Myths & Realities of Management Systems

Technical Program Snapshots
April 25, 2001
Talk: “Risk Management in Uncertain Times”
November 8, 2002

Myths & Realities of Management Systems


The success of management systems depends on the culture that exists within the organisation. There is a natural tendency for people to follow rules when they are being observed. The tendency to slow down when you see a police car or a speed camera can be noticed daily. Extending this to an industrial site, employees tend to wear personal protective equipment when they see a safety inspector as if the protective equipment was meant to protect the safety inspector rather than themselves.

In order to ensure that there is a good culture within an organisation, there must be commitment from the top management. Not only should there be a commitment, this must also be made evident. Top management has to set the example for the management systems that they wish to implement. For example, if there is a requirement for wearing PPE, top management needs to set an example that would foster greater attention. Where this is lacking, the employees quickly get the message that the management system is mere “lip service”.

The fact that visible support by management exists does not by itself guarantee success. No management system in the world can eliminate incidents. They can and do contribute significantly to reducing the probability of failure. Cultural change does not happen overnight. It takes a long time to establish. However, it does not take long to destroy a well-established management system.

It is a myth that management systems mean paperwork. But, unfortunately, the way companies have designed systems and a large part of the auditing fraternity have gone about its job, has made this myth into reality. Management systems like ISO 9000/14000 or OHSAS 18000 are meant to support the business by ensuring that the business is conducted considering quality, environment, safety and health. Unfortunately because of the way management systems have been designed their apparent complexity are driving rather than supporting the business. The goals have changed to satisfying auditors and getting a piece of paper to be hung at the reception area!

No one can establish a management system without documentation. But tremendous care needs to be taken to ensure that the documentation supports the system, not drive it. It is simple logic. The more complex the procedures and systems, and the number of procedures, the less people will follow or implement them. Simpler procedures and systems create a better chance of implementation and success.

There is another myth that management systems are a systematic method for quality, environment, health and safety personnel to absolve their responsibility. These personnel contribute little to the overall company risk level compared to the production and maintenance personnel. So it is not a question of passing the buck, but ensuring accountability of line managers for risk management. In fact the quality, environment, health and safety personnel may be working themselves out of their jobs, if they do a good job!

Unfortunately management systems are being used more to apportion the blame rather than being used as a tool for effective communication. Consultation and communication are essential elements of a successful management system. But, the process of consultation and communication has to be with the intention of improving performance rather than apportioning blame if a management system is to be successful.

Another issue that has perturbed companies and weaned them away from implementing management systems is the audit process. Auditors, unfortunately, have taken pride in the number of non-conformances they raise as if this demonstrates their capability as auditors. The fault-finding attitude results in weak programs because people tend to hide or fudge information. This definitely does not contribute to the success of management systems. The objective of the audit should be fact finding and contribution to improvements in the management system.

Management systems are intended to capture the experience of the company personnel in constructive and useful procedures. This ensures that in case employees leave the organisation, the organisation does not suffer from the loss of experience gained by those personnel. It also ensures that the management of risk, whether it is quality, environment, health or safety, are not dependent on failures or accidents but is kept at a uniform level to minimise failures and accidents through operational controls and training.

However, over the years the difference between the myths and realities of management systems has become blurred. What were once considered as myths have become realities. This trend is quite worrying as it is unproductive. Companies should not spend time, money and resources to satisfy a few auditors and obtain a nice certificate to hang on the wall. Rather the use of management systems should be justified by the improvements in the company performance.

Unless companies arrest this dangerous trend, the utility value of management systems is going to remain a myth rather than reality.

Contributed by Srinivasan R,
Senior Consultant with NOVO Environmental technology Services Pte. Ltd.
Phone 7779985.

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