If I can’t understand it, then it can’t be important

I was working with a company the other day, let’s call them MedTech Engineers Ltd, and they had a problem that needed solving; two members of the senior management team! Pillar One of Flintloque’s “Five Pillars of Quality” TM is management review and communication. It is Pillar One because it is the most important part of any management system, formal or otherwise as it concerns how managers determine what is happening and make informed decisions. Medtech Engineers Ltd were having difficulty with this.

There is a phenomenon seen in weaker management systems that the amount of time spent discussing “something” is inversely proportional to how important that “something” is. I’ve encountered this many times when helping companies to implement management systems and it never ceases to amaze me. Picture the scene (this isn’t absolutely true, but it’ll do): the senior management team at Medtech Engineers Ltd held a planning meeting with an agenda containing just two items. Those items were: putting up a new sign outside the building, and allocating responsibilities and authorities to the personnel. Which do you think got more agenda time?

Obviously, the answer should be “the allocation of responsibilities and authorities”, but in this case the question of “what colour should we make our new sign” won hands down! As I’ve said, this is a known phenomenon and the reasons for it are well understood. I don’t have time to go into the detail here, but part of the explanation involves the desire of managers, especially senior managers, to be seen to be contributing, and, presumably, justifying their salaries. When presented with two things, one of which they know little about, weaker managers over compensate and hold forth on the only part of the conversation where they can make an impact. This is to mistake “noise” for “communication”, “activity” for “progress”.

This has always been something that I’ve worked with companies to eradicate within their meetings, making those meetings more efficient in the process (they make decisions that are actually worth making), but it is even more important to sort this out now as the new version of ISO 9001: 2015 requires the top management to demonstrate their understanding and their leadership.

Now, there were a couple of senior managers within Medtech Engineers Ltd who were of the “If I don’t understand it, then it can’t be important” school of management. Watching them within the meeting was fascinating. One came from a technical background and the other from a marketing background. They both went on at great length about the importance of the size, the colour, the material, the font, etc., of the new sign, but as soon as the subject of responsibilities and authorities came up, their behaviours changed. Their sentences become shorter, their overall contribution reduced and they kept making statements that implied that the topic had been dealt with and they’d like to move on or that the subject wasn’t really worth the time that it was being given as “everybody knows what they are responsible for”.

Fortunately, the CEO is from the “competent leadership is important” school of management and we have devised a project implementation plan to get MedTech Engineers Ltd registered to both ISO 9001: 2015 and ISO 13485: 2012. This involves a good slug of time being dedicated to ensuring that the senior managers in general, and these two in particular, understand the meaning of the words “competence” and leadership”, as they are defined within the Standards. I’ll let you know next year how the behaviours of the senior managers have changed and what this tells us about the benefits of the implementation process.