There are many frameworks and guidelines for best practice in key business areas, including risk management, compliance, and quality management. These frameworks and guidelines are particularly relevant within heavily regulated sectors, providing clarity and direction, and opportunities for promoting a culture of compliance.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) outlines standards that are internationally recognised and provide a framework for best practices in various areas (including those already mentioned). These standards incorporate integrity and ethics within the implementation frameworks, which can significantly improve the compliance culture within an organisation. When applied effectively, the ISO standards will ensure the establishment of clear guidelines, the promotion of accountability, and the fostering of a commitment to continuous improvement.
The role ISO standards play in helping improve an organisation’s compliance culture include:
- Standardised Guidelines: ISO standards provide standardised guidelines and requirements for various aspects of business operations, like quality management (ISO 9001), environmental management (ISO 14001), and information security (ISO 27001). These standards help define what compliance looks like in these areas by providing clear roadmaps for organisations and their employees to follow.
- Risk Management: ISO standards often include risk management components that encourage companies to identify, assess, and mitigate risks. This approach to risk management helps instill a proactive approach to compliance and encourages employees to be more vigilant about potential compliance issues. A newcomer to the ISO family is ISO/IEC 23894, which offers strategic guidance to organisations across all sectors for managing risks associated with developing and using AI by guiding how organisations integrate risk management into their AI-driven activities and business functions.
- Accountability: ISO standards typically require the designation of roles and responsibilities within an organisation. This promotes accountability at all levels and ensures that all stakeholders are aware of the wider implications of actions and decisions. When employees know they are responsible for specific compliance-related tasks, they are more likely to take those responsibilities seriously.
- Documentation and Records: ISO standards often emphasise the importance of documentation and record-keeping. This not only demonstrates compliance but also fosters a culture of transparency and accountability. Employees understand that their actions and decisions will be documented, which can deter non-compliant behaviour.
- Training and Awareness: ISO standards frequently mandate training and awareness programmes related to compliance. This ensures that employees are informed about the requirements and are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to meet those requirements.
- Continuous Improvement: Continuous improvement is a fundamental principle of ISO standards. This encourages organisations to review and enhance their compliance processes regularly. It sends a message that compliance is not a one-time effort but an ongoing commitment to improving.
- External Validation: Achieving ISO certification requires an external audit by an accredited certification body. This external validation can motivate organisations and their employees to adhere to compliance requirements as their efforts are to be reviewed by independent experts.
- Customer and Stakeholder Confidence: Organisations that comply with ISO standards often gain the confidence of customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. This external recognition can reinforce the importance of compliance within the organisation.
- Legal and Regulatory Alignment: ISO standards are often designed to align with and complement relevant laws and regulations, thereby providing clarity around provisions and expectations. This ensures that organisations comply with legal and regulatory requirements as well as best practices, reducing the risk of legal issues, sanctions, and fines.
- Communication and Reporting: Some ISO standards provide for regular reporting on compliance-related activities to management and relevant stakeholders. This communication ensures that compliance remains a focus and provides a mechanism for monitoring compliance and identifying and addressing any issues.
ISO standards can help improve the compliance culture within a company by providing a structured framework, promoting accountability, emphasising risk management, and fostering a commitment to continuous improvement.