Published: 9 Jul 2021

Head of Quality Roxann Dawson champions the use of Governance, Risk, Assurance and Improvement (GRAI), alongside other management systems, to help align quality with business strategy.

Quality professionals across industries may recognise that unnerving sense of ‘you versus the organisation’ when it comes to implementing new systems.  

“Often what happens is that we come in as quality professionals, create a new system, and then have to try to almost force feed it out into the business,” says Roxann Dawson CQP FCQI, Head of Quality. “It can feel like you’re banging your head against a wall.” 
Dawson, who is a member of the CQI Board of Trustees and Chair of its Governance Risk Committee, suggests there is a better way to manage the ‘way we work’. The priority, she says, is finding a way of breaking down the silos and getting stakeholders on board. 

“If a system is created in partnership with the business, you get buy-in earlier in the process,” Dawson says. “You can then discharge the various accountabilities so that they become everyone’s accountabilities, rather than just those of the individual quality manager.” 

Aligning GRAI within an organisation helps to remove siloed ways of working and enables your strategic objectives to be achieved.
Roxann Dawson

One way to achieve this, Dawson says, is to bring the key elements of  an organisation – Governance, Risk, Assurance and Improvement  (GRAI) – together into a single framework. This will help you deliver on  business strategy and align it with stakeholder requirements. This GRAI model is one currently used by Dawson and is transferable to any business environment. 

“Aligning GRAI within an organisation helps to remove siloed ways of working and enables your strategic objectives to be achieved. It’s an agnostic way of working that evolves with an organisation and helps it align quality and strategy.”  

The basics of GRAI

Dawson explains that GRAI is a holistic methodology that compliments existing organisational structures and, thereby, assists in providing a more agile, client-focused service to stakeholders. In practice, it starts by gaining a deeper understanding of stakeholder needs before progressing to designing a Business Management System, the key is to;  

  1. Understand stakeholder needs
  2. Strategy development and objective setting
  3. Risk mapping
  4. Establish governance and controls
  5. Provide assurance
  6. Implement improvements

“One issue for the quality profession,” says Dawson, “is that we often dive straight into establishing the business management system for the latter of these six areas – arranging governance, assurance and driving innovations.

“But if we are to bring strategy and quality together, it means starting with understanding the needs of your stakeholders. For example, who are you designing the system for? If you’re working on a major programme, what are your contractual, legal and regulatory requirements? What exactly are your clients asking you to do?

“In the rail industry, for example, that means understanding the needs of the regulators like the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail and Road. Their needs will be at the top of your priorities.

“But then you will also need to think about communities – for example, the people who live in the homes that the railways run alongside. What about your social responsibilities and the environment? What risks do you face? All of this needs to be translated into what we do and be reflected in the strategy that we will deliver.”

Executive understanding

Dawson continues: “This all adds into what I call the executive understanding. You need to know what might be keeping your board awake at night, and only then put your quality hat on and start designing systems fit for purpose.

“The GRAI framework is an enabler for an organisation to deliver their strategy. To do that, quality professionals must:

  • Define governance that provides clarity of business outcomes
  • Establish the risk landscape and the effectiveness of relevant controls
  • Assure the organisation that planned outcomes will be achieved
  • Focus improvement and change, within appetite level, to drive business performance.

When governance, risk, assurance and improvement are treated as interrelated, quality professionals gain a clear line of sight between business strategy and how to achieve it. “This alignment enables continued business growth through effective stakeholder and organisational engagement,” says Dawson, who adds that aligning GRAI makes sense if you are to effectively deliver your management systems like QMS, EMS, SMS, BCM, and Finance MSs.

“There are many mechanisms within an organisation, or programme management, that can help provide information on how well strategy and objectives are being achieved, as well as the associated risks being managed. Fundamental to all of this is the provision of holistic coordination and oversight of information on organisational performance, and the management of associated risks. It’s about enabling the organisation to operate efficiently and effectively to provide meaningful, accurate and targeted management and client reports on performance progress.”

Ongoing benefits

Dawson says partnering GRAI with existing systems can benefit an organisation by providing:

  • Timely and reliable information to management and stakeholders on the effective deployment of required regulatory, legal, societal, contractual and compliance requirement
  • Coherent escalation of risk and control issues requiring visibility and attention by management for action
  • An opportunity to identify gaps in business ways of working, risk management and strategic objectives through assurance, and to action them in a timely, efficient and effective manner
  • Clarity on accountability and ownership of business controls, enabling optimisation in business resource and capability – using correct competencies for the task.

Continued use of the methodology, Dawson adds, builds an environment of continuous learning that empowers innovation, and embodies the essence of the plan, do, check, act approach. With all stakeholders – internal and external – clear about the process, it also reduces the likelihood that quality professionals will feel that it’s them against the world.