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Getting the Most Out of Your ISO Certification – Part 4: Resolving Issues

15 April 2019
Strengthening the 6 Key Components of a Business to Gain Traction

Issues We Face

If you were to do a Google search on “issues we face today,” you’d find a wide variety of results; from the top 10 most challenging issues in the world today, to the biggest problems according to millennials, to acid rain, ocean acidification and human overpopulation. In fact, the list is almost endless. It’s not surprising because we know that we have issues that should be brought to light, discussed, and solved. We’ve entered a new age, where citizens feel empowered to tackle the thorniest of issues. As a society, we’re gaining traction with each passing year.

However, when it comes to casting the spotlight on issues that plague us in the workplace, the search for answers may be more akin to the popular British puzzle books, Where’s Waldo, where you’re meant to search carefully for signs of Waldo’s red and white stripped shirt among the masses of other colorful characters to reach your goal.  As you look at the page you know Waldo is hidden in there somewhere, but it’s takes a keen eye, lots of patience, and tons of effort to put your finger on just where he is.

Why is it that we have such a hard time identifying workplace issues?  There are plenty of answers to this question, but certainly the top of that list must include a lack of trust, an inability to resolve problems, a fear of conflict, and a fear of being wrong. Faced with what seem to be insurmountable obstacles, we keep our issues buried deeply, out of sight, until eventually something goes terribly wrong and someone inevitably shouts, “I saw that coming!”.

Opportunities for Improvement

Section 10 of the ISO 9001 standard is titled, “Improvement.”  The very nature of the standard indicates that we must be proactive in identifying what needs improvement.

“The organization shall determine and select opportunities for improvement and implement any necessary actions to meet customer requirements and enhance customer satisfaction. These shall include […] improving products and services to meet requirements as well as to address future needs and expectations.”

When was the last time you invited your team to the table to openly and honestly present their concerns, in a format that ensured a listening ear, without negative repercussions for bringing up difficult topics?  Or perhaps a better question is: when was the last time you thought you did this?  Because it may be that when we think we have created an environment that promotes this kind of sharing, the truth, at least from the perspective of our team members, may be a little different. Ask yourself when the last time was that you heard about difficult issues that might drive conflict?

A key to learning what issues your team should address is to gather and analyse relevant data (section 9.1.3). Much of that data will come from measurements we discussed in a previous article. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the vast quantities of data collected. To make sense of the data, your team has to transform that data into information – logical groupings and summarizations that provide clarity.  A Pareto Analysis, for example, can help to focus on a key improvement that will resolve multiple issues.

When working with EOS clients, we start each off-site meeting by reminding the team of this essential truth: “We cannot help to solve issues that are only in your head.  We must get them out of your head and on the table if we’re going to make progress.”

The Plan

So that’s where we begin. Challenging leadership teams to get the issues onto the table so we can begin the dialogue. From there, we have a great tool to help ensure that we make progress and gain traction. It’s called IDS:

I = Identify
We have to be comfortable calling out issues, hunting down their root cause, and designing solutions that make them go away forever. This is the heart of corrective action. But before we get there, we start by finding the root cause. In the ISO world, those are words that are incredibly familiar, but how good are we at honestly getting to the actual root cause? Often, we are tempted to stop short of the truth because it’s hard to determine, it may offend someone, or it may open Pandora’s Box. However, we have to challenge our teams to commit to digging until we’ve found that root.

D = Discuss
Discussion is something that we tend to be good at, but are we discussing the right thing? It’s easy to bring up an issue and discuss the living daylights out of it. To go round and round with our thoughts and opinions, often not even discussing the root cause of the problem, but the effect of the problem. It’s here that we need to institute a large amount of self-control. We need to allow each person at the table the opportunity to share their opinion once, without badgering or hogging the mic, and then to listen openly to the other ideas at the table. Only then are we ready to move onto the final, all-important step.

S = Solve
This is the part where we make the problem go away. Forever. If we transparently identify the root cause (not the root person, but the root problem), and then have an open and honest discussion about it, we’ll be able to put our heads together to solve it. We’ll decide who is going to lead the charge to execute the solution, and we’ll make a commitment to get it done.

Mind you, we must ensure that we’ve addressed the vision of the organization first, as discussed in our first article in this series.  It’s important to get the leadership team on the same page, with the same vision, moving in the same direction, with the same values. Once you’ve done that, it’s much easier to make decisions as a team.

Former President Ronald Reagan once said,

"Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means."

When we make a commitment to address our internal conflicts, embracing the opportunity to discover the truth, no matter how ugly it is, we finally begin to gain traction.

About the authors

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.