Sunday, June 20, 2021
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Ebdon ISO Blog

Bridget Jones' Knickers … what have they got to do with your business?

Recently there have been a number of articles about a national department store famed for its underwear announcing that they are launching a performance enhancing pant for men.

As curvy women know, control underwear isn't obviously attractive, in ‘Bridget Jones Diary’, the villain Daniel Cleaver referred to “absolutely enormous pants”. Not sexy at first encounter, but as the heroine, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, was dressing for a date with Cleaver she commented:

 Major dilemma. If actually do, by some terrible chance, end up in flagrante surely these would be most attractive at crucial moment. (holds up thong) However, chances of reaching crucial moment greatly increased by wearing these scary stomach-holding-in pants very popular with grannies the world over. Tricky. Very tricky.”

 What does that have to do with running a business?

Management Systems!  The way you run your business from setting objectives to recruitment, training to product/service design & delivery … all leading to meeting and exceeding your customers requirements.

 Like control underwear, management systems, such as quality management standard ISO 9001 & environmental management standard  ISO 14001, are not obviously sexy but as something that supports and controls in all the right places and can boost the overall performance of your business, what’s not to like?

Business Guru’s all over the world say its important to have a defined plan, an ultimate goal and from this you will decide what is and isn’t important, stake holders such as investors require you to have a business plan, having a policy is the first rule of any recognised management standard and is what can lead ultimately to your business success.

 For businesses looking to set themselves apart from their competitors, certified management systems such as ISO 9001 & ISO 14001 are one step towards success,by providing an objective framework to help plan for the future, measure success against your goals, check what works and what doesn’t and even improve staff motivation, keeping the knowledge, skills & experience, upon which your business depends, are captured and maintained for the future.

Often when I introduce myself at business events I encounter blank looks when I mention my profession, the term management systems conjures thoughts of being an IT guru and if I talk about ISO 9001 or ISO 14001… I may as well be speaking a foreign language … when I mention the analogy with control underwear its great to see the lights switch on.

 I love what I do, after all, would over a million businesses have ISO 9001 if it didn’t reap some rewards?

For more information about the rising popularity of ISO 9001 click here.

Hell, there are no rules here, we’re trying to accomplish something. (Edison) – is ISO 9001 a help or a hindrance!

Yesterday I had a meeting with someone who works with SME’s to help them win business from public sector organisations, we chatted at length about the number of businesses they work with that often do not have suitable business frameworks in place to support them through this process and the subsequent growth that would come from winning a tender.

There tends to be a fear among business leaders that their business will become overly bureaucratic if they work to the requirements of the international management standards such as ISO 9001 (quality) & 14001 (environment).  But these standards have become widely viewed as the benchmark for measuring how well a business is run that they have the highest weighting with public sector procurement managers but why is this so?

Last weeks significant meeting was with the head of procurement of a local borough council, accompanying Jill Poet from ORB (The Organisation for Responsible Business), he explained why they rate the ISO management standards so highly when reviewing tenders; as tax payers, we all need to believe that our council is spending our money wisely and management standards provide him with confidence that a business is run soundly and is capable of delivering the promised products or services.  Would you be happy if your council using your money to employ cowboys?

ISO 9001 in particular provides a very broad approach to business management, each clause touches on a specific core business activity such as training, product design or communication but does not dictate how an individual business should go about it.  By taking this approach, it is possible for every business to shape its management system to fit in with its own way of working.

In addition to a manual which contains information such as your statement of intent (policy), objectives and organisation etc.  there are only 6 mandatory documented procedures (which easily can be merged to 3), each of which has a very real place in business management as follows:

Contol of Documents – How do you ensure everyone is singing from the same song sheet?

Control of Records – Ensuring records are kept in good order

Internal Audit – Checking your business is working effectively

Control of Non-conforming Product – How do you make sure a faulty widget doesn’t end up with your customers.

Corrective Action – What do you do when something goes wrong?

Preventive Action – You anticipate something could go wrong, how do you prevent it?

There are likely to be addtional procedures each business needs but, depending on the knowledge, experience and skills of staff, may or may not require documentation in the early stages of a management system's development.

ISO 9001 is a pragmatic business management tool which can help your business run more smoothly and your customers will love you for it because they know they’ll be able to count on you to deliver quality products and services on time, every time.

Having no rules has its place in business, it remains important to be able to tap into your creative side to allow ideas to flow but in the day to day running of your business, using tried and tested business management methods can support a business through the practicalities of day to day operations and growth.

Another bad week for the oil industry with another rig explosion – a clear case for stronger regulation of the off shore oil industry in US not to be confused with over regulation in day to day life.

As this week closes the US offshore oil industry rolls into yet another week of bad publicity after an explosion on a rig leaves 13 people stranded in the Gulf of Mexico fortunately the well was out of commission at the time so avoided a spill and this time all involved survived by putting into practice evacuation drills that will have been rehearsed time and time again, essential to all who work in high risk industries

As I read the article, as well as heaving a sigh of relief for the survivors and absence of environmental disaster, I wonder what the future has in store for off shore drilling, one thing for sure is it’ll become more highly regulated as the findings from investigations are transformed into legal requirements.

In this case, it the legal intervention is essential to prevent hazardous cutting of corners but at the same time wonder whether businesses in general will become increasingly tied up with regulations.

I believe that businesses need to be held responsible, that guidelines must be set and adherence monitored to protect both people and the environment but can’t help but be concerned that small businesses could be deterred from fear of falling foul of multiple layers of red tape and regulation.

Legal requirements do not have to be as terrifying as they can at first appear, there is a huge amount of guidance available on the implementation of common sense guidelines from both the Health & Safety Executive and the Environment Agency and serve to act as much as protection for businesses as for their workforce, the environment and stakeholders.

All recognised management standards have at their core a requirement that businesses know what regulations apply to them and have means by which to monitor compliance, these requirements are to encourage businesses to become proactive in managing risks by preventing non-compliance and subsequent incidents as are being suffered by the US off shore oil industry these last few months

Rampaging coach drivers with road rage, lessons in discipline for small businesses.

Rather than taking inspiration from the news, I’m going to tell you a story about my being chased by a coach driver with road rage and use this example to explain more about how a management system could help his employers.

A few weeks ago I unintentionally upset a local coach driver and found myself being pursued down the road by the driver (in his rather large coach) for nearly a mile, I wasn’t imagining things, this was deliberate and included his racing up to me, hooting and slamming his breaks on just inches from my bumper (I was turning right and he could easily have passed me). To say his driving was intimidating is an understatement and I’m not a nervous driver by any means.

On safely arriving home, feeling flustered I called my mum for a chat and mentioned this event, she’d come across other people who’d refused to travel with this company so I decided I ought to speak to them.

I had a good reception from the manager who appeared to have had issues with this driver in the past but as I had been unable to get his registration, it would be difficult to follow up with disciplinary action.

When I mentioned my profession he opened up to me that he finds discipline a minefield, he, like many employers, believes it impossible to fire poor performers.

The lesson from this is that with a good management system, where objectives, expectations and standards are clearly communicated and enforced, management of performance becomes more straightforward; this coach company had failed to ensure that drivers knew what was expected of them and was therefore unable to react appropriately when things went wrong.

The thing to remember in employment when following through a disciplinary process is the importance of employers acting in a “reasonable” manner where policies and procedures are laid out and followed, ISO 9001 requires employers to “ensure that its personnel are aware of the relevance and importance of their activities” and how they contribute to the business along with monitoring staff performance and any interventions to make sure the action has worked. For small businesses it may also be worth working with an HR consultancy such as Flexible HR to develop a staff manual and ensure your HR policies and procedures are suitable.

Whether for climate change or increased fuel and waste charges, whatever the motivation, can you afford not to manage your environmental impact?

Last night’s Panorama on BBC1 focussed on the ongoing debate about climate change, is it happening or not; they went around to the top climate experts in the world and found that even the scientists who are most sceptical agreed that it is likely to be happening and that the behaviour of humans is at least partially responsible.

Whether you are a believer or not, I think I am or at least, looking at the data available believe that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck then it probably is a duck, no business owner can turn a blind eye to the fact that environmental taxes are increasing running costs.

At the international climate summits held between the leaders of the worlds countries, a principle known as “The Precautionary Principle” has been adopted, nobody is certain that climate change is happening but we can’t afford to ignore it because if we get it wrong, it’ll be too late.

The next enviromental principle being adopted internationally is “The Polluter Pays” which BP are feeling very acutely at present.

It is these principles which are behind the application of the Climate Change Levy which businesses will find on their site’s fuel bill; the Land Fill tax, Pollution Prevention and Control Licenses and environmental penalties for people that offend.

Although I would not recommend to all small businesses that they achieve the Environmental Management Standard ISO 14001, which is geared towards minimising the environmental charges listed above, I would relish the opportunity to work with business of all sizes to investigate their environmental costs and see what, if anything, could be changed to reduce this impact. Reduce your running costs and score points with the environmentally aware, what could be better?

2010! A bad year for the oil industry as failure to take preventive action leads to catastrophic chains of events. Does prevention of business risk get the time it deserves in your company?

A few weeks ago I wrote with great optimism that BP were undertaking corrective action to stem the flow of oil at Deepwater, since then it has lurched from crisis to crisis, a public relations nightmare that could still bring the business to its knees. Along with the clean up expenses, there will also be a major investigation into whether this catastrophe of epic proportions could have been prevented.

On Monday 21st June 2010 the news broke that a witness has claimed that a critical piece of safety equipment at Deepwater, the blowout preventer, had failed and been shut down prior to the accident. For more detail see

At the same time, it has been reported that at the conclusion of the prosecution for "failing to take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents" leading to the explosion at the Total and Chevron controlled oil depot in Buncefield, Hertfordshire in December 2005; 3 companies have been held responsible for the explosion after a series of sensors failed to warn that tank 912, which contained unleaded petrol, was overfull causing a dangerous build up of explosive fumes to collect at the top of tank leading to the explosion.

It is apparent that these incidents both occurred due to a break down in the management systems being operated on site; where the businesses appear to have failed to take preventive action when it was required.

Preventive action is a key requirement of the management standards ISO 9001 (Quality), ISO 14001 (Environment) and BS OHSAS 18001 (Health & Safety), the aim of this requirement is to encourage businesses to be proactive in managing risks to the business whether identifying where customer services break down or ensuring that preventive maintenance is carried out.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for employers with Government promises to check the compensation culture?

I’m sure many employers last week breathed a sigh of relief at the news of the Government plans to encourage a more common sense approach to Health and Safety. I believe the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be equally relieved as they are frequently blamed for some of the dafter “Elf & Safety” initiatives and have to issue disclaimers that they are not responsible for councils banning lamp post mounted flower baskets in fear of falling flowers or children not being allowed to paddle on a school trip.

Unions have voiced their concern that this initiative of the Coalition Government may put employees at risk. I very much doubt this would be the case for now at least, there is a growing paternalistic culture in the UK which will always seek to protect the vulnerable.

It is this culture that will always mean that the requirement to have a robust Health and Safety Management System, with clear risk assessments and evidence of training, will reap benefits for all businesses.

The Management Standard BS OHSAS 18001 is a framework of best practice which, if implemented, could go a long way to reducing the likelihood of accidents which lead to lost time, profits and potentially legal action.

Sustainability! Proof it works and as a result Cod and Chips is back on the menu.

A couple of months ago my teenage niece, Olivia, and her school team won the Southampton Business Enterprise scheme. While discussing her victory she told me that her teachers keep banging on about sustainability. I avoided the opportunity to get on my soap box about how it can lead to long term benefits but will be emailing her this blog when it is finished.

Last week there was a breakthrough reported in the news providing evidence that when businesses work together to act for the benefit of the environment they too can reap the benefits. The WWF announced that cod is now being caught sustainably off the coast of North East England, apparently stocks of the fish have increased by 52% since 2006. This was achieved by taking drastic measures that at the time appeared to be the end of the great British favourite, Cod and Chips. The supermarkets looked for alternative fillings for fish fingers but they were never the same; now, things are looking up, we’re not out of the woods yet but this proves “short term pain for long term gain” applies in business.

Some efforts to improve the sustainability of your business can result in having to make capital investment or spend time and money on feasibility studies; at present with the economic climate as it is, businesses are reluctant to take the step towards sustainability, maybe the news of this success will offer encouragement.

The environmental management standard ISO 14001 requires businesses to carry out an environmental review, to draw a line in the sand, from which point they can then seek to improve, in my opinion, as with most management standard requirements, this is solid business sense - without an objective review, how can you measure improvement? Last weeks news shows that after that line was drawn, the stakeholders were able to work together and now a ll can reap the benefits and I’ll be first in the queue at the chippy.

“Talking and Listening” lessons for business from this weeks political to-ings and fro-ings.

Last night the media was in a frenzy. On television, we were treated to unending shots of a silver Jaguar sitting in traffic which the broadcasters hoped was carrying the future Prime Minister to Buckingham Palace. After several days of negotiations between the Liberals and both the Labour and Conservative parties we were told that talks had broken down between the Liberal and the Labour parties and that the Conservatives had been more receptive to negotiate despite differences in their political manifesto’s and beliefs which had led to an agreement that they could govern together as a coalition.

What we saw last night was something that occurs regularly in business. That the people who are most prepared to talk, listen and negotiate are those who win, that its not a sign of weakness to seek middle ground whether in politics or business.

In the management standard ISO 9001, customer focus is a key requirement for certification, it specifies that businesses must develop communication processes to inform their customers about their products and services while also ensuring that they fully understand the customer’s requirements. If there are gaps between what is offered and what is required then negotiations should ensue until essential common ground is found or the order should be declined.

People say that talk is cheap, but in business it is invaluable when paired with listening to what your customers are telling you.

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