Opinion: Are standards really worth it?
Mike Taylor, Turner and Townsend, asks if getting certified to a standard is a cost or an opportunity.
As I move around and talk to clients during my consultancy commissions, I hear more and more organisations stating that certifying to a standard is just like getting ‘a badge’? Well for most organisations this revolves not just around costs, but also the lack of improvements they are seeing in their business.
Let me state at the outset that I am a strong believer in having robust management process in place to ensure that we can meet our obligations, targets, strategies and drive for continual improvement. The gains that have been made in performance over the past decade or so have been a quantum leap – particularly for health, safety and environmental (HS&E) management.
However, many organisations are forced into certifying to a standard by customers and/or suppliers, to demonstrate a perceived level of effectiveness in the supply chain, or are in the position of having to tender for work on a regular basis. In this case having their HS&E management processes certificated allows them to circumvent many tender pre-qualification activities. The question is, how many of these certification schemes drive improvement, and actually increase the competency and effectiveness of the organisation – or are they just a rubber stamp? Any certification which doesn’t deliver improvement has to be questioned as just a way of generating money – and therefore cost.
One factor to remember is that certification can be as effective as a MOT certificate for a vehicle – it was ok when it was assessed, but over the intervening time has maybe deteriorated and become ineffective – or at worst perilous! Ah, I hear you say, but in larger schemes, that is what the internal audit is for. I agree, but how many of you have been involved in an internal audit process which is at best in-effectual, and at worst useless? Equally, how many external auditors actually dig into the internal audit process and verify its effectiveness? And yes, I have seen and been involved with management systems where the only maintenance that gets done is once per year, just before the certification visit – again, think about a vehicle MOT.
One recent focus area for many organisations, is the use a framework approach for effective management, whereby the framework specifies ‘what’ needs to be done (and provides a series of auditable requirements to demonstrate this) rather than ‘how’. This leaves the organisation free to tailor their management processes – describing the ‘how’ – to whatever process they wish – sometimes this will be a recognised standard, sometimes not. Where this has real benefits is for organisations who have operation around the globe and need to comply with different requirements in different countries; e.g. Europe and North America. In this case the system may not be ‘certifiable’, but so what if it drives tangible improvement.
So, is certification an opportunity or a cost – well it can be both. Any system that drives improvement and effectiveness has to be a good thing – if it doesn’t, then it just becomes a cost weighing business down. Let’s get back to driving continual improvement rather than getting ‘a badge’.
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