Opinion by Mike Richman
The modern world is a maze of complexity, of wheels within wheels. Few understand it well; no one has it mastered completely. Creating products and services in this reality requires a commitment to quality in research, design, engineering, and verification (read: auditing). These discrete disciplines demand focus and deep expertise. Do them poorly and the physical and financial health of consumers and companies is put flagrantly at risk. Do them well and no one on the demand side of the equation even knows that this multitude of functions exists.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? To do one’s job so well that it seems invisible to the general public. However, it takes lots of work to create exceptional products and services that perform as intended, safely and effectively, time after time. If you’re anywhere in industry, you know this already.
Still, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the effects of excellence, which auditing and auditors make possible. Competent professionals holding organizations accountable to a standard’s language help foster important results on which customers, employees, and investors rely. In some cases, those stakeholders don’t even know of said standards’ existence, but that’s OK. Again, in this sphere, invisibility to the broader public is hardly a problem.
Here are just a few examples of the ways in which auditors help organizations achieve better outcomes:
- Clause 4.2 of ISO 9001:2015, the quality management system standard, requires a registered organization to define the needs of so-called “interested parties” that can affect the organization’s ability to deliver quality output. Suppliers are most certainly in this group. To confirm conformance to this clause, an attentive auditor will peer deeply into the QMS. The organization must be fully cognizant of its key suppliers’ processes in terms of manufacture, testing, shipping, pricing, etc. Lack of clarity around these external processes puts the organization at risk for failing to deliver to its own customers in a reliable, timely, and high-quality fashion.
- ISO 14001:2015 addresses requirements for environmental management systems. In clause 5.2, top management must devise and communicate to all stakeholders a clear, concise, and specific environmental policy for the organization. This should tie back to all key strategic initiatives of the company and show a deep and detailed commitment to protecting the environment and natural resources. In auditing to this section of the standard, and auditor will ensure that all members of the organization understand not only what steps to take to mitigate adverse environmental actions, but why and how such an approach is central to the organization’s mission and values. In this way, stakeholders both in and out of the company are assured that the organization “puts its money where its mouth is” when it comes to the environment.
- ISO 45001:2018 is the standard defining management system requirements for occupational health and safety. Clause 6.2 requires the registered organization to demonstrate an understanding of occupational health and safety objectives and to have specific plans in place to achieve them. An auditor will confirm that the organization in question has a firm, top-to-bottom grasp on procedures to protect and improve safety; that all stakeholders are trained regularly on those procedures; that such objectives and plans are clearly communicated; and that all changes are immediately shared with stakeholders. Failure to do so can mean financial ruin, injuries, or even deaths.
Organizations that comply with the clauses and subclauses of these and other standards create value. Many of the lofty words found in standards are sometimes just that—only words. Auditors help convert those words to action. It is the function that brings a certain force to the proceedings, for, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “Nothing so concentrates the mind as the sight of an audit.”
Ours, as mentioned, is a complex world, and complexity demands clarity. The auditing function is of critical importance in ensuring safe and reliable outputs, whether customers acknowledge it or not. A world without standards would be unthinkable, and standards without auditors would be impossible.
About the author
Mike Richman is the principal of Richman Business Media Consulting, a marketing and public relations company working with clients in the worlds of manufacturing, consumer products, politics, and education. Richman also hosts the web television program NorCal News Now, which focuses on social, economic, and political issues in California. He is a contributor to (and former publisher of) Quality Digest.