by Richard Saul
I am a political news junkie. Have been for years. Over time I have come to some conclusions about journalists and their methods.
One of them is that ever since Watergate, every budding journalist wants to become the next Woodward or Bernstein. To that end, it seems that capturing a good sound bite is essential: a verbal declaration from someone, to which my cynical side would add, “To be held against the speaker at a later date.”
My auditing career developed much later than my addiction to the news. As an auditor, I can’t help but compare auditing principles to those used by journalists.
At the highest level, journalists and auditors share a common goal: to obtain facts and use them to draw conclusions. That said, I see two major differences between the professions:
- In the absence of facts journalists may need to rely on anecdotal evidence and speculation
- Sound bites are often used to reinforce a specific point of view without regard to context
Indulging in either of the above two practices could be fatal for an auditor.
The introduction of the context element into ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015 has been, in my view, a welcome addition. Although the need to manage internal and external changes was listed as an agenda item for management reviews in previous versions of both standards, it was somewhat buried and often overlooked.
Consideration of context is by no means a new concept. The organizational profile has been built into the application form for the Malcolm Baldrige award in the United States and business excellence programs here in New Zealand for many years. Both models force organizations to drill down on specific aspects of their own businesses and come to conclusions from which decisions can be made. It forces them to make connections between strategic plans and mission statements, the risks and opportunities in pursuing their objectives and strategic plans, and examine how the needs and expectations of stakeholders and interested parties will be defined and met in the process. It can and should be the backdrop on which a management system is developed.
It’s not enough for an organization to just go through the exercise of defining its context. If nothing else is certain about an organization providing a good or service, it is that the future itself is uncertain. Risks and opportunities change. As a result, so do objectives, and, consequently, strategic plans. Maybe even stakeholders or interested parties.
These changes are not always obvious and often evolve insidiously. The retail industry has been particularly exposed with the introduction of online shopping, where convenience is very attractive to consumers. For manufacturing companies, many activities and or components are now being outsourced. In this ever-changing environment, top management needs to be constantly vigilant.
In the absence of prompts such as “organizational profile” and “organizational context,” business owners—especially smaller ones who don’t have the resources to engage strategic planners, business analysts, or compliance officers—may have to rely on their experience, intuition, anecdotal incidents, and opinions rather than a systematic analysis of information to make decisions.
This is similar to what journalists may need to do in the absence of hard data. Drilling down on the context of an organization is more likely to produce reliable information. Management by fact has always been one of the guiding principles of any effective quality management system.
Auditors have a role to play in this. While we can’t tell our clients how to apply the very powerful benefits that the context element provides, we can make sure the contents are fully considered.
When auditing clients who are upgrading to ISO 9001:2015, my focus is on establishing their grasp of their own organizational context. That focus will include how they continually review that context to determine whether it remains appropriate. If they get that right, my view is it should make the application of the rest of the standard to their business much more effective.
About the author
Richard Saul is an Exemplar Global Registered Lead Auditor and Skills Examiner for quality, environmental and health and safety programs. During his career, he has conducted more than two thousand audits in Australasia, Korea, China, and India. He became a registered auditor with the China Certification and Accreditation Association in 2012. He has provided auditor training since 2006 and trained dozens of auditors over that period. On two occasions, he was a National Evaluator for the New Zealand Business Excellence Awards program. This experience has evolved into the delivery of consulting services, which he has offered since 2011.
As well as publishing numerous articles, Richard has been a speaker at three World Quality Congresses both in New Zealand and Canada. He holds a Master of Management degree and a Graduate Diploma in Business, both from the University of Auckland.
Outside interests include outrigger canoe racing, in which he still competes at a national and international levels. He has twice represented New Zealand at the Outrigger World Sprints at the Elite level, most recently being May 2016 in the singles events at the Sunshine Coast in Australia. He was part of the six-man crew that won a gold medal at the 1998 World Sprints in Suva Fiji.
He has also maintained a lifelong interest in music, and has received royalties from one of his compositions.
He has been married to his wife Roberta since 1981, and has three adult children.