Yes, I can hear you groaning already. Quality policies, motherhood statements, stick them on the wall and forget about them. Correct? You may feel that way, but the standard for ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems clearly states that you must have a quality policy. It does not so clearly state what should be in it and how to communicate it. I shall explain that here.

5 Management Responsibility

5.3 Quality Policy

What does ISO 9001 Say?

ISO 9001 has the following to say about the quality policy.

Top management shall ensure that the quality policy: 

a) is appropriate to the purpose of the organization,
b) includes a commitment to comply with requirements and continually improve the effectiveness of the quality management system,
c) provides a framework for establishing and reviewing quality objectives,
d) is communicated and understood within the organization, and
e) is reviewed for continuing suitability. 


The purpose of any corporate policy is to influence the short and long term decisions and actions of staff. The purpose of the quality policy is to state senior management’s high level goals and objectives for quality management. In doing so it is a guide to use in decision making so that everyone moves in a common direction.


The standard requires that the quality policy is:

a) is appropriate to the purpose of the organization.

The purpose of the organisation is the reason for its existence, with this reason sometimes referred to as the mission. Peter Drucker said “there is only one valid definition of business purpose and that is: to create a customer.” Some would argue that the purpose of an organisation is to make money but this is not true for some organisations such as not-for-profits and the public sector. Even in the private sector an organisation must have satisfied customers in order to be profitable.

b) includes a commitment to comply with requirements and continually improve the effectiveness of the quality management system.

The requirements referred to here are those of all stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, employees, investors, owners and even society. Customer requirements are stated and unstated wants and needs. Employees requirements are covered by legislation such as the Work Health & Safety Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. Investors and the general public also have rights which are protected by legislation such as the Trade Practices Act.

The effectiveness of the quality management system is judged by the extent to which it fulfils its purpose. Because no organisation wishes to stagnate senior managers need to pursue changes that bring about improvements in performance.

c) provides a framework for establishing and reviewing quality objectives.

As the quality policy states the purpose of your organisation, it makes sense that you have objectives in place for achieving this purpose. The policy sets the boundaries for these objectives. Click here for more information on setting meaningful objectives

d) is communicated and understood within the organization.

If anyone is to make decisions based on the quality policy then obviously they need to understand it first. Staff need to be made aware of how the policy relates to what they do and when you can see that their actions are based on the policy then you know that it has been understood.

e) is reviewed for continuing suitability.

Organisations change as they grow and seek new opportunities, respond to markets and the economic climate. Therefore, a quality policy written years ago may no longer be appropriate. It may no longer guide the organisation in the right direction. Hence quality policies need to be reviewed regularly and updated when required.

How is this Demonstrated?

Well obviously the first thing you need to do is to write the quality policy and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Here are some guidelines:

Firstly – your policy should state the scope of your quality management system (the services, products and processes that your quality management system addresses) as well as other strategies within your business because quality management systems don’t (or shouldn’t) exist in isolation from the rest of your business.

Secondly – the wording of your quality policy should state the requirements your system is going to comply with. It is going to comply with the requirements of ISO 9001, but you should also refer to meeting customer, statutory and regulatory requirements. It must also clearly state your commitment to continually improve the effectiveness of the quality management system.

Thirdly – look around and see what objectives you are already using that are relevant and incorporate these goals into the policy if you still think them relevant.

Communicating the quality policy so that it is understood is difficult to achieve. No matter how many times it forms part of a management presentation or a staff briefing it may still not be understood. However, these are still appropriate ways of demonstrating how you have communicated it. Other ways are to:

  • Develop the quality policy with staff. Let them have input and debate it rather than telling them what it shall be.
  • Announce to all staff that you now have a policy that affects everybody.
  • Display the quality policy in places where it will attract their attention.
  • Train staff in the quality policy and check their understanding of it at the end of the training. This could be done by asking them what they would do in a given scenario.
  • Include the policy in your induction training.
  • Ask staff how the quality policy affects them.
  • Take action every time you believe a decision has been made that was not in keeping with the policy.

No matter which communication tools you choose, always present the quality policy in a user-friendly way.

The means of making a quality policy a reality is to measure your success in achieving it. This can be done by setting objectives linked to the quality policy, putting targets in place, measuring progress towards meeting these targets and taking action to address deficiencies. Click here for more information on creating action plans to achieve targets

A review of the quality policy should be conducted at least once every two years and more frequently if there have been significant changes in business direction or environment. The fact that the review has occurred should be noted in your management review minutes and by changing the date on the quality policy and resigning it, even if it has not changed.

If you’d like some guidance or need a sounding board please email me at Alternatively, visit my website where you’ll find my Top 5 Essential Tips and free ISO 9001 procedures.

All the best, Liz