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​Selling Quality Management Systems to the CEO

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Published: 9 Aug 2016

Angela Fumpson argues that in order for quality professionals to influence the CEO, they must understand the vision and goals of the business.

Sometimes when we are experts in our field we forget that others do not carry the same passion for the subject nor speak the same language.

One of the many challenges we face today is putting quality into the heart of the company strategy, back in the board room where it belongs.

Remember the phrase ‘Get better or get beat’; it comes from the US in the late 80s when they had a real push for quality following the Japanese market success.

The media today still seems to only focus on the quality profession when a disaster happens.

As quality professionals we understand that ISO 9001 is a holistic approach, and that it can give a competitive advantage, mitigate risks and support growth. So how do we convince the CEO to play his or her part?

ISO 9001:2015 and leadership

ISO 9001:2015 is very clear now, especially through the leadership clause 5, on how the new CEO role is defined with regard to the Quality Management System.

It is the role of top management and ultimately the CEO to make sure that the quality policy and objectives are aligned with the business strategy and take full responsibility for these.

It must be an integral part of the business way of life not a bolt on as we see all too often these days, which saddens me.

Recently I sat in a Business Excellence Forum and a keynote speaker said ISO is the worst thing invented: it just makes you write down everything you do. That is now imprinted in the minds of 700 delegates in the conference.

My vision is to turn the tables and be the person up there telling entrepreneurs the truth about the principles behind ISO 9001 and change the bad press.

As CEOs or business owners they must promote the principles behind the standard, especially the process approach and risk-based thinking: encouraging and supporting everyone to contribute to an effective Quality Management System.

They must also make clear the consequences if the company and team do not conform to the systems they create.

The management representative role is now not a requirement. But that does not mean the role and responsibility has disappeared, nor does it mean that the role transfers to the CEO or other top management.

In fact, most companies that I talk to will keep the management representative role going.

CEOs and the QMS

It is a focus change that we are looking at in encouraging the senior management teams and CEOs to take ultimate accountability and understand what they need to do relative to the Quality Management System.

I could briefly define a CEO role as this:

  1. Provide clarity on the vision and the values
  2.  Promote and engage people
  3. Create other leaders within the company
  4. Direct and support individuals in their roles
  5. Take responsibility for performance and effectiveness.

Now place the Quality Management System in each of these sentences and the role doesn’t change, just an additional focus to pay attention to.

The CEO or business owner understands they must work on the business not in it; sound familiar?

After all, a business is a commercial profitable enterprise that works with or without that owner. We therefore need to put ourselves in the same mindset and language mode as the business owner when talking about ISO 9001:2015.

Our job, as I see it, is to focus on the detail and the risks, helping the business owner plan for success; we should be their right hand man (or woman). Company growth is great news but only when built on a great company will it be long lived.

Understanding and interpreting

Every CEO or business owner will have different priorities for their company and the skill is understanding and helping them interpret the standard and how it supports these company goals.

When we think about the likes of Google and Amazon there are key elements that make them world class.

Some essential elements relate to the Quality Management Systems: the question is how sellable these systems are to the CEO?

If the CEO is not passionate about why the company needs a Quality Management System, how can he lead with that focus?

We support the purpose – the 'why' the business or company exists – and ensure that there is a clear line of sight between this and the front line. This allows the right culture to grow, with everyone feeling part of a community; and knowing they contribute to something much larger for a greater cause or experience.

Successful companies don’t ignore anything, they innovate and when it works they systemise it.

Systems don’t have to restrict, they don’t cause these companies to stand still; they just help make every improvement a habit.

There was a quote in Forbes from the Dijwan’s leaders (this was a company that had a good product related to mapping networks of web content but it epically failed as a start up missing the detail):

'A good product idea and a strong technical team are not a guarantee of a sustainable business. One should not ignore the business process and issues of a company because it is not their job. It can eventually deprive them from any future in that company.'

I could go into why they failed but the purpose of this quote is for you to understand the message we need to convey to top management, and it’s this: an effective quality management system supports the vision and goals of the business and enables the owners to lead from a position of authority.

In turn, this enables the right culture, which inspires people to achieve more than they thought possible. They need only to understand the detail well enough to lead, and it’s still our job as experts to interpret that detail into best business practice for them.

In order for us to influence the business owners, we must therefore strive to understand the business vision and goals well enough to connect them to the value of a good Quality Management System.

Angela Fumpson is chair of the CQI Avon Branch Committee, representative for the advisory council, operations panel and regional committee, and founder and director of White Tiger Quality Management and Business Improvement.

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