I’m consistently confused by how the consultants in the quality management field consistently tie their business model to the whims and proclamations of ISO and its various attendants, such as the registrars and accreditation bodies. This makes no sense, and worse, it shows that many such consultants don’t understand the thing they claim to be experts in.

ISO doesn’t hire many consultants, and neither do the certification bodies or accreditation bodies. When they do, it’s for one-off, odd-job projects such as the IAF Database, or helping them ramp up a new accreditation scheme. So it’s a fair bet that not a single consultant reading this article, nor any that they compete with, are selling consulting services direction to ISO, the CBs or ABs.

It’s a sad day when you have to remind quality management experts that their customers are the people who pay them, and not ISO. In fact, these consultants probably bought copies of standards, and that makes ISO a supplier, not a customer. You’re supposed to prioritize your customer… remember ISO 9001’s clause and quality management principle of “customer focus?”

Routinely, we see consultants parroting ISO talking points (“risk management is a footbridge!” or “risk was always implicit in ISO 9001!”). We see them repeating, if not plagiarizing, articles from certification bodies and accreditation bodies. We see them defend, without any thought, decidedly anti-customer initiatives such as the ridiculous “3-year transition deadline” or “Annex SL.” In blog article after blog article, consultants refer to unelected ISO leaders as if they were actual quality experts, going so far as to refer to them as “gurus.”

The most backward trend among consultants, however, is the kneejerk tendency to insult their would-be clients and customers by insisting companies hate quality, never show any “management commitment,” and generally whining and complaining about any executive outside of the quality department. We know where this comes from — nearly all consultants are previous quality managers who became “previous” because they either quit or got fired. There’s no school pumping out degreed Quality Assurance Consultants, for example. Armed with resentment from their previous past employers, they can’t seem to switch off the negativity and continue to publish articles that alienate potential customers before they even make a cold call. Who wants to hire a consultant who has written blog posts about how horrible clients are?

This includes lying. I’ve been chastised by competing consultants for daring to suggest that ISO 9001 isn’t perfect, and needs improvement. This latter fact has the dual benefit of being both true and in line with my clients. Clients are not stupid, and they know that ISO 9001 sucks. They do it because some customer told them they had to, or they are trying to glean the advantages from an otherwise flawed document and dubious surrounding certification scheme. Lying to them and insisting that ISO 9001 is wonderful and will guarantee their quality, improve their bottom line, or reduce scrap isn’t helpful. Sure, it helps ISO sell standards and the CBs/ABs sell audits, but those companies don’t pay you. Your clients pay you, so don’t lie to them.

There’s nothing wrong with selling used cars, but it’s unethical to sell a lemon and lie to the buyer without telling them what’s wrong with it first. Oxebridge tells clients what’s wrong with ISO 9001, and then lets them decide if they still want to pursue it. If they do, we have developed trust from the very start, and can help them navigate those problems. If we were to lie and say there aren’t any problems, then that means the clients will view me with the same distrust they view ISO. That’s not healthy.

Consultants need to go check the names of people who pay them. It’s the clients, not ISO nor the registrars nor the ABs. Clients. As a result, consultants must align their marketing strategies, service offerings, implementation programs and articles around the client, not these other third parties. Failing to do so reveals that these consultants don’t understand the very thing they are selling, which asks them to do just that.

Clients run from companies that just cheerlead for ISO. Adjust your marketing, tell the truth, be honest, and treat your clients with respect. Stop treating ISO as if they were paying your bills; they aren’t.

    About Christopher Paris

    Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 25 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.