Right, Wrong, Good, Bad or Indifferent?

What SR means to the quality professional

by Diane G. Kulisek

Although the new guidance standard for social responsibility (SR), ISO 26000, will be a completely voluntary guidance standard—not a certification standard1—how best to implement and sustain the organizational behaviors it will prescribe deserves some pondering. SR is pretty new, and the definition is still evolving. Most references indicate it started appearing between 2002 and 2003, and QP readers were introduced to it in 2006.2

The ISO 26000 guidance standard was released in draft form last September and is projected to be published sometime this year. ASQ members have been invited to comment on the draft, which can be downloaded from the ASQ website.3

What’s the big deal about SR?

ASQ provides a simple definition of SR: "People and organizations must behave ethically and with sensitivity toward social, cultural, economic and environmental issues."4

Additionally, ASQ cites the International Standards Organization: "All companies and organizations aiming at long-term profitability and credibility are starting to realize that they must act in accordance with norms of right and wrong." Thus, there is a probable bottom-line impact associated with SR for organizations that would like to be sustainable.

Is there such thing as "norms of right and wrong" that can be accepted on a global level? Perhaps that is what will be addressed by creating this standard. To do so, we need to deal with more than just ethics. We need to address morality and values, and we need to be aware that beliefs vary from person to person, community to community, organization to organization and, certainly, country to country.

Will we be able to overcome the differences in our values and morality to foster a better future for our world and a better quality of life for us all? Addressing the potential for conflicting views about what constitutes the "norms of right and wrong" will be a formidable challenge for SR champions.

Finding SR leaders

Where will SR champions come from? In a previous Career Corner column, Hank Lindborg attempted to identify the role quality professionals can play in SR.5 He indicated we could become active in developing related standards, such as AA1000, an Assurance Standard authored by the U.K.’s Institute for Social and Ethical Accountability during the 1990s.

Lindborg also cited an SR activities auditor as another possible role for quality professionals, working within an organization or as an external consultant. While it seems Lindborg was saying that training quality practitioners for fulfillment of this role could take 100 to 120 hours, he may also have been advocating the possibility that quality practitioners could provide some or all of this training to others.

Since a couple years have passed, I decided to ask some of my LinkedIn6 colleagues what they thought about SR today. Shaun Sayers, managing director and founder of consulting firm Capable People,7 says SR is a strategic matter and is not necessarily quality related.

On the other end of the spectrum, Peter Gaul,8 principal consultant at OSHEM Solutions, sees quality professionals as playing crucial roles in SR. Most other opinions fell somewhere in between.

The following is a synopsis of what I learned from more than a dozen colleagues about the emerging roles of quality-related professionals with regard to SR.

Business as usual

Just as some may say quality is everybody’s responsibility, we all have social responsibilities, which could make the quality professional’s role in SR somewhat indifferent. The caution here is that, sometimes, when everybody is responsible, nobody is actually held responsible.

Another sentiment expressed by my LinkedIn colleagues is that we must add value without causing harm. I thought this was an interesting statement because the very premise of being socially responsible is that we need to make things better and not worse.

The most common remark from my colleagues promoting a business-as-usual role had to do with the belief that SR is just another aspect of quality and, therefore, an effective quality management system (QMS) already addresses SR. Specifically, a QMS usually requires we comply with statutory and regulatory requirements, and provide for workplace environments that are safe and conducive to quality outcomes. These are key elements of SR.

One minor variation of this theme was that, where the QMS may fall short, occupational health and safety or environmental management systems—such as those that support Restriction of Hazardous Substances or Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals9—will carry SR across the finish line.

Pursuing what is right and good

The vast majority of responses about the quality professional’s role in SR had to do with proactively extending our involvement. This may not seem too surprising considering most of the responses came from consultants.

There will certainly be opportunities for consultants to help organizations facilitate SR. But, even among those who are not getting paid consulting fees, being proactive about SR was cited as the best way to get involved. Being proactive includes:

  • Providing focus, defining scope, taking the lead and serving as an agent for change.
  • Taking SR personally, being a living example of it and leveraging individual commitment to encourage others to take similar action.
  • Becoming knowledgeable about and communicating the implications of SR in all activities.
  • Applying quality skills, tools, methods and approaches to SR initiatives.
  • Extending the role of the quality-related professional to include the environment, climate change, waste management, health, safety, general well being, education and training, human rights and quality of life.

Taking action against what is wrong or bad

After decades of hearing people sneer at quality control personnel with the same vehemence some reserve for law enforcement, I don’t usually recommend quality professionals perform any role even remotely resembling one that could earn them the reputation of being a cop. The tide, however, seems to have turned on that with SR.

More than one colleague indicated that the larger an organization is in relation to the community it serves, the more socially responsible it should be. Government organizations, in particular, were cited as needing to be held to this standard.

Another colleague noted the quality professional’s role should include accountability for reporting SR violations and injustices to law enforcement authorities and for taking action to halt further socially irresponsible actions.

Yet another colleague noted the quality professional should avoid the temptation—when under economic pressure, such as being threatened with job loss—to respond to issues in ways that are not socially responsible.

SR and you

So what will your role be with regard to SR? What has it been so far?

ASQ created the Spencer Hutchens Jr. Medal10 to recognize the achievements of individuals who demonstrate outstanding leadership as a person, business leader and cause advocate for SR, primarily focusing on the marketplace, environment, workplace and community.

I, for one, believe recognition for the role quality professionals play in fostering social responsibility is long overdue. We have always known we are all connected, and that every action a quality professional takes to improve one small part of the world has the potential to improve the quality of life for the whole world.

References and notes

  1. International Standards Organization, webpage on SR, http://isotc.iso.org/livelink/livelink/fetch/2000/2122/830949/3934883/3935096/home.html?nodeid=4451259&vernum=0.
  2. Dorothy Bowers, "Making Social Responsibility the Standard," Quality Progress, April 2006, p. 35-38.
  3. ASQ invitation to review ISO 26000 draft, www.asq.org/media-room/press-releases/2009/20090918-input-on-standard.html, and the direct link to a downloadable draft: http://community.asq.org/networks/Social_Responsibility/files/iso-26000-committee-draft_pdf.html.
  4. ASQ, definition of SR, www.asq.org/social-responsibility/about/what-is-it.html.
  5. Henry J. Lindborg, "Corporations Tout Social Responsibility," Quality Progress, February 2008, p. 54-55.
  6. LinkedIn is a professional social network with more than 5 million members. ASQ and many ASQ divisions and sections have LinkedIn groups. For more information about how to become an ASQ LinkedIn group member, contact Trish Borzon at tborzon@asq.org or visit www.linkedin.com.
  7. Shaun Sayers’ Capable People LinkedIn profile, http://uk.linkedin.com/in/capablepeople.
  8. Peter Gaul’s LinkedIn profile, http://au.linkedin.com/in/oshemsolutionspetergaul.
  9. For more information about the Restriction of Hazardous Substances, visit www.rohs.gov.uk/. For more information about Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction of Chemicals, visit http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/reach/reach_intro.htm.
  10. For more information about the Spencer Hutchens Jr. Medal, visit www.asq.org/media-room/press-releases/2009/20090605-hutchens-sr-medal.html.

Diane G. Kulisek, of Simi Valley, CA, has held seven senior quality management positions, in almost as many industries, since 1999. She is founder of CAPAtrak.com and QualityWarrior.com. She holds a master’s degree in engineering management from California State University, Northridge. Kulisek is a senior member of ASQ, immediate past chair of the ASQ Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division, and Quality Advocacy Chair for the ASQ San Fernando Valley Section 706. She holds ASQ certifications as a manager of quality/organizational excellence and quality engineer.

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