It’s a New Year! It’s a New Decade! It’s the perfect time to write about goals and objectives! Did you join countless others on December 31st who made promises at midnight – have you kept them? Well done if you have.
In recent months, we’ve supported many clients on certification and surveillance audits for their ISO management standards. A recurring theme at audit has been ‘Objective setting’. I’m led to believe that UKAS, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, has raised nonconformances on several certification bodies who failed to audit this area of the ISO standards effectively.
At Spedan, our purpose is to help organisations maximise the benefits of using ISO management standards. We have been exploring the rationale for setting and achieving business goals with realistic objectives. If this is understood and applied, then sustainable success is achievable. Using the model process below, adapted from the ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’ approach used in ISO 9001, there are key steps that provide clarity of purpose, effective use of data and evaluation with positive impact. These steps help accomplish great results and provide a platform for future, sustainable success.
In the topic of goal and objective setting, there are many definitions and terms that can be used. Ultimately, the important thing is to be consistent and this will enable you to communicate your approach to your teams and interested parties.
Also important to remember is that goals and objectives can be set at different levels in the organisation, and can differ between organisations. Critically, organisations should decide for themselves what is appropriate and proportionate although the process used to manage them may be similar to the one outlined here.
The first step in the process is to set a goal. In the terminology of ISO 9001, a goal is a desired ‘outcome’. When documented, this becomes a helpful guide for the ‘scope’ or ‘purpose’ of strategies or objectives that are set. It may even help a management team consider the rationale for its whole management system.
ISO 9001 sets out a useful framework of goals for Quality Management that users of the Standard can adapt to their situation, for example:
• Enhance customer satisfaction….
• Achieve sustained success….
• Provide customers with confidence….
At first glance, these may be generic but there are real business benefits to them. Managing quality concepts to enhance customer satisfaction can lead to further business opportunities, greater sales revenue or new markets. Sustainable success can lead to financial security and improved investment, and confident customers could lead to more opportunities for innovation and leadership.
Objectives underpin the goals and break them down into achievable parts. It is normal that multiple objectives might be associated to an overall goal. For example, if your stated goal is to
‘Provide customers with confidence in the products we sell’
then the Objectives might include:
The better these objectives are detailed, the more effective they become. Many readers will be familiar with ‘SMART’; Be specific, set measures that can be tracked, sense-check the objective and make sure it’s achievable, be realistic in your ambition and resource the objectives properly, and finally, set a time limit. Deadlines are invaluable for achieving objectives.
Detailing the example objectives above could improve them. For example, add dates or percentage targets such as these examples show:
In line with the commitment to Leadership in ISO 9001, an organisation should ensure that objectives have resources allocated to them. Resources should include people that have defined roles, responsibilities and authorities to ensure they are achieved.
Quality objectives with clearly defined targets help with the ‘measures’ that are set and inform the data requirements for monitoring activity. Objectives can be qualitative or quantitative, but a defined measure of success should be defined to help them be achieved. In ISO 9001, there is no specific requirement for type, although ISO 9004, which is the ISO standard for sustained success identifies that quantitative measures are preferable.
The third step in the process is to monitor and report progress. The use of data that measures progress will help to identify actions that are needed to ensure momentum is maintained. Using the examples above, monitoring data could be collected at a regular point in time, and measure
Data such as this is invaluable; it enables fact-based decision making and serves as evidence to auditors or customers that progress on the objectives set is being taken seriously. Larger organisations that may have investors or shareholders would certainly require data as evidence of progress.
The final step in the process is to evaluate progress. The value of evaluating progress is that regardless the level of success achieved, lessons can be learned that will be useful in defining future goals and objectives.
Referencing the examples used above, if the desired number of salespeople that were trained is less than required, an exploration of the root-cause may identify situations such as insufficient numbers of training staff, or other activities that prevented training taking place. As a result, actions can be taken, or objectives reviewed.
Within the Plan-Do-Check-Act framework of ISO 9001, evaluations can take place as part of a management review process. If the organisation so chooses, it can carry out the evaluation separately, but should be aware that the results of such evaluations can be beneficial to the organisation as a whole and may inform or influence other actions.
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Adam has been working on Quality and Environmental management systems for most of his career in small, medium and corporate organisations. A keen advocate of the ISO approach as a platform for improvement, Adam ensures that systems are practical and useful for Managers and Staff to use.
Following a number of years working on software development projects, Adam has diversified into Information Security and Business Continuity management. Keen to formalise his industry experience, he is currently undertaking a Diploma in Business Continuity Management at Buckingham University.
Adam has a PhD from Cranfield University and now supports the MSc Environmental Management programmes through the advisory panel and visiting lectures.
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