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The Impact of Certification Bodies on Companies

After talks with hundreds of quality and safety managers, we saw a pattern emerge we weren’t really aware of. We started to notice that there is some kind of implicit impact certification bodies (CB) have on companies. This impact can be quite severe, and we don’t think all CB or external auditors are aware of this. It basically comes down to being afraid to change because of what the external auditor might think of it.

Change

Implementing any kind of change in an organization is already hard to do. People have the natural ability to resist change with every fiber in their body. Finding a modus in which the company is willing to change can be quite challenging. You need very good reasons why this particular change moves the company forward. This is also where the continuous improvement in lots of the ISO standards gets challenging. They want the company to improve, and therefore change.

Impact of Certifying Body

Most external auditors have a great deal of impact on an organization, even though they are only there 3-5 days a year. They want companies to change or notice certain NCRs that need to be solved. This all can mean quite a workload for companies. Because the ISO certificate is a license to operate for many companies, they don’t really go against the auditor and simply implement what is required. This can lead to a non-functional management system because of so many different influences by all the external auditors. Even though this new management system isn’t really desired, some companies think it is the only way. The fact that the external auditors are able to force change is quite a good thing, even though we strongly believe you should never do something just for the auditor. Every change should always have value for the organization as well.

However, the external auditors also have a big negative impact on change, namely being afraid to change. Certain companies aren’t willing to change because they are afraid whether the external auditor accepts the new way of working. We get this question quite a lot ourselves, and luckily, have a big portfolio of companies to prove that the auditors are happy with it. The fact that these questions arise does show the big influence the certification body has on the choices the company makes, even though the external auditors are hardly there. Companies should be more willing to make their own decisions and be able to explain to the certification bodies why certain changes are made and that it is a net positive for the company.

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Transparency in QHSE Management

Transparency has a pretty broad spectrum and can mean different things to different people. Not necessarily the meaning of the word transparency, but more the level of transparency and when you are considered transparent and when not. Of course, certain information is on a “need to know” basis within an organization, and not everybody needs to know everything, not even the CEO. However, we do believe that having pretty high transparency will help an organization move forward and give a solid basis for continuous improvement.

We Do It Together

Continuous improvement is something the organization that needs as many people as possible to help with. This doesn’t mean that everybody needs to work on this all the time, but the input from every employee is valuable; hence, we need everybody. The people in the quality department or in the continuous improvement team can help with these topics. When it comes to continuous improvement, all information should be available to everyone so they can learn from each other and easily see what the organization tries to improve. This doesn’t mean it will succeed all the time but it is trying and showing the efforts the organization takes will increase the support from the employees. It also clearly shows a message that trying is good and with it comes the acceptance of failure. Sharing these experiences makes people feel more comfortable and at ease.

The Feedback

Feedback is a great way to engage the employees in the efforts. Showing what the organization does and how it is done will give people an insight in why choices are made. No, you don’t need to open all the notes of every meeting if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, but it is important to just share the key inputs and outputs. Also, an explanation of the reasoning why certain decisions are made will help a lot. It isn’t required to have formal meetings for this. The information can be documented in a platform and people can be updated automatically. However, the results with a big impact should be communicated properly and celebrated. This can be done with in person meetings or, in the light of COVID-19, via any preferred video conferencing tool.

Level of Transparency

The cutoff line of which information should or shouldn’t be open can be quite a tricky one. Some companies are completely transparent and even show the salaries of every employee on a wall, while at other places, almost all information is protected. Setting the levels of information access should always be in line with the company policy and culture. However, we do believe that an organization should be a little more open than what it is comfortable with. Just trust the employees and let them find the information. This isn’t always easy but will help a lot in the future and with slowly changing the culture for the better.

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Lets Talk about Stakeholders

Ever since the introduction of the HLS (High Level Structure) in several ISO standards, the stakeholder analysis has a more prominent role in most Management Systems. This is a good thing if you ask us. However, most companies have been able to list and somehow categorize their stakeholders, but they are having a hard time managing them. Don’t get me wrong, managing stakeholders isn’t easy and requires a lot of effort. We ourselves can do a better job on this aspect every now and then.

Identifying Stakeholders

This is the most straightforward and easy exercise of managing stakeholders. Every company is capable of identifying their stakeholders and the impact every stakeholder has on the organization. Most analysis show a breakdown that look something like this:

  • Name of stakeholder
  • Impact on the organization
  • Level of influence
  • How to manage the stakeholder

It is not a hard science, but most of the assessments of the stakeholders hold some information like this.

Managing Stakeholders

After the identification of the stakeholders, they need to be managed, which is the hardest task. Every company manages their most important stakeholders with care, their customers. Yes, things go wrong here as well, but most processes in the organization are built to make customers happy. Hence, this stakeholder is managed pretty significantly. Then, the employees are well taken care of in most companies, bad actors aside. Without the employees, there is no company, so they need to be taken care of as well. Then we have the suppliers, these are well taken care of because a significant part the company depends on them, especially the critical suppliers.

In essence, most stakeholders are well informed when they are part of a process and when things are going as planned. It is when something doesn’t go according to plan that things start to break. We experience this over and over again, not just with our suppliers, but also within our company. This isn’t really a bad thing, as long as you are aware of the fact that you dropped the ball and this is where things are going wrong. When you point out that you haven’t been well informed, you see that people start to point to processes or systems. But like I mentioned before, the problem is that things didn’t go as planned, hence the missing information. Just make sure there is some kind of feedback loop in the organization to identify such situations and update the stakeholder analysis.

Conclusion

The stakeholder analysis is a great tool and helps lots of companies. The problem with it is that most companies only look at the situation when everything goes according to plan, which it doesn’t all the time. Make sure you have some kind of way to handle these situations as well to manage the stakeholders even better.

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Compliance is a Moving Target

Last week we had a great talk with an esteemed consultant about compliance and how to go about it. He had quite a nice way of approaching it. It was during this call he dropped the phrase:

“Compliance is a moving target”

This made me think about being compliant and how it changes all the time. It actually is a moving target, and that’s what makes working in compliance such an exciting job.

Everything Changes

Within the environment of a business, changes happen all the time, new employees enter, employees leave, laws change, standards change, customers demand change, and so on. Every change has an impact on the compliance of a company and can definitely be seen as a moving target. It would be a utopian vision to think you as a company is 100% compliant—it is mostly based on best efforts and, sometimes, interpretations. Hence, stating that a company is compliant simply because it passed an audit doesn’t make lots of sense, although it is common to do this. There are always changes that have an influence on the level of compliance. When a law changes, the organization needs to adopt this change. When a new employee enters, they need to be trained how to work properly. 

The Fun Part

Because compliance is a moving target, it comes with so many challenges. This is for most people working in compliance what makes the job exciting. Changes are required, and support by the employees is a necessity. This balancing act between the hard requirements and the human touch is what makes working in compliance so great. Chasing that moving target and getting as close as possible to being 100% compliant is the goal and is something compliance managers don’t do on their own. Compliance is most definitely a team sport and something that is done with every single person in the company. This isn’t always easy because not everyone is as excited about compliance management as we are, but they all have the power to break the compliance chain, with ease.

Technology

Even as a compliance platform, we don’t believe that buying a compliance platform makes you fully compliant. Technology is there to support not lead. All the rules and regulations, laws and standards are man-made and, therefore, can be pretty fuzzy. Because of that, people need to interpret them in order to place it in the right context. Technology isn’t in the same league as humans when it comes to this. You need to be involved in the compliance processes as a human for quite some time. Which is great because it is a great job to do.

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The Standard Shouldn’t be your starting point

The several different ISO standards can be great guidance when adding structure to an organization. However, the standard shouldn’t be the starting point for an organization when setting up any kind of management system. When you want to create a QMS it is important to start with the core processes of the organisation and especially the ones that have a direct impact on the quality of the product and services the company provides. A significant number of processes that are required for certification are new anyway such as having some kind auditing process. This approach will have little impact because they should reflect how they do their job already. However, do explain why the processes are formalized and that they should be followed. 

Written in Stone

Procedures and processes are not written in stone. Still the mentality within quite some companies is that they have to do it for ISO. A company doesn’t have to do anything for ISO, except for the couple documents that are required by the standard. In essence the standard wants the organisation to work according to how it is documented or formalized by the organization. When ways or working are somehow agreed within the organisation everybody should work accordingly, when people don’t a NC will be noted during an external audit. In essence the company just needs to do what is agreed upon and when it doesn’t it can simply change the procedure. 

Added value

The added value certification for the organisation diminishes rapidly when the feeling is that everything is done for ISO. Employees get the feeling that actions are taken for ISO instead of for the benefit of the organisation. When this is the paradigm in an organisation it is very hard to get it out of the culture and change the mindset of the people. Try to avoid it from the start and always start with showing the added value to the organisation regardless if ISO requires it or not. 

The added value of the different standards are evident in that they can help organisations to structurize and formalize their processes which can be great. The structidized way of working should always have a consistent quality and safety way of working in mind. When this is clearly communicated to the people in the organisation they will see this value. Always keep the added value in mind when you are going for formal certification on the management system.

Communication

The most important part in setting up a management system is communication. With good communication you will have support from every level in the organisation which will obviously help. Also when people are involved in the processes they will have some kind of

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Working from home Ergonomically

Most of us have been working from home for several weeks now. While working from home a couple of days here and there is fine for most of us, we now run into an odd situation that we really need to think about having a proper workplace while working from home. Still, a number of people are working either on the kitchen table or on some sort of desk. While this is the case, most companies have strict policies when it comes to deskwork, especially on the ergonomics aspects of the job. We need adjustable tables, adjustable chairs and adjustable screens. This all to make the job less demanding for the body. However, while working from home, we don’t always have all these tools at our disposal for working ergonomically.

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Correct sitting at desk posture ergonomics: office worker using a computer and improving his posture

The Table

Most of us are working either on the kitchen table or on a non-adjustable desk. We can debate about why we should work on these types of tables, but most people don’t have room to create a proper home office. However, when you work from home, try to find a way to adjust the height of the table. You can put some wood or books underneath the table legs to change the height of the table. Again, it’s not ideal, but we need to work with what we have.

The Chair

This one is much trickier, especially when the chair is non-adjustable. At least find a position, which relaxes the body somehow. Also try to use a pillow to support your back when you sit in the chair. Unlike the table, it is much easier to buy an adjustable chair. They don’t take up lots of space and will help a lot to sit comfortably and prevent back pains.

The Monitor

The height of your screen is important to prevent neck pain. Looking straight at your screen makes sure you have a good position for your neck. You can either buy an adjustable screen or simply use a book to levitate the screen. Try to come as close as possible to the configuration above.

The Accessories

This is probably the most neglected part of working from home. Most people work on a laptop and simply use the trackpad and keyboard that comes with the laptop. A separate mouse and keyboard allows much more degrees of freedom, because you can configure it yourself. The keyboard and trackpad are fine for working an hour or so, but not to work on them hours on end.

Also a lot of people are used to working with a second screen. Just use your old laptop or an old desktop screen to work with a double screen or maybe buy a new one. Because this working from home could take a while and maybe you like it so much, that in the future you work one or two days at home instead of in the office. Some of our employees are more productive back at home, because there are no distractions from colleagues. Just think about it, how is working from home working for you?

In the end it is important to have a proper workplace at home, which gives the least possible physical problems. We need our body for the rest of our lives, so just make sure you treat it accordingly.

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Working from home as a Safety Manager

This pandemic of course has a big impact on your job as a safety officer. Normally, you are mainly outside or in the production plant to check up on the safety culture in the company. It is important to be among the people in the company and observe their safety awareness. These observations are crucial to improve the safety culture of the organization. Over the last week, this has reduced significantly but the workload probably spiked the first week. Now, you need to find a way to maintain the safety of the workers somehow remotely.

First Line Action

The COVID19 most likely created a big spike in the workload the first couple of weeks. Policies were probably not in place for these circumstances and therefore needed to be created in record time. Most companies have never considered this scenario and this being a health-oriented “Black Swan” risk, you as the safety manager were involved heavily. All procedures and policies need to be in place to make sure people have guidance in these times. Also, the work instructions need to be updated and added to comply with new laws and regulations.

Working From Home

The new norm forces most people to work from home. Of course, you can probably be on site every now and then, but the feeling with the employees in production reduces due to the distance. Despite you not being there, the safety risks didn’t reduce, they might even become bigger due to changes in the way people work. Working with less people on the same square meter can increase the safety risks. On the other hand, from home you can upgrade work instructions, procedures, processes and policies. The lack of colleagues will reduce the number of distractions and allows for better focus, of course, only if you don’t have small children.

Delegate

Being able to delegate some of the safety activities is key in this because you cannot be on site. The right technology can help a lot here. The shift manager or other team leaders can do the necessary safety walks, which gives you important information to check on the safety culture. When people on site perform these checks, you get at least an idea about what is going on. Yes, you will be missing some key parts, but together with the couple of days you are on site you should be able to have some sort of feeling.

Training

One other great thing you can do in this period is creating a great training session. Using the right platform, you can send the training session to the employees to make sure that safety stays on top of their mind. This also allows you to utilize the information from the safety checks and incorporate that information directly into such a training. Besides the awareness training, you can always simply upgrade to new employee training sessions or the general safety training.

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Why Training Your Staff Is Important

Over the last couple of weeks, we spoke with several consultants based all around the world. One of the things that almost all of the consultants mentioned is that training your staff is very important. It is not only important for improving your business but there are many more reasons why you should train your employees.

Motivation

There were a lot of debates during the interviews over why training is so important. We merged it into four. The first one is to motivate the staff. Motivation not only comes with salary or fringe benefits. Training or education can also help to motivate the employees. They have more challenges in their work and they also learn new things.

Engagement

The next one is that training helps everyone to better understand how everything works in the organization, and this will lead to more employee engagement. When the staff understand how everything goes, the management or the board will involve the staff more within the company. This will ensure that the staff are more involved in everything that occurs within the company, and that will lead to a better culture.

Teamwork

Not only will training lead to a better understanding of your staff or a better culture, but it also will lead to improved teamwork. Employees will get to know each other on another level during a training session, compared to working on the floor together. The training is the connecting factor between all the employees from one department. They do the training together, which will lead to a common thing that they did together. Also, they can put the lessons from the training into practice together. This will improve the cohesion within the team.

Incorporating into the Daily Activities

And the most important one are the things the staff learn during the training, that they can incorporate into the daily activities. This will lead to more productivity and to a better culture even if the main goal of the training was some kind of team building. Your employees will be happier and more motivated to go to work. That’s why training your staff is so important.

Current Day

Training sessions are great ways to motivate people and increase employee engagement. However, the pandemic of course changes the way we can train our employees. The human touch will be gone for quite some weeks, so we need to find different ways. This is why Qooling now has a great e-learning module which you can try out for free.

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Working from home as a Quality Manager

Working from home can become quite tiresome and repetitive but it also holds some great opportunities for you as a Quality Manager. Normally you are running around with little time left to make fundamental improvements. We all know that it is important, but lots of us are just too busy with the day-to-day business. The distraction from colleagues and accidents that need to be solved right away doesn’t help with the overall improvements.

Review Procedure

Not being interrupted by your colleagues is a blessing when it comes to cleaning up procedures. During busy times, colleagues drop in with all kinds of questions. Most Quality Managers are distracted a lot due to the role they have in the organization. They are in the middle of everything that is going on, so most departments go to the Quality Managers when they have business questions. You might not know the answer, but most of the time you know who does or where someone needs to look to find the answer.

Being forced to work from home allows you to fully concentrate on reviewing the documents and really making some progress on improving them. Of course, don’t do this in full isolation; include people in the team to review the improvements via any web conference solution, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Analyze Data Thoroughly

A thorough analysis of data is another great activity you can do while working from home. We don’t mean creating a pie chart or a histogram. Great platforms will create these graphs for you. We are talking about real analysis and putting context to the data. Technology can visualize the data, but for years to come it won’t be able to make decisions for you on what to do. Yes, artificial intelligence will have a great impact here, but it will not be able to make these informed decisions for the coming years, if not decades, for now, it can only assist you. You know why certain deviations happened and maybe also what went wrong. Use these difficult times to advance and analyze the data you have.

Build Improvement Plans

In line with the analysis done in the previous step, use the analysis to create some great improvement plans that you can do when things come back to normal again. Lots of improvements fix the problem at hand but hardly the true root cause. Sitting at home gives you an excellent opportunity to have a deeper understanding of what went wrong and create improvement plans that solve the root cause. Also look back at the last couple of months. What things went right and what went wrong? Make a list of all these things and communicate this with the different departments in the company. Then they can look at this and make a plan for the next couple of months, what they want to improve in their work and what their goals are for the rest of the year. Now everybody has a goal to work for and they can look forward to get back to work and start working on completing these goals. Then everybody has new energy to get started again.

To conclude, please look at the bright site of things and use these exceptionally difficult times to your advantage. Start to improve the organization, but make sure to involve the rest of the team. This way, everybody is motivated to start working again after the Corona isolation is over. 

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Remote Auditing, How to Set It Up

After last week the world looks quite different. People in most countries are working from home, which means that audits need to adapt as well. This week, one of our customers had their first completely remote Certification audit due to COVID-19. They were able to give the auditor access to all the required documentation and information via the Qooling Platform for remote auditing.

Requirements

Of course, the most basic requirement for remote auditing is a proper internet connection. This may sound trivial, but not every location has access to stable internet. Secondly, it is important to have a good, structured and easy-to-use QHSE platform for the auditor to have access to. This way, he or she can easily navigate through your management system and check your compliance. For a more human touch, a video conferencing option would also be great. Solutions like Zoom or Webex are great solutions to facilitate this.

Access control

Access control is hugely important when you set up for remote auditing. The auditor should have access to most, if not all, of your Quality and Safety related information. However, you don’t want him/her to accidentally change something in the system, so a dedicated auditor role should be set to prevent this from happening. Obviously, such an account should be view-only and prevent the auditor from doing anything else. Besides preventing the ability to change anything, it is also important that the auditor has access to all the files. Great platforms allow you to give document-level access to certain employees, so you can tailor the management system to the role of the employee in the company. However, with the auditor, it is crucial to give them full access to all documents. Don’t forget to set this correctly to avoid mundane questions.

Compliance

With the remote setup, the auditor has a great way to check for compliance to the standard. Of course there are still parts of the audit that cannot solely be covered by the platform, such as the interviews. However, the platform does hold the information to prove how things are going within the company. The actual interview can be done via web conference solutions with the data in the Quality and Safety platform as information to support and verify the claims that are made during the interview. This way, compliance to the standard can be shown completely remotely.

Conclusion

After being forced to move to remote auditing due to this devastating pandemic, perhaps remote auditing will become more common than before. If companies are able to facilitate it for the auditors, it should be getting much easier. This does require some form of online platform for the Quality and Safety Management and a suitable web conferencing solution.

Take care and stay safe during these extraordinary times.

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