The People Principle - Use ISO 10018 to build an innovative culture

by Peter Merrill

In the September 2012 issue of QP,1 which was devoted to standards and auditing, I wrote how innovation and standards need not be contradictory. Many think of standards as being rigid and restrictive whereas innovation requires looseness and freedom in its early creative phase. I quoted the agile manifesto2and wrote that for innovation to succeed, it must occur within a management framework that values improvement over compliance, lean over artifacts, learning over habit and autonomy over authority. In each case, one does not exclude the other. It’s a matter of balance.

I also covered how using clauses of ISO 9001, such as customer satisfaction (clause 8.2.1), continual improvement (clause 8.5), design and development (clause 7.3), management review (clause 5.6) and delivery (clause 7.5), can help integrate innovation into an ISO 9001 quality management system (QMS).

But successful innovation does have a secret sauce—people. I don’t mean just R&D people—I mean all the people. In a previous column, I explained how we all have different aptitudes in the innovation process.3 For successful innovation, we must involve everyone in our organization.

Involving your people

In 2012, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued a new guidance standard, ISO 10018, which is designed to work in tandem with ISO 9001 and help organizations involve their people in the QMS. The premise of ISO 10018 is based on the principles of ISO 9000:2005, clause 0.2, and in particular, the involvement of people principle, which states: "People at all levels are the essence of an organization and their full involvement enables their abilities to be used for the organization’s benefit."4

This links into the leadership principle, which states: "Leaders establish unity of purpose and direction of the organization. They should create and maintain the internal environment in which people can become fully involved in achieving the organization’s objectives."5

ISO 10018 shows the process for developing people involvement. I was one of the writers of the standard, and we addressed each element of ISO 9001:2008 by identifying typical problems that occur in organizations due to a lack of people involvement and specifying actions to overcome those problems. 

The contents of the standard follow the structure of ISO 9001:2008 with the exception of clause 4, which addresses the actual process for people involvement and how to create conditions that enable people to achieve results. Clauses 5-8 describe specific people involvement actions to help meet QMS requirements specified in ISO 9001:2008.

From an innovation perspective, clause 4.6 describes leadership actions to enhance people involvement and how it requires an environment in which people can influence decisions and actions that affect their jobs. The people involvement process is the platform from which successful innovation develops and includes a number of human factors. The first factor is communication, which integrates the other human factors and promotes shared understanding and involvement. 

Clause 4.6 follows the life cycle of a person in an organization. It starts with recruitment—the process of sourcing, screening and selecting people for a position. After they are on board, people should be made aware that the organization has implemented a QMS. 

Engagement is then the organization’s commitment to improving the partnership and developing shared understanding between the people and their managers. Teamwork and collaboration develop as people work together for a common goal, but leaders also must provide people with the authority to assume responsibility to make decisions about their work. 

Ultimately, success results from a high degree of creativity and innovation. Allowing creativity creates a higher sense of personal fulfillment and consequently enhances involvement. Innovation flows from creativity and is what enables the organization to differentiate itself in the marketplace. The organization should continually improve people involvement through recognition and rewards. 

Annex A of ISO 10018 provides more details on the factors that contribute to people involvement within a QMS. The following synopsis from the standard provides more detail about these clauses. It’s meant to help give you a feeling for the content of the standard, as well as place each clause in an innovation context. Let’s start at the engagement point in the life cycle.


This is the organization’s commitment to improving partnerships and shared understanding between the people and their managers. When people are engaged in the organization, they experience more personal fulfillment and the organization is more effective. Engagement is the outcome of effective recruitment followed by an introduction to the workforce through an awareness process. 

 Leaders should become engaged with their people by understanding the expectations of their people through regular feedback. Employees’ level of engagement is directly related to how people relate to their leaders, managers and colleagues.

A person’s perception of their job’s importance impacts customer satisfaction. The level of importance to the organization is shown by the availability of resources for people to carry out their work. An understanding of customers’ unmet needs enables a person to contribute to the innovation process, and improvements and innovations are more likely to be produced by engaged people. 


Teamwork and collaboration occur when people work together for a common goal. Teamwork results from people working together in creative and productive relationships, which leads to enhanced products and services. It develops when there is mutual trust and respect between members of a team. Processes frequently cross departments and functions in an organization. Teamwork helps to optimize the efforts required of people and reduces risk by avoiding overdependence on one person. 

Organizations should assess people’s aptitudes for roles within teams. An effective team increases the probability of achieving results. For effective teamwork, a leader should create an environment for people to work together by defining common goals and team targets. Teamwork is encouraged by rewarding the team rather than the individual and creating incentives for collaboration in the group. Collaboration and sharing of collective knowledge provide the fuel for finding innovative solutions to unmet customer needs.

Responsibility and authority

When people understand their roles and responsibilities, they are more engaged. The organization should provide people with the authority to make decisions about their work based on their competence. The organization should create a work environment that fosters the desire and ability of people to control their own work and decision making.

Leaders and managers should delegate control of processes and the authority to make decisions, thus increasing the organization’s agility. The more agile an organization is, the more capable it will be of innovating to meet unmet customer needs.

Creativity and innovation

Creativity is the process of producing new ideas, while innovation is the process of creating and applying these ideas. In the context of an organization, the term innovation refers to the entire process by which people or groups generate new ideas and convert them into commercial products, services and business practices. Innovation is frequently obtained as a result of sharing collective knowledge. Successful innovation results from a high degree of people involvement. It creates a higher sense of personal fulfillment and consequently enhances involvement. 

The nature of the contribution that people make to the innovation process changes through the process. Changing needs in the modern workplace require individuals to work within existing stable processes and to operate effectively in a changing work environment using new competencies of creativity and innovation.

To develop creativity and innovation, leaders should recognize and encourage innovation. This is achieved by identifying opportunities to innovate and encouraging people to create practical solutions. Ultimately, success results from a high degree of creativity and innovation.

Recognition and rewards

Recognition and rewards reinforce people’s behavior and understanding of the value their efforts have created for the organization. Recognition should reinforce behaviors such as creativity and innovation. It also demonstrates that the organization values its people and cares about their success, which boosts employee pride and self-esteem.

Nonmonetary recognition often can be valued more by creative people than money or gifts. To address recognition, the organization should establish clear and understandable criteria for what contributions will be rewarded by the organization and systematic feedback to the people inside the organization should be provided.

The organization should supply its people with specific information about the behaviors or actions being recognized. The recognition should ideally occur as close to the performance of the actions as possible, so the recognition reinforces behavior the organization wishes to encourage.

Clauses 5-8 of ISO 10018

These clauses describe actions to strengthen involvement of people in the QMS and give specific actions for each of the clauses specified in ISO 9001:2008. 

Clause 5—Management responsibility advises top management to explain to the people in the organization the value created by the QMS and the importance of customer satisfaction. They should involve people in the creation and updating of objectives.

Clause 6—Resource management addresses HR and advises that HR planning be strategic (long term) and tactical (short term), and should include a recruitment and selection process. That process should be transparent to candidates.

Clause 7—Product realization provides the guidance that people responsible for operations and service delivery should understand customer needs and expectations as well as product requirements. Meetings addressing complaints should involve people in departments affected by the complaint.

Clause 8—Measurement, analysis and improvement explains that when people from all business functions are engaged on the audit team, the team is seen as representative of the entire organization. 

Most of the actions described in clauses 5-8 can be used as a checklist to assess people involvement and competence in an organization. People involvement is a prevention-based activity investing in training, teamwork and communications. Although it is perceived as a cost, people involvement is actually a shift in time allocation from correction to prevention. It is fundamental to successful innovation.

After system certification, and with an excellence mentality among a broader group of people, organizations can progress more rapidly to successful innovation. While ISO 10018 does not directly address innovation, it is a useful asset to help organizations build an innovation culture.


  1. Peter Merrill, “A Question of Balance,” Quality Progress, September 2012, pp. 44-46.
  2. Wikipedia, “Agile software development,”
  3. Peter Merrill, “Getting a Jump Start,” Quality Progress, July 2012, p. 41–43.
  4. International Organization for Standardization, ISO 9000:2005—Quality management systems—Fundamentals and vocabulary, clause 0.2.
  5. Ibid.

ASQ Innovation Conference

The ASQ Conference on Innovation will be held Oct. 26 in Old Sacramento, CA. The opening keynote speaker is ASQ Chair John Timmerman. Visit for more details.