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It’s one thing to bring people on board, but how do you keep your employees motivated, productive and happy? ISO standards have the solutions to better manage your workforce.

It is often felt that recruitment is a lottery. You interview candidates, make a shortlist and finally settle on the best person for the job. Or so you think. Many top employees begin to lose interest when they feel that their skills and talents are being underutilized. That’s why empowerment through career coaching and training can bring your demotivated star players back to life.

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The truth is, employees with a high level of engagement in the workplace are more likely to contribute to their employer’s success. Online training provider eduCBA reports that organizations that are successful in the 21st century value the skills of their people at 85 % of their total assets. People may be defined as “intangible assets” in that they are not easily accounted for in monetary terms like factories, machinery or products, yet it is those same people who will stay longer in their jobs and work actively to contribute to improvements in the systems and outputs of their organizations if they feel respected and supported.

Two ISO standards on people management have undergone an update to include useful steps on how the value of an employee can be enhanced, extended and nurtured. And it’s not just the content that’s had a facelift, the titles have been revised too. ISO 10015 has become Quality management – Guidelines for competence management and people development, and ISO 10018 is now Quality management – Guidelines for people engagement. Both International Standards present practical steps for managers and leaders to follow, adopt and measure. These standards are designed to be regularly referred to and not simply handed to employees in binders and then left to gather dust on the shelf.

Aligning the experts

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Published by ISO’s technical committee ISO/TC 176 (quality management and quality assurance), through its subcommittee SC 3 for supporting technologies, with input from technical committee ISO/TC 260 (human resource management), both standards are based on the process-oriented concepts of ISO 9001 for quality management. John J. Guzik, who serves as participating member on the US Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO/TC 176, explains that the two standards rely heavily on the definitions found within ISO 9000:2015, Quality management systems – Fundamentals and vocabulary, but also make this information more accessible.

“When it comes down to people, quality management systems (QMS) are often considered as being technical or inaccessible guidelines for compliance that bear little reality to the work or products they are involved in making.” During his career, Guzik was a quality manager at two large US packaging firms. “ I worked my way up from the plant floor, so I understand how quality management systems need to be accessible and understandable to the employees, and not be a burden to them.”

ISO 10015 provides guidelines to help organizations and their managers design appropriate and timely training for their staff. With the ongoing quest for continuous improvement and rapid changes in markets, technology and customer needs, organizations must regularly evaluate what skills and competencies their people need if they are to remain successful and competitive today.

Fellow ISO/TC 176 member Mark Eydman agrees that the standard is a good fit for most organizations. “ISO 10015 is all about how to build competence and develop people to make quality management happen. It considers requirements at the organizational, team level and individual level. It adopts a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and is a perfect partner with ISO 10018.”

A game changer

With more investors demanding that public companies invest in human capital and engagement, the arrival of ISO 10018 promises to shake up the marketplace for traditional engagement solutions. It works by establishing an accepted framework that focuses on better integration of engagement strategies across an organization.

ISO 10018 recognizes that it can be difficult encouraging staff to take up quality management systems and understand how they are relevant to their daily work. The standard includes guidelines on how to enhance people’s involvement and competence within an organization and feel a valued part of it.

Dr Ron McKinley, former Chair of ISO/TC 260 on human resource management, who worked primarily on ISO 10018, agrees that it accompanies ISO 10015 but with a greater focus on the people. “Organizations are nothing more than a collective of people. Without people designing the product, making the product and using the product, there is no organization.”

Engaged and happy

Mixed-aged, multi-ethnic group of colleagues having a work discussion.

The term “people engagement” has been around for a couple of decades and is an oft used buzzword, yet many organizations and managers are not entirely sure what it means. ISO 10018 provides clear definitions on how it relates to employees in an organization and how to enhance their involvement and competence within that organization. “People engagement means much more than being present as an employee; it means making an active contribution, feeling genuinely valued and achieving quality outcomes for your organization,” Eydman says.

McKinley goes further, explaining that the term “people engagement” used to mean organizations trying to find out if their people at work were “happy”. Two decades ago, the notion was that happy people would work harder and make better products, resulting in happier customers. He observes that surveys were often conducted, and action plans written, but they tended to lack a strategic and systematic approach which meant that they did not necessarily encourage people to stay at an organization.

“ISO 10018 applies to everyone, not just employees. It’s an ʻenterpriseʼ or organizational approach that includes vendors, investors and customers. Defining ʻpeople engagementʼ means that all people who are actively involved in the organization are doing so in a positive way. By ʻpeopleʼ, we mean anyone who encounters that organization: vendors, customers, owners, investors, staff.”

For employees, engagement means that they should have some ownership of the issues that are relevant to their jobs within the organization. “If they liaise with vendors, then they should have input into assessing current vendors or selecting new ones. That way, people will have a vested interest in the organization and be allowed to assert a reasonable amount of control and endure less micromanagement.”

Engaged organizations will have well-thought-out ways of developing their staff. Their aim is to have people there for a career, not just a job. Successful organizations often provide opportunities for staff to move to different areas within the organization to learn new skills and enhance their expertise. “While management still ultimately decides on promotions and training, staff should be able to see that a career trajectory is achievable within the organization and that their development is encouraged and valued,” McKinley says.

Evaluating success

Close shot of bicycle mechanic repairing a wheel while a salesman attends a client in the background.

Several metrics can be used to measure the success of people engagement. Turnover, in ISO 10018, does not mean financial profit or loss, but staff attrition. The aim for all organizations is to lower this rate. When people leave, they take their knowledge with them. Recruitment and training costs organizations money and a loss of human capital can be difficult to replace or replicate.

Customer satisfaction is also important. Customers are stakeholders who are actively affected by the organization and can provide valuable information for service and product improvement, which ensures that they will keep returning. McKinley cites company call centres as a good measure of satisfaction because they are the first point of contact for customers experiencing problems with a service or product and provide opportunities for organizations to collect data. “This is commonly known as the ʻgrudge-buying industry’ that deals with unhappy clients, and endeavours to resolve their problems and leave them satisfied after they hang up the phone. Bonuses for staff can be offered on customer satisfaction levels and not the volume of calls received, so that staff feel valued for the personal service and skills they use.”

Staff competence and development should be a collective aspect of the organization and not just for specific individuals, Guzik points out. People need to see the connection between their current work and how further training can provide more opportunities within the organization. “If they see that their organization is investing in their skills through training and other career tracks, they will feel engaged.”

What will we learn?

With these ideals in mind, what can busy managers and business owners expect? Practical measures, solutions and achievable steps. ISO 10018 was written for an audience of managers and leaders who realize the importance of staff retention and engagement, but don’t necessarily know where to start. Eydman explains: “We came up with six key areas where we believe that, if leaders give them attention, they will achieve a higher level of people engagement within their organization. The first three – strategy, culture and leadership – are perhaps the key principles.”

ISO 10018 proposes that quality management can only flourish in a setting where leadership is being demonstrated; the “do as I do” instead of “do as I say” approach. Strategy is a simple planning process to achieve your vision. ISO 10018 shows that if you want people to undertake a quality-driven journey with you, then they must understand the path to get there and the destination.

Farmers picking fresh tomatoes.

“Culture is very interesting,” says Eydman, “as it defines the rules, beliefs and behaviours that operate within an organization. Essentially, this is what happens when managers and leaders aren’t looking. It works alongside leadership, as leaders set the example.” Therefore, the other three principles – training and development, knowledge and awareness, and improvement – are intended to show people that they are valued and connected to the organization.

Never too small

Ultimately, both ISO 10015 and ISO 10018 are useful for any organization that employs more than two people. From small local businesses to large corporate conglomerates, the dynamics are the same, McKinley explains. “Internal issues include ensuring that management keeps all staff informed about issues that affect them; that there is a top-down, down-up and sideways flow of information from all levels of staff, effective liaison with customers, and a good relationship with vendors. All of these aspects result in customers receiving the quality product or service that they’re paying for.”

There is an added bonus. The QMS principles are applicable to other management systems. “While these guidelines were originally written for quality management systems, they can be applied to any management system such as environmental systems and occupational health and safety,” Guzik says.

And if that’s not reason enough, there are also the cost savings, according to McKinley. “Ultimately, the beauty of an ISO standard is that for a small company that cannot afford to hire a large consulting firm to do the work, they can buy this standard instead, apply the strategies and it will help them.”


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