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Using ISO 10010 to build an effective quality culture

Mark Eydman CQP MCQI, outlines how ISO 10010:2022 can assist organisations in developing a quality culture.

Culture: noun the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs of a particular group of people at a particular time. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” said Aristotle (384-322 BC).

Undoubtedly, organisational culture is a topic likely to encourage lively debate, with most contributors agreeing that it both exists and has the potential to contribute to success when positively harnessed.

Unfortunately, after the initial period of consensus, subsequent exchanges will show a lack of agreement on key principles, including what is culture, how it might be quantified and the degree to which it can be managed.

Organisational culture might be defined as the underlying beliefs, assumptions, values and ways of interacting that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation. Or, more simply, how people behave when their leaders are not in the room!

Quality culture and the ISO 9000 series of standards

The role of a quality culture is not explicitly considered in ISO 9001:2015 Quality management systems – Requirements. That said, ‘culture’ is more subtly recognised within the text. In Section 4, a founding principle for success is established in that: “The organisation shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and its strategic direction and that affect its ability to achieve the intended results of its quality management system”. Supporting notes direct readers that consideration of issues including culture may help with understanding of internal context.

ISO 9000:2015 Quality management systems – Fundamentals and vocabulary do not include a definition of culture.

ISO 9004:2018 Quality management – Quality of an organisation – Guidance to achieve sustained success does not always enjoy the same prominence as ISO 9001 but begins to develop important themes in a manner highly aligned with its more prominent cousin. For example, it states: “The identity of an organisation is determined by its characteristics, based on its mission, vision, values and culture”.

It is in ISO 9004 that we also see our first definition of culture, in section 6.2 d: “Culture: beliefs, history, ethics, observed behaviour and attitudes that are interrelated with the identity of the organisation.”

The standard continues to explore the impact of culture, noting it essential that it is aligned with mission, vision and values, and that culture is reviewed at planned intervals. These principles are further developed within the self-assessment tools provided within the standard, such that in a mature deployment one might expect:

  • a clear understanding of the current culture, with an implemented and maintained process for considering and implementing required change;

  • active communication of ‘identity elements’, including culture, to all interested parties as appropriate;

  • the engagement of top management in these matters and processes.

Introducing ISO 10010:2022

ISO 10010:2022 Quality management – Guidance to understand, evaluate and improve organisational quality culture is a recently issued standard that seeks to build on existing guidance and provide a framework for better management of organisational quality culture.

A quality culture can be defined as: ‘a component of the organisation’s culture and [is] the summation of embedded beliefs, behaviours and shared values, which support the delivery of the organisation’s quality policy and objectives and the delivery of products and services to meet customers’ and associated stakeholders’ expectations.’

Note that this definition is applicable even when a defined quality management system has not been implemented.

ISO 10010 - determining the desired quality culture

ISO 10010 suggests starting with work to define the desired quality culture attributes that should be highly aligned with the organisation’s mission, vision and values for likely success. Wide participation in determining the desired quality culture is vital, which should then be clearly articulated and developed in terms of associated behaviours.

Key to this process is consideration of those attributes that might be desired within the organisation. This will, of course, vary, but clues may be found within the seven quality management principles of ISO 9001, namely:

  • customer focus;

  • leadership;

  • engagement of people;

  • process orientation;

  • improvement;

  • evidence-based decision-making;

  • relationship management.

Analysing the current quality culture and desired future state

The organisation should next establish measurable performance standards and indicators that can be used to assess current state against the behaviours that have been defined. The developed performance standard should then also clearly express the level and status of quality culture that the organisation wants to achieve through improvements in those behaviours.

It is acknowledged that determining desired behaviours and finding ways to measure them may not be easy. It can also be challenging to accept and record that exhibited behaviours are not at the level that might be acceptable.

Actions to achieve desired quality culture

With a framework for the desired future state established, the next consideration is to determine actions required for it to be achieved. Clearly, these actions will be dependent on the preceding analysis, but ISO 10010 provides some generic suggestions:

  • Visible management support for quality initiatives.

  • Clear articulation of vision, mission, values and associated behaviours.

  • Highly aligned use of quality objectives that are deployed through associated employee performance indicators.

  • Linked use of financial and other incentives.

  • Open and honest reflection of the effectiveness of actions being undertaken.

Actions to embed desired quality culture

Similarly, ISO 10010 provides guidance on subsequent actions that may be useful to embed the desired quality culture once measurements suggest that it has been achieved. These include:

  • develop effective communication to celebrate quality successes;

  • maintain training at all organisational levels;

  • identify and appoint culture champions;

  • Provide resources for enablers such as behavioural coaches;

  • Recognise the later stages of change management.


In conclusion, while a quality culture may be difficult to define and will require some effort to develop into a set of measurable characteristics, that investment can be leveraged into real contributions to organisational success through the structured approach described in ISO 10010.

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