can really help to drive the idea that the entire leadership team is responsible for casting the vision of the organization down through the ranks and helping each employee understand their role within that vision.
We recognize that it can be difficult to begin to even articulate the vision into a heartfelt and palatable statement that will energize a team and create synergy, especially when you’re a machine shop or possibly a group of engineers.   When you’re Mercy Corp, it’s a lot easier.   However, it’s an essential ingredient in helping to reduce some of those hundreds of issues.  As you help the team gain a better understanding of the vision, the output should be a healthier, more motivated team. 
In the next edition we’ll discuss the ‘people’ component of the organization and how we can leverage both the ISO 9001 Management System and EOS to help us become more productive and act as better leaders with our most important investment - human capital. 
Co-authored by Kirsten Smith & Andy Nichols

Kirsten Smith is the owner of Made to Thrive Consulting, LLC, an organization born from a passion for excellence in business and a desire to help people and organizations reach a higher potential than they thought they could.
Andy Nichols is an experienced Quality Management consultant, trainer and author.