The need for organisations to “understand the needs and expectations of interested parties” is a mandatory requirement of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001 and the forthcoming ISO 45001. But who exactly are "Interested Parties" and how do you manage them?
The term “Interested Parties” is common across ISO management standards and is, if you like, ISO speak for “Stakeholders”. How any organisation manages its relationship with all of its stakeholders is a key success factor. It is far more than customer focus; it is about actively understanding and managing the positive, negative and changing influences from a range of stakeholders.
ISO 9000 is clear about the importance of “Interested Parties”:
“Organisations attract, capture and retain the support of the relevant interested parties they depend upon for their success.”
Because interested parties are so important, they are considered an integral part of the “Context of the Organisation” and need to be thoroughly understood before defining the scope of the management system:
The organisation shall determine:
a) the interested parties that are relevant to the management system;
b) the requirements [needs and expectations] of these interested parties that are relevant to the management system
So the standards expect you to you decide who is relevant and then what they need – but how? And where do you begin?
Who are interested parties?
Firstly, it is essential to understand the definition of Interested Parties – ISO 14001, ISO 27001 and ISO 45001 all define an “Interested Party” as a:
“person or organisation that can affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision or activity”.
This could be interpreted very widely, so some standards add guidance notes:
- ISO 45001 notes that “This International Standard sets out requirements with respect to workers who are also interested parties”
- ISO 14001 notes that “To ‘perceive itself to be affected' means the perception has been made known to the organisation” – this could include feedback or comments via the organisations social media channels
- “The concept of interested parties extends beyond a focus solely on the customer. It is important to consider all relevant interested parties”
- “The relevant interested parties are those that provide significant risk to organisational sustainability if their needs and expectations are not met”
So, these are the theoretical definitions, let's now look at how this works out in practice.
Examples of Interested Parties
ISO 9001, 14001 and 45001 provide generic examples of Interested Parties:
Important to note:
- These examples are not mutually exclusive, and can cross over between management systems depending on relevance.
- These examples are not exhaustive, and should be considered as a starting point only.
Classifying Interested Parties and Their Relationships
Simply listing suppliers, customers, communities etc. is not enough to meet the requirements of the standard, which are to demonstrate and take into account the “needs and expectations of relevant interested parties”.
Make the information more meaningful by grouping interested parties based on their relationship with the organisation. This is advised in ISO 14004 – EMS Guidelines for Implementation, which provides examples of interested parties based on their relationship with the organisation, by their:
- Responsibility – investors, etc.
- Influence – pressure groups, etc.
- Proximity – neighbours, etc.
- Dependency – employees, etc.
- Representation – trade unions, etc.
- Authority – regulators, etc.
Relevance, Needs and Expectations
Now you know who your interest parties are, it is time to identify their needs and expectations that are relevant to your management system. The operative word here is "relevant".
Depending on the size and complexity of your organisation, it is very likely that you will have a good feel for the interested parties you have regular contact with. However, it is worth formalising and recording this knowledge and, where needed, confirming assumptions and closing any gaps in your knowledge with research.
The scale of the research needed obviously depends on the size and complexity of your organisation. For example:
- A two-person gardening firm may be able to complete research within a few phone calls to clients, suppliers, local authority etc.
- A multi-national manufacturing company may require a wide range of research methods.
Power and Interest (Significance and Relevance)
A useful tool for helping you decide how to manage a particular interested party is the Power/Interest Matrix developed by Johnson and Scholes.
This simple tool relates two important relationship variables:
- How much interest do they have in your decisions and activities? - This could be interpreted as the strength of their relevance.
- How much power or influence do they have over your decisions and activities? - This could be interpreted as their significance or risk.
Set Objectives and Priorities
Define what results are necessary to deliver to those relevant interested parties to reduce the risk that their needs and expectations are not met. You should end up with something like this example – but create a framework that suits your own needs:
Taking the time to understand the needs and expectations of your interested parties is very worthwhile and essential to:
- defining the scope of your management system
- ensuring customer satisfaction
- meeting compliance obligations
- continual improvement of the organisation and its management system
- meeting the requirements of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001 and ISO 45001
By using the methods described in this article, you should be able to develop your own process or framework for identifying, understanding monitoring and reviewing interested parties in terms of:
- Level of interest (Relevance)
- Level of influence (Significance)
Take a look at our Toolkits