By Jackie Stapleton
From Gaps to Guidance
In the early days of my ISO 9001 training and consulting journey, I was approached by a young, eager-to-learn consultant called Trent, who had just completed training in ISO standards and auditing. When I first met Trent, he asked a common question that I still hear today “Where do I start?”
In my experience, one of the most critical places to start, especially when dealing with something as structured as ISO 9001 or any ISO Standard for that matter, is to identify what you don’t know.
To help Trent, I introduced him to the concept of a gap analysis. Essentially, by comparing a business’s current system against the ISO 9001 requirements, he could pinpoint where his clients stood and where they needed to go. This method provides a clear roadmap, highlighting areas of priority.
Working together, Trent began to refine his approach. He took the foundational principles of the gap analysis and adapted them, creating a dynamic document that not only identified gaps but also tracked progress. This document has become the foundation of his consulting practice. With it, Trent could easily assess a client’s system and then visually use the gap analysis to collaborate with them to determine actions to move them towards conformance.
Over time, Trent’s methodology evolved further. From a basic gap analysis document, it grew into a comprehensive tool used by various businesses and now his team of consultants working for him. It’s a testament to the importance of knowing where to start and having a systematic approach to address the gaps as well as a superior communication tool with clients.
Conducting a gap analysis on a business can be compared to performing a check-up on a patient. Just as a doctor assesses a patient’s health by looking for any discrepancies between their current state and a healthy baseline, a gap analysis examines the current state of a business to identify areas where it falls short of its potential or industry standards. This check-up helps diagnose areas that need improvement and provides a roadmap for the business to get back on track towards success.
Curiosity, often hailed as the driving force behind innovation and growth, can be a beacon in the structured world of ISO standards and conformance. Trent’s initial question, “Where do I start?”, stemmed from genuine curiosity— not being afraid to uncover gaps and a desire to navigate the specifics of ISO standards effectively. Much like a child taking apart a toy to understand its workings, Trent wanted to dissect ISO 9001 to better assist his clients. Through the tool of gap analysis, he was able to channel his inquisitiveness into a systematic approach. Curiosity didn’t just lead him to ask the right questions; it also propelled him to develop comprehensive solutions. That first step in our journey is often sparked by pure, unbridled curiosity.
New research reveals that there is a wide range of benefits of being curious for organizations, leaders and employees. However, although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, in fact most stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency. In a survey conducted of more than 3000 employees from a wide range of firms and industries, only about 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis, and about 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.
Bridging Gaps, Overcoming Fear: A Relationship Model for Business Conformance
Curiosity – A quest for knowledge and understanding. Here, you proactively seek out areas of improvement, wanting to dissect and comprehend the intricacies of systems or processes.
- Curiosity leads to Conformance and Growth. When curiosity is harnessed, it inevitably leads to the identification of gaps, driving the system or business towards conformance. Simultaneously, this proactive stance ensures growth as you’re not just settling for the status quo but seeking to understand and innovate.
Gaps Identified – A clear-eyed recognition of discrepancies. In this quadrant, an objective analysis has taken place—like the gap analysis in ISO standards—to determine where the system or business falls short.
- Gaps Identified leads to Conformance and Decline. By identifying gaps, there’s a roadmap to move towards conformance with desired standards or goals. However, simply identifying without corresponding action can lead to a decline, as issues are known but not addressed.
Fear – Apprehension and hesitation in the face of challenges. Here, you might understand the complexities or recognize gaps but are held back by uncertainties or perceived threats.
- Fear leads to Nonconformance and Growth. Fear, if not addressed, can hinder the journey to conformance. However, if fear is faced and overcome, it can be a powerful catalyst for growth, teaching resilience and adaptability.
No Action – A state of inertia, where recognition of gaps or even curiosity doesn’t translate into concrete steps or measures.
- No Action leads to Nonconformance and Decline. Without action, even the best intentions or analyses will not result in conformance. The system or business stagnates, leading to a decline as opportunities for improvement are missed.
Each quadrant highlights a different mindset or approach. The outcomes, whether they lead to growth or decline, conformance or nonconformance, largely depend on the synthesis of these quadrants and how businesses choose to navigate them.
Your Next Steps to Success
- Conduct a Gap Analysis.
- Prioritise the high-risk gaps.
- Implement actions to address the gaps.
- Engage an Expert to support you through this process.
This article first appeared on Auditor Training Online Pty Ltd’s weekly newsletter and is published here with permission.
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