Interested parties are an inescapable part of the "context" of any business. No matter what size or industry the company is in, there are always certain individuals or groups that have a vested interest in it.

What does it mean when a standard talks about "interested parties"?

First of all, what is an interested party? The globally recognized standard for principles and terms in quality management ISO 9000 provides the following definition:

"Person or organization that may influence, be influenced by, or feel influenced by a decision or activity."

ISO 9000:2015-11 - Quality management systems - Fundamentals and vocabulary

The term originally comes from the "Guidance to Achieve Sustained Success" ISO 9004, where it specifically highlights the role and importance of certain stakeholders - the interested parties.

When is an interested party relevant?

Why ISO management system standards are so intensively interested in interested parties becomes clear in chapter 4.2 of the standards. This is because a company does not need to identify all stakeholders, but only those relevant to its management system. It also needs to understand their needs and expectations (requirements) of the management system or the company. Strictly speaking, therefore, it is not a question of the interested parties, but rather of possible impairments by the stakeholder groups. In addition to relevance, the frequency with which the company has contact with an interested party may also have some significance.

What are the most important interested parties?

The list of stakeholders is long. The most important are:

  • Customers (including end users/consumers)
  • Employees
  • Owners, partners, shareholders
  • Suppliers (external providers), business partners
  • Authorities
  • Competitors
  • Unions
  • Insurances, associations
  • Banks, creditors
  • Press, media
  • Neighborhood
  • Citizens' initiatives, etc.

But also

  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Universities
  • Religious groups or churches
  • Society as a whole

can have relevance, albeit a different relevance, that is certainly specific to the organization. This is when they have a (potential) impact "on the organization's ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer needs and applicable legal and regulatory requirements" (source: ISO 9001).

How to identify relevant interested parties

ISO management system standards require your organization to understand the needs and expectations of potential stakeholders. And: that it determines those that are relevant to the management system. This is a permanent process in the company in order to be able to perceive changes. However, the standards do not specify how this is to be done.

"The company itself decides on the relevance of an interested party and its expectations."

The assignment of stakeholders according to their relevance depends primarily on the field of activity of your company. For example, a manufacturing chemical company with an environmental management system in accordance with ISO 14001 will in part define different criteria for the relevance of interested parties, for example with regard to neighbors or responsible authorities, than a parcel service provider whose quality management system follows the ISO 9001 standard. There, it is rather clients, customers and employees who are in the foreground.

Interested parties in ISO standards

With the changeover to the common basic structure (High Level Structure, HLS) from 2012, requirements for dealing with interested parties have gradually found their way into all major ISO management system standards. At the latest with the major revision of the ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards in 2015, the term became familiar to a wide range of users.

Notes on documentation

If the general manager of a small operation doesn't need records to identify their relevant interested parties, that's believable. But if he or she decides to certify his management system, there is a documentation requirement. This is the case, for example, as soon as interested parties find their way into the management assessment in the form of customer feedback.

So it is not only for large companies and corporations that it makes sense to create a matrix in which the identified interested parties, their contact data, their expectations and the relevance assigned to them are entered. Management system standards require that this information be monitored and reviewed.

In principle, however, it is advisable to create written records, for example with the aid of a matrix, with all the necessary information. In the case of particularly relevant stakeholders, this should be done with the involvement of the relevant interested parties. This is usually not useless work, because the records are needed at the latest as input for the management evaluation anyway.

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Conclusion

Relevant interested parties are individuals or organizations that are in a position to influence your company's management system. As such, they are inextricably linked to the context of your organization. ISO management system standards require that relevant stakeholders be identified and that information about them be regularly reviewed for currency. However, the standards do not say how this is to be done, also with regard to possible documentation.

Author
Ute Droege

DQS expert for quality management systems, long-time auditor and experienced trainer for ISO 9001.

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