ISO Management Systems: A Beginner’s Guide (II)

Part II. Management System Considerations.

Any organisation engaged in actions based on assuring planned outcomes, or simply limiting adverse outcomes, has a management system. Many different categories of management systems exist, each focusing on a different component(s) of an organisation (i.e. quality, health & safety and environmental). For each of these categories, there exists a set of recognised standards and regulations. It is important to appreciate that standards are fundamentally designed as voluntary guidelines but become mandatory when harmonised with regulations as a means of demonstrating legal compliance. Standards are broadly formulated for national, regional or international application.

In theory, management system standards are strategic instruments that help provide organisations with a foundation for sustainability: achieving acceptable levels of performance and safety, while minimizing adverse consequences of mistakes and legal non-conformities. Most organisations however tend to adopt such standards for marketing purposes, and because of customer expectations, and as such may be prone to certain pitfalls:

  1. Engage with a willingly-receptive mindset. An organisation as a collective, needs to approach the adopting of a management system standard with the right attitude and belief. Imagine an inherently dysfunctional organisation that is reluctant to change its poor practices. In this context, the burden introduced through the work (and complexity) involved in pursing something that the organisation is ultimately not committed to achieve (and maintain) is surely a recipe for disaster.
  2. Set the right precedence. If an organisation’s overreaching priorities are likely to displace the directives of a management system standard, the subordinate standard risks simply becoming an ineffectual addon to the organisational framework.
  3. Allow for customisation. Under any standard, organisational risk-management controls must not become so uncompromising that it inhibits advancement. With ever-evolving needs, conformity to a management system standard may not necessarily guarantee that an organisation is continually doing right. Ideally, a management system should simultaneously facilitate the assurance of conformity to the standard and facilitate the opportunity for the ongoing creation (and evolution) of an organisation’s own bespoke standard. This concept demands organisational allowances for risk-based decision-making that in turn affords an organisation wiggle-room for sensible deviations from the management system standard’s directives.
  4. Unify where possible. There are generally commonalities that exist between the objectives of various organisational components. Consequently, the different categories of management system standards tend to have a degree of structural alignment between them. Where multiple such standards are implemented in isolation to each other, there is potential for duplications and efficiencies, and the needless creation of conflicting approaches. When optimally addressed, a single integrated management system is established that aligns the different relevant components of an organisation to a common organisational purpose, and thus significantly improving performance.
  5. And keep innovating. It is also important to appreciate that adopting a management system standard is not a one-off commitment or investment, but instead requires a life-cycle of continual improvement in outcomes.

Factoring for these variables when adopting a management system standard will help ensure the implementation of an effective management system, one that works to improve organisational resilience and performance.

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