Whether during normal operations or in times of upheaval and uncertainty, organisations are justifiably concerned with how their employees are engaged at work. To achieve the quality management system’s objectives requires an “all hands on deck” effort.

A focus on people engagement is, ideally, a priority for any organisation. But how can it be achieved? In April 2020, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published the ISO 10018:2020 Quality management — Guidance for people engagement. (It replaces the previous ISO 10018:2012 Quality management — Guidelines on people involvement and competence.)

ISO 10018:2020 reads: “This document gives guidelines for engaging people in an organisation’s quality management system and on enhancing their involvement and competence within it.”

Here are some insights into its approach.

Context of the organisation and quality culture

No matter what the industry, there are various ways that employees can have an impact on quality. I recall having a conversation with a business owner whose major concern was that some of his employees did not see quality control as part of their responsibilities. This is where a quality-centred culture comes in.

ISO 10018:2020 recognises that organisations are faced with challenges and opportunities. It notes that there are “different approaches to quality, and the development of quality cultures in which people see quality as central to their workplace identity is one such approach”.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Ashwin Srinivasan and Bryan Kurey noted that: “Creating a culture of quality pinpoints four factors that drive quality as a cultural value: leadership emphasis, message credibility, peer involvement, and employee ownership of quality issues.”

Leadership, planning and strategy

In 2015, ISO published a document on the seven “quality management principles”, one of those being leadership. It stated that: “Leaders at all levels establish unity of purpose and direction and create conditions in which people are engaged in achieving the organisation’s quality objectives.”

The terms leadership and management are sometimes used interchangeably. In this context, leadership provides the strategic direction, whereas management coordinates and directs the organisation. Leaders and managers should avoid an “arm’s length” approach if they are to realise an engaged workforce. As US author John C Maxwell wrote, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”

People have an undeniable impact on the quality of products and services provided by an organisation. For them to be engaged, they need to be aware of the organisation’s short-, medium- and long-term vision and strategic direction. People seek clarity from their leaders on the direction the organisation is taking. In times of uncertainty, such as we are currently experiencing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a risk-based strategic realignment is inevitable.

Knowledge, awareness and competence

An emphasis on knowledge and awareness will increasingly contribute to the desired performance in an organisation. ISO 10018:2020 states that “the organisation should analyse the results of the performance of people through such means as performance reviews, periodic evaluations and on-site reviews”.

This can be a daunting task for organisations that do not have performance review processes. However, they can gradually introduce quality metrics in their operations through appropriate communication and consultation. The concern for any individual is whether the performance review process is fairly applied.

Organisations that maintain and improve their quality management in line with the ISO 9001:2015 Quality management systems – Requirements standard are no strangers to competence requirements.

ISO 9001:2015 clause 7.1.6 “Organisational knowledge” requires that “the organisation shall determine the knowledge necessary for the operation of its processes and to achieve conformity of products and services”. The acquisition of the required skills and competencies also enables people to be engaged.


ISO 10018:2020 states that “the organisation should ensure the continual improvement of its strategies, policies and activities relevant to people engagement”.

A quality culture should continually be reinforced in alignment with the organisation’s vision and strategic direction. This should be complemented by a working climate that embraces improvement, learning and development, where training, knowledge and awareness are effectively and constantly used to engage people.

A reminder from the words of author Betty Bender: “When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.”

About The Author

Hope Mugagga Kiwekete is a managing consultant at the Centre for Enterprise Sustainability. Previously he was a principal consultant risk management at Transnet Freight Rail, a management systems specialist and senior EHS auditor at the South African Bureau of Standards. He has practised as a management systems consultant, trainer and auditor in the fields of risk management, environment, energy, occupational health and safety and quality management in various industry sectors in eastern and southern Africa and Southeast Asia.

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