Leading from the top - Management leadership and commitment
For people to take a QMS (Quality Management System) seriously, it is essential that they perceive genuine leadership and commitment by top management*. It is the people at the top that have the greatest effect on an organization's culture and attitude. If they lead from the front, and demonstrate a real commitment to the QMS, it is much more likely to be successfully implemented and maintained, and consistently achieve the goals set for it.
It’s no surprise therefore that this topic came in for particular attention in the last update of ISO 9001:2015 – expanding the scope from demonstrating Commitment to also include Leadership (more on than later).
Genuine commitment to – and leadership of - a quality management system by top management will happen when there is a clear appreciation of a positive benefit/cost ratio. The good news is that there is mounting evidence that quality management systems can work to improve bottom-line performance. Research by Rajan and Tamimi suggests that investing in ISO 9001-certified companies can result in significant gains as compared to a similar investment in the S&P 500 index. In a recent article for IRCA, Neil Hannah describes research indicating a better ROA (return on assets) for certified companies compared with non-certified companies that seems to occur in all industry sectors studied. Hannah’s article also indicates significantly improved profit projections.
Ask most CEOs if they are committed to quality and the answer will almost certainly be...Yes.
Just as they are committed to protecting the environment, and to safety. Few are likely to be foolhardy enough to make statements to the contrary. Like...
- “To be honest, we don’t really care if we provide a poor service”, or
- “We’ve had a few injuries to our workers but who cares?” or
- “OK, so we pollute the environment a bit – so what?”.
No, of course not. - everyone’s committed to quality. Look, it says so on the quality policy statement. The one on the wall in reception, signed 5 years ago by the CEO before last.
While the above may be a little facetious, it illustrates that in many cases, we don’t have to scratch the surface very hard to reveal that commitment to be just a little thin. While there may be good intentions, an annual one-hour management review, and delegating the whole operation of a quality system to someone that already has a full-time job does not suggest genuine commitment.
So, what is? Well, let’s start with the quality policy. This is the peak document of the QMS – a declaration of intent - a mission statement, if you like. While the ISO 9001 standard has certain requirements for content, there is plenty of scope to achieve that while still reflecting the culture of the organization.
The policy should be reviewed at least annually, and updated as necessary. If there is a change of boss, it should also be reviewed then, and signed by the new boss. Most importantly, it should be shared with everyone in the organization, and be made available to interested parties outside of the organization. After all, the boss is really stating “In terms of quality, this is what I want to happen”. Everyone concerned should at least know about it. There are plenty of no-cost or low-cost ways of achieving that e.g. including in induction packs, framed copies on display in premises, company newsletters, intranet, talking about it at team meetings, web sites, and fee proposals.
The quality policy should be supplemented by setting some strategic objectives that are consistent with the wider aims of the organization. In a commercial business, that may include the obvious – making a profit!
The management review should not just be a hurried exercise to comply with a standard. It should be a genuine business review and planning session.
Sure-fire evidence of commitment is when sufficient allocation of budget and resources is made for the system to achieve the goals stated in the policy statement. Now, that’s the core of this particular issue - sufficient allocation of budget and resources. Developing a good – and ever-improving – quality management system will take time and money. Some are just not willing to really commit to that. The perception might be that the alternative option of NOT investing in their quality management system is a cost saving. However, there is no free alternative. The reality is that NOT having such a system takes up MORE time and money. It’s just that we are used to the day-to-day inefficiencies, errors and omissions commonplace in most organizations. We often don’t measure them, and they get lost in the mix.
As mentioned earlier, the 2015 update of the ISO 9001 standard expanded on the previous requirements for commitment to also include requirements for top management to demonstrate their leadership of the quality management system. In our view, that was a very good move. It reinforced the need for top management to take accountability for the effectiveness of the QMS, and recognises the unique position of influence they hold.
The relevant clause in ISO 9001 is 5.1. That clause includes a list of bullet point items (marked a-h) that specify detailed requirements. It is easy to identify those that go beyond commitment to top management taking a hands-on approach and demonstrating their leadership. In some of the bullet points, the requirements are along the lines of ‘Top management shall ensure…’. In those cases, top management may just need to have enough commitment to provide the means (e.g. availability of time, money etc.) for someone to make it happen.
However, in other cases, different verbs are used e.g. communicate, promote, support etc. These highlight that a direct involvement and leadership is expected. To paraphrase just one example from the standard: ‘Top management shall demonstrate leadership by communicating the importance of quality management’. That means that top management must personally communicate that message (in whatever form or media they choose).
Clearly, if top management genuinely demonstrate their leadership, others are more likely to follow, leading to a more inclusive quality management system that aligns with everyday business activities.
Those seeking certification to ISO 9001:2015 should be aware that auditors will expect to see objective evidence of this leadership and commitment. The following are some possible examples:
- Top management taking accountability for the effectiveness of the QMS may be evidenced by a statement in the Quality Policy, and inclusion of that accountability in relevant PDs (position descriptions) for the most senior management positions.
- Ensuring the compatibility of the quality policy and objectives with the context and strategic direction of the organization may be achieved by clearly including quality management considerations in a strategic plan or business plan. Organizations that use Qudos 3 as their quality management software can utilize the Objectives module for planning and monitoring quality and other business objectives.
- The integration of the QMS requirements into business processes can be ensured at operational planning meetings and in the development of process maps / plans.
- Communicating the importance of the QMS and conformance to it, and promoting the process and risk management approach may be achieved by company newsletters, intranet, talking about it at team meetings etc. This can only realistically be done once top management have a clear understanding of the concepts themselves. Risk-based thinking is quite widely understood in management circles, however, in many cases, there may be a particular role for a ‘quality champion’ to play in ensuring that the process approach is adequately understood.
- Ensuring that the necessary resources are made available can be achieved by budget allocations and allocating sufficient people / time in the organization structure / roles and responsibilities.
- Promoting a business culture of seeking improvement can be achieved by initiating suggestion schemes and publicising / rewarding successful innovations. Organizations that use Qudos 3 as their quality management software can encourage people to lodge suggestions with a ‘Bright Ideas!’ category in the Action module. These may be reviewed and analysed in the Actions List or Dashboard. What the standard is looking for is to promote a business culture of seeking improvement.
- Top management may support other relevant management roles to demonstrate their leadership by including that as a requirement in PDs, communication at management meetings, and allocating time for relevant activities.
If you are a CEO or Senior Manager, it’s worth keeping an open mind on how a great management system can help your organization, and the first step to achieving that is by leadership and genuine commitment from the top.
If you are the Quality Manager / Compliance Manager / Quality Champion in your business, you cannot just expect commitment and leadership from senior management. They will only really provide that when convinced of the advantages.
* According to the ISO definition, top management is the person or group of people who direct and control an organization at the highest level. That could be owner or partner in a small business, the CEO, General Manager and other senior management or Board of Directors in a larger one.
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Leadership image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net - Business People Indicates Teamwork Cooperation And Leader” by Stuart Miles