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Bridging the communications gap with management in the context of ISO 9001

For most organizations, from the first mention of implementing a formal management system, a barrier arises between the quality professionals and senior management. If creating a certified management system is for the purpose of meeting customer or industry requirements, administration traditionally foresees only a large overhead expense that has little return on investment. So, how do you bridge the communications gap with management in the context of ISO 9001? Learn how in this article.

Handling ISO 9001 communications gap with management

Look beyond requirements and compliance

Whether implementation, maintenance and transitions are led by inside experts or by consultants, we innately reinforce the barrier by communicating with management in ISO-babble and quality speak. If you need more information about communication requirements according to ISO 9001:2015, read the following article: Communication requirements according to ISO 9001:2015.

Dedicated and talented quality management professionals are so invested in the implementation requirements of ISO 9001 that they do not focus on the benefits that the company will experience from more effective process management. Even presenting the ISO 10014 Standard (Guidelines for realizing financial and economic benefits) introduces another lexicon that must be translated into your organization’s culture.

Those of us who develop, facilitate, maintain and train effective QMS implementations must look beyond requirements and compliance and learn to more effectively communicate with senior management.

Take proactive steps

We often believe that, as part of implementing Sections 4, 5 and 6 of ISO 9001:2015, we will be collaborating with leadership on creating a new lexicon and mission based on the Standard. In implementation meetings where we discuss interested parties, policy, roles, responsibilities and objectives we attempt to educate leadership in our language and culture.

Unfortunately, the more we focus on the Standard and tools of quality management, the wider the chasm becomes with the needed leadership commitment. Those who will be most successful at making PDCA part of the culture of their organization will realize that they must take proactive steps to learn how to communicate with senior management in the language that is important to them.

Tips for genuine dialogue with senior management

Here are some tips for beginning the journey to creating genuine dialogue with senior management.

  • Visit your company web site and discover what the organization is communicating to the world about what you do and who you are.
  • Get a copy of the annual report and become educated on what is important to senior management.
  • Compare what you learn to what objectives you currently have as priorities.
  • Once you have learned business-speak and begin adopting the lexicon of administration, find a member of management that may be a potential champion for you. Practice communicating the benefits of a formal management system in the vocabulary of business management.
  • Then, ask your champion to request a series of meetings with senior management to revisit the policy and leadership role with the objective of creating a shared vision, mission and value set. Focus on the key business indicators that are critical to leadership, and transition quality metrics to business metrics.
  • Look for every opportunity to create a return on investment for every element of the Standard and the QMS. Particularly in ISO 9001:2015, within clauses 7 through 10, you must find how to demonstrate that compliance to a requirement has a measurable benefit to business objectives and to customer satisfaction.

The importance of customer satisfaction metrics

Let’s look at the requirements of Clause 9.1 (Monitoring, Measurement, Analysis and Evaluation). ISO 9001 requires an organization to measure its performance to ensure it fulfilled its own requirements. A robust QMS will have created metrics for each process that provides data that verifies each process is operating within prescribed operational parameters.

How do these metrics correlate with the key process indicators that senior management is tracking? In bridging the communications gap with management, investigate how quality metrics can be translated into business performance metrics. Which process metrics give management insight into where to best utilize resources, training, equipment and facilities? While measuring scrap rate may be a focus of the QMS team, how does that translate into return on investment in the eyes of senior management?

Customer satisfaction is another key area where the results of customer report cards may lead to corrective action within the QMS. There is a gold mine of data available from customers that can direct the evolution of products, services and marketing at the highest levels. Most sales and marketing groups develop their own informal impressions of customer input. These subjective evaluations may or may not be a true reflection of the voice of the customer. QMS professionals can implement objective tools to harvest the actual performance data from the perspective of the customer.

By creating rapport with customers and gathering performance data against customer expectations, the QMS can provide senior management with actionable input that will make the products and services of greater value to the customer base. Done well, partnerships with customers turns them into referrals for your organization.

Handling ISO 9001 communications gap with management

Call to action

Bridging the communications gap with management is the responsibility of those involved in the operation and effectiveness of the QMS. In the example of clause 9.1, we must translate process metrics into the key performance indicators that senior management is using to run the business at the macro level. Only then will we create a productive collaboration, instead of a communications conflict.

When QMS professionals become the voice of the customer, we can not only take corrective action to improve the products and services, we can provide management with feedback that leads to product and service enhancements that expand markets, retain loyal customers and avoid costly opportunities for risk.

Only when senior management sees their investment yield greater profits and enhanced customer satisfaction, measured in terms that are important to their objectives, will you create eager participants in the success of your management system.

Learn how communication is related to implementation steps in this free download ISO 9001:2015 Implementation diagram.

Advisera Tom Taormina
Tom Taormina
Tom Taormina, CMC, CMQ/OE, is a subject matter expert in the ISO 9000 series of standards. He has written 10 books on the beneficial use of the standard. He has worked with more than 700 companies and was one of the first Quality Control Engineers at NASA’s Mission Control Center during Projects Gemini and Apollo.