Monthly Archives: April 2018

Management System Excellence–Highlights

It’s time to take a temporary break from the theoretical social-emotional development stuff and put the management system back hat on. I’ve been involved in several ISO9001 start-ups and re-toolings over the past twenty years, both internally and as a consultant. It’s been a hands-on chance to get a good feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Some of the following is Wisdom of the Ancients-things I’ve read or been told in my dealings with registrars and other assessors. Much of it is direct observations, summarized from my personal journal of this sometimes crazy management system journey.

One thing is certain: it’s tough to do everything right in a management system startup, but doing just a few things up front can dramatically increase the chances of achieving an end result that is effective and well-received by those the organization counts on to make it work. Several critical success factors and potential barriers are highlighted here.

“What Is” in a Nutshell

ISO9001 is an internationally recognized management model designed to guide a wide range of enterprises to more effectively execute their business plan. Organizations use the standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements. A steering committee of sorts assembles on a regular basis to review and improve the standard. Significant revisions are normally released every 6-8 years. My last ISO experience was with the 2008 revision, and 2015 saw the latest upgrade.

There are “shall” statements and “should” statements. A “shall” requirement means the company must show how they do it. There may be some “shalls” the company does not do because their processes do not require it or they simply did not consider doing it. For the first, exception clauses are included. For the second, if needed some additional elements may need to be added.

ISO is “non-prescriptive”—the company is not forced to do what they already do differently unless, while reviewing the standard, a better way of doing something is uncovered. ISO is a great benchmarking source as it holds the collective wisdom of numerous international experts. So while comparing current practices to the standard, process owner / experts may find a better way to do their work. This happens a lot, and it’s a great fringe benefit of ISO system design.

Certification does NOT mean the quality of an organization’s product or service is assured! It simply means there is a system in place that, IF consistently executed every day, ensures that requirements are met. Big difference!

Set Scope Wisely, and Strategically

The ideal is goals that are aligned with the rest of the company’s strategy, goals that people can easily connect to. Alignment is actually an ISO “shall” but too many design teams go to great lengths re-creating the wheel. You already have a vision, mission and strategies. Incorporate them into your quality policy and objectives, and the terminology you use.

_______ is a premier provider of _______. We have committed to the ___ standard to ensure we consistently, efficiently and effectively meet requirements in all departments and surpass internal as well as external customers’ expectations.

If certification is not a compulsory, externally-driven requirement, scope is yours to determine. Cover the bare bones—the “shall” statements only—and certification may be pretty painless, or use the disciplined best practices of ISO to develop a comprehensive business model. You’ll get out what you put in.

Sure, you can save money and “do” ISO without a registrar, without getting certified…IF the company has the discipline and the gumption to implement what is necessary then DO it every day, not just when it’s convenient. Hate to say it, but that kind of commitment is hard to find. A well-selected registrar is not just an external, impartial watchdog. The registrar can also be an invaluable business partner who ensures you get maximum return for your efforts.

Is it a “shall”? If so, how do YOU do it?

If it’s only a “should” would it help your business? If so, do it.

Say what you do, then do what you say you do, every day.

Then, prove it and continuously improve it.

Aim Low, Go Slow for Starters…

…but sight in on meaningful targets. It’s overwhelming to charge into documenting the whole enchilada at once, and it can be frustrating to set and (try to) stick to a comprehensive Master Plan / schedule. The right starting points establish enthusiasm, buy-in and momentum. People will see it makes sense, it removes gray areas from their work, and it even makes the work easier with fewer delays and mistakes. A little ROI never hurts either: see Dollars and Sense below.

Identify 3-4 work processes, not just “low hanging fruit” but areas where you’re experiencing an unusual amount of problems. When owners map their processes, then study and apply the standard’s relevant elements it never fails—improvements are sure to be identified, in both ease of task and quality of outputs. And people are learning how to do this ISO stuff too.

Shamelessly (But Honestly!) Sell the Benefits

Whether or not the cert is your primary driver, “we’re doing this to get certified” should never, EVER be publicly stated. Leadership must have a relevant, meaningful and believable pitch. Do-ers must believe that the management system is good for them, good for the business. Not cod liver oil good…tastes horrendous, but fixes what ails you…rather, they must believe that the management system will help their work get done better, smarter, faster, easier.

Identify some of your company’s specific issues or ongoing problems that the management system will address. Very clearly spell out the benefits of applying specific ISO elements to those issues. You will create “want in” rather than “thou shalt comply, or else.” Big difference.

A Little Dollars and Sense Never Hurts…

In an article for ASQ’s QP magazine, Oscar Combs summarizes results of a Harvard Business School study comparing 916 organizations that have adopted ISO 9001 and 17,849 non-adopters. As Combs explains, the “business benefits” enjoyed by the ISO 9001 organizations included higher rates of survival and growth, increased wages, enhanced productivity, reduced waste, and improved health and safety performance.

“ISO 9001 offers more than quality benefits. The standard should be thought of as a business management tool an organization can use to drive value, improve its operations and reduce its risks.” – Oscar Combs, Standard Wise

Communicate and Demonstrate

Share with people what is happening and why throughout design and implementation, and ongoing application including current status and future plans. They must see the management system in action. Look for success stories and loudly trumpet the before / after. And, hate to bring it up but that pesky “leadership by example” thing is essential.

Watch Your Foul Mouth!

Unfortunately, ISO terminology is peppered with confrontational words and negative connotations: compliance, audit, conformance to requirements, nonconformance, corrective action. No wonder the townsfolk board up their windows and hide the women and children in the cellar when the assessor posse rides into town.

Andre Agassi once said “Image is everything”. For ISO too, a good image sure helps, and part of it is nothing more than what you call things:

  • We aren’t “compliant to the ISO standard”. We have committed to a set of management best practices to improve our results.
  • We don’t “audit”. We assess our system’s effectiveness. IMPORTANT: assessments do NOT judge a person’s performance, only whether the system is working and being followed!
  • We don’t “conform to requirements.” We do what’s necessary to exceed customer expectations at all times.
  • Assessors don’t find “nonconformances.” They identify opportunities to improve the system.
  • We don’t take “corrective action.” We initiate improvements.

Broad Ownership, Broad Improvement

The management system is much bigger than “product quality” alone. Position ISO as a tool capable of managing all aspects of the business, ensuring that goals are met, desired results are achieved, and customers’ expectations are exceeded.

Get ISO out of the Quality Assurance closet where it is traditionally hidden, starting with appointing a non-QA person as management representative if at all possible. Enlist assessors (!) from all walks of life and don’t train them to just go out and catch nonconformances. Assessors become process experts with new eyes and are an extremely valuable resource to the areas they assess. Assessors are management system ambassadors, and each assessment is a PR event for the ISO-based system as well as a learning experience for both assessors and those being assessed. The “closing meeting” shares results with the assessed area. It’s an invaluable learning opportunity.

Engage the Troops

Engagement is that magical state where people put forth exemplary effort AND are getting the maximum level of satisfaction out of their role…they are busting their butts and are darned happy to do it. Their hands, hearts, and heads are all fully utilized. There is plenty of research and data that clearly shows the correlation of high engagement to double digit bottom line improvements.

It’s good business to design engaging elements into the management system. Success hinges on two basic motivational truths: the people doing the job know it best, and involvement builds commitment. Bring the troops in early and often in the design and ongoing maintenance and improvement of the system, and keep them in. Their ongoing commitment and full engagement is assured.

(see Engagement and Mojo—Peas and Carrots)

“What is the ONE Determinant of System Success?”

That was the “time to summarize” question from the registrar selection team for my biggest project. The “winning” response has proven to be an absolute truth, whether an external assessment team or an internal assessment: the first, most critical area to examine every time is the corrective and preventive action process, starting with how past assessments and findings are handled. Is the assessment schedule maintained? How well are corrective actions reported and closed with true root cause analysis then followed up on to ensure actions are sticking? Last, are preventive / continuous improvement actions formally and effectively pursued?

Simply: say what you do, and verify you are doing what you say you do every day. If you’re not, resolve the issue! If you are, IMPROVE! ISO9001 is really as common sense as that.


Been Slammed by Slam Poetry

I had the privilege of observing 7th grade students reading original “slam poetry” compositions. It’s not really poetry, more like free verse. I found out later the students had signed up for the elective class. Those who read their pieces hadn’t had the chance to develop the necessary  comfort zone to infuse the emotional punch of “real” slam poetry. But there was plenty of punch just the same.

From the first line into the first reader, for forty five minutes I alternated between teary eyes and goose bumps, mostly same time. I was hoping, desperately hoping, these were not first-person, fact-based accounts. Four girls (reminder, 7th graders!) were nailing THE top issues for their age. Maybe they were assigned their topics?  While the dramatic interpretation wasn’t quite there, they were too graphically and emotionally convincing in the details of what they shared. The four topics:

  • Step-parent sexual abuse, parental substance addiction;
  • A younger sibling bullied because of his impairment;
  • Frustration, hopelessness, cutting;
  • Dealing with the recent death of a best friend.

I’m almost glad there wasn’t more time, I was emotionally tapped out after just the first share. Those issues…even if these young people weren’t dealing with them personally, it was a gut-punch. These things are probably going on far too often for us to even grasp.

But later that day, I was told every one of the slams was true, actually experienced by the girls who shared them. I talked to the girl who had so vividly and poignantly described how she was sexually abused by her step-father and her addict mother did nothing. She was seven years old at the time. This is not the projects, it’s not a big city horror story. This is a quiet community of 15,000 in the heart of Iowa.

She gave me permission to run her story, without her name of course. I put in a few breaks to help the readability, and bolded those passages she really punched in her reading. That’s all I’ve done—no editing, no correcting. I didn’t dare. You can’t hear her emotion, you can’t see the raw feelings pour out of her face and body almost as if she was reliving what she endured. It tore me up.


My mommy was sick. Come to think of it she was always sick. She met another man today. He was nice she said. He was funny. He was good. That’s what you would see about him. But under the covers weren’t so warm. They weren’t so cozy like it looked. It was cold and wet like a murky swamp on an early autumn morning.

He had a beer in his hand so often I  thought it was stuck there.  when mommy wasn’t there, He would get closer and closer to me like a predator does when it hunts its prey. She’d be in the other room “sleeping”.  He looked at me like I was a fresh meat. He swooped in so fast it caught me by surprise. I didn’t know what was happening until it hit me. This nice guy wasn’t so nice but mommy needed him.

He touched me and violated my skin. I will never be untouched by the filthy hands of the monster. I will never feel safe in the arms of a man again. I will never get to feel the comfort a little girl should feel. I will never be able to cleanse my mind of the images the feelings I witnessed in my young once innocent eyes. I will never be able to notice the sunshine on a summer day I used to.

He did that to me. My mommy didn’t notice though because she was too passed out to give a crap! To understand that her baby girl is crying herself to sleep at night and the man she thought she loved was sexually abusing her every night and not even caring because she was busy having a good time being so high she couldn’t walk!

Hours she would spend napping on the couch. I would escape to my friends house whenever i could. At night i would cry myself to sleep trying to get rid of my thoughts that clawed at my brain. I would lie in conflict. Who could i talk to about my issue. That’s what it was right, an issue.  One big issue that no one seemed to notice because they were too high or drunk to care. When i was being tortured i would try to think of a better place to take me away from what was haunting me in this hell hole i called home.

But the thing is there was no better place. I would sit there muffling my sobs letting my body be used for the pleasure of a drunken man who had the power to kill me if tempted. No one will ever understand what I felt. No one can understand how i thought this was all my fault. You never will. But that’s ok. What you need to do is be aware of the pain that hides behind my glossy blue eyes. You need to be aware that i am not a normal girl who walks through life like it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Everyday i would dread going home on a saturday because i knew what would happen when i got home. It would be happy hour for him and pills for my mommy. My mommy said she loved me. She said she would die for me. I believed her. But I  realized that if she loved me so much she would be here to protect me. He told me he loved me like a daughter of his own. Why would anyone do such a thing to there daughter! I thought to myself.

Often times i would ask why he did this to me. I asked if all girls had this happen to them.  But my therapist said it was all ok. It stopped. He is gone now. But that was a lie. You’re telling me that he is in jail HE’S NOT!  You’re telling me that i don’t have nightmares anymore I DO! Your telling me that he still doesn’t want every dark corner of my room every crowded area. HE DOES!

You may not feel my pain or know my thoughts but you don’t need to taunt me about it. My mind is a maze of thoughts that swirl around chasing me until i can’t stand it! These thought in my mind are far beyond comprehension. Far beyond normal.   I never had many friends but that’s okay. I have the voices in my head to talk to. I am fine i would say and put on a smile like its ok that i’m being abused. I don’t want to hurt you with my pain so i keep it inside like a volcano that sits and waits and sits and waits and sits… Until i express my feeling that come out like a wildfire a spark turns into crazy flame uncontrollable twisting and turning my thoughts escaping my head, my body i can’t stop.

I think that i’m ok. I keep my thoughts to myself. He broke me. He broke my mind. My sense of safeness.

Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?

All-Community Development: Vision, Delusion or Simple Pothole Repairs replaces two related RWPS posts. They were combined for continuity, but now it’s one big, honkin’ Tolstoy post. Hope you can read and respond!