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Competence and Awareness in Quality Management

Management Systems rest on a fundamental principle of good management. That is, to ensure staff competence at their jobs. The effective management team must ensure that personnel can perform their job role to the best of their ability. The “Competence and Awareness” requirements of ISO 9001 set out the principles to help guide the management of an organisation to be compliant with the standard.


The ISO standard provides a framework from which managers can move the organisation forward, one improvement at a time.  We all know that training is one way to help employees perform to the best of their ability in their job or profession. ISO 9001 recognises the need for appropriate staff training. However, the Standard frames the process of managing training in an organised way. It shows that training involves monitoring through competence assessment. Furthermore, that organisations must ensure the employee awareness of not conforming to the requirements of the Standard.

The relevant paragraphs can be summarised as follows…

  • Competence
    • General: Organization must establish a process for assessing existing staff competencies against changing business needs and prevailing trends.
    • Organizations must ensure personnel are aware of the implications of not conforming to the MS requirements.


Training in some organisations has poor outcomes. ‘Training’ often reflects an inducement for the good employees. It is also seen as a stick to beat the other employees. Favoured employees pick the ‘training’ they want and have a ‘nice day out’. Employees with less support from their superiors get sent on courses too. However, they probably don’t want to go on them and the courses are not necessarily useful. This haphazard approach does little to help or develop the organisation overall.

Perhaps this is a somewhat cynical view. Despite this common experience, better, more efficient, organisations would never let that happen.

Training courses are valuable if skills are improved. Formal courses are just one way that staff gain skills


It is better to work toward an ideal. Training procedures should involve a well organised audit of staff competency needs against job requirements and specifications.

Every employee should have a job profile. Part of that profile will show what competencies they need for their job. A further part will show what they currently match against those needs. The gap between required competencies and current competencies identifies the training that employee requires. This ‘gap analysis’ means the management will have the opportunity to develop strategic training plans. It also means better targeted improvement plans for individuals. This leads to a move forward for the individual, as well as likely improvement outcomes for production or services.

An employee profile showing the competencies required for their job, reveals an opportunity. Employees, who are well matched to the needs of the job, show they ready to develop skills for their next move forward. The management can then help develop the employee for future promotion or other development within the company.


There is another strategic implication for understanding the gap between actual competencies and required competencies. The company can use that gap analysis to consider the wider needs of the company. Considering future strategic direction and possible exploitation of opportunities are critical for companies. So, having a good understanding of, and supporting data for, current skills and competencies provides a base for planning the future.


Companies must keep in contact with the market, the social situation, economic climate, opportunities and threats and so on. Future success, and possibly survival, depend on such knowledge. Strategically, management need to bear in mind the wider community and environment in which they operate. The training audit does not only reveal where current skills match required skills. It can also provide information about extra skills for future development. The effective competency audit will also reveal what the company is capable of, with the current staff. Furthermore, it may reveal what skills they might need to recruit for future company needs. In other words, knowing what your employees can do now, can reveal a lot about what the company could do in the future.

Often the strategic goal is for the company to develop and exploit new opportunities or to improve their market position. In that case, staff training is essential to meet those new situations successfully. Fulfilling the requirements for new situations takes research, planning and implementation of training and development.


This is the third broad-scale benefit of the company training audit. A strategic understanding of the employment profiles (and therefore training needs) can help the management understand additional training needs over and above competency training. Market trends, innovation and often economic conditions put stresses on a company. Often, these stresses involve changes in direction or radical new ways of doing things. In this case companies often need to change the prevailing culture. “How we do things here” is an important concept in most companies. But sometimes that needs to change direction for the overall benefit of the company and to invest in the possible futures.


Of course, changing “How we do things here” for the better or to a more responsive company culture is important in agile modern industries. Such changes might include the implementation of a Quality Management System. Here is where the ‘awareness’ clause comes into the standard. Employees don’t only do training for their own benefit. They must accept that they also need training to ensure the company can do the right things for customers and future success. Competence, and training for competence, provides a platform for the improvement of the whole organisation.

Implementing a QMS is one such a situation. Putting a QMS in place takes time and effort. If employees do not understand how a QMS will help improve the company, implementation is likely to fail. Employees need to be aware of the benefits of the QMS. They also need to be trained in its processes, procedures and work instructions. And, perhaps more crucially, they need to understand the consequences of failings in the system, how the system works for continuous improvement and what the long-term aims are for the system – namely overall company improvement.


To change your company, its culture, to improve and develop, you need to bring your employees along with you. It is after all, a strategic journey. The more that employees are aware of the benefits and ways to improve, the more likely they are to be supportive and innovative. To put an effective QMS in place, staff need to support the changes and innovate to meet the challenges. The inclusion of all the staff is important. Furthermore, the new policies, procedures and objectives that a Quality System will deploy must reflect the support of everyone to ensure effective working practice.

Awareness training, culture development and employee engagement in the process all go together. There must be incentives, real benefits and visible improvements for employees to appreciate. It is vital that training takes place at all levels of the organisation. That is especially true around how positive improvements may be put in place. Staff who can see how they will benefit, will participate with vigour. Good moral and staff support will power positive improvements through. Also, empowered and supportive employees will also help to identify poor areas of performance and bad processes.


Matching of required competence to actual competence for each individual goes beyond the individual alone. Such a match is, of course, a benefit for each person receiving training. Afterall, it will help employees develop. However, the benefits penetrate the organisation throughout. It is also a recruitment tool. That is because competency analysis identifies the skills needed to fill posts effectively. It can also help employees get job satisfaction and to gain better positions. However, ultimately, the company will gain from these profiling initiatives. Management have evidence with which to think about what the company needs to, innovate, improve or exploit future opportunities.


Understanding employee competence and awareness of the Quality Management System proves beneficial for all. However, it is also vital for the change of culture, and for the full and endorsed support of the staff. If you want to make a success of implementing your QMS you need to bring everyone on the journey along with you. Everyone needs a full understanding of the process and to be in a positive, supportive frame of mind about its success.

At CHARTER 4 we have helped many companies through the process of gaining a management standard. That experience has shown us the importance of a rigorous and appropriate training programme. Involvement in the Management System is vital for everyone. Most importantly, everyone needs to be able to do the jobs that suite their skill, position and the needs of the business itself. CHARTER 4 follows an important principle. We work to, “Improve your business, rather than just comply” to the management standard. We know the central focus of your business is to improve and serve your customers better. Our business is to support you through  that process. Consequently, we put a strong emphasis on making your training programme a pillar of creating the right conditions for your future success.

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