The General Principles of Management Systems

By ,

by – John Wolfe

This article outlines the general principles of management systems to help organizations meet the needs of its stakeholders (customers, member of the public, owners, etc.).

It describes:

  • The five general elements of stewardship framework
  • Several components of those elements

The stewardship framework is a simple set of elements and components used to manage any stewardship function, for any objective, in any size of organization, and at any level of an organization. The framework is generic and can be applied to any stewardship program. While each stewardship program will be unique because of the nature of the initiative, the underlying framework is common to all situations.

The organizational unit, as defined by the stewardship framework, is involved with the development and implementation of a stewardship program. An organizational unit could be a branch of government, a business or industrial organization, a small independent company, or a not-for-profit organization. It may refer to an entire organization or just part of it, such as a division, department, work group, project team or individual. The organizational unit could have different structures: e.g., hierarchical, flat or network type of relationships. This framework can work for everyone.

A simple way of viewing a stewardship program is that it consists of people within an organizational unit who:

  • Know what needs to be done – they have Purpose
  • Know why to do it – they have motivation and Commitment
  • Have the skill to do it – they have Capability
  • Have the desire to continuously improve – they want to Learning
  • Can put all the other principles and elements together – they take Action

Together, these five elements:

A. Purpose
B. Commitment
C. Capabilities
D. Learning
E. Action

form a framework from which stewardship programs can be developed.

This article describes them in a sequential order, however they are all inter-linked. For example Purpose and Commitment are both the precursor to and result of Action.

all elements

A. Purpose

An organizational unit must know what needs to be done – it must have purpose.

In all organizational units, people are organized in a structure with the systems and strategy to achieve the unit’s purpose. Activities are managed to ensure that the purpose is achieved.

B. Commitment

People in organizational units should be committed to taking the appropriate action to support the organizational unit’s purpose.

Commitment refers to people’s motivation to make decisions and take actions to help achieve the stewardship program’s objectives. Organizational units are human systems. It is commitment that transforms them from mechanical systems into ones which are adaptive, innovative, constantly learning and improving, and which incorporate the genius of the human spirit.

C. Capabilities

Organizational units must be able to perform to support their objectives.

Organizational units must be able to perform actions which support their objectives. The resources or capabilities required to do this change constantly as a result of learning, improved processes and the need to respond to changing requirements and environments. An organizational unit’s ability to make available the resources it requires to support its objectives is critical to its success.

D. Learning

Organizational units should continuously learn how to perform better in pursuing their objectives, and improve their learning processes.

Learning processes ensure that the organizational unit is dynamic, and capable of reacting to changes in the environment.

E. Action

An organizational unit’s actions should reflect and influence the other management system elements – Purpose, Commitment, Capability, and Learning.

Action represents the organizational unit’s daily operational processes. The actions of individuals in the unit reflect the management systems’ various principles and elements, in day to day operations. The unit’s actions should be conducted according to documented procedures.

the five general principles

The five elements when applied directly to stewardship programs, provide a simple and easy to understand framework.

The elements listed below with their various components provide a detailed stewardship framework

A. Purpose

An organizational unit must know what needs to be done – it must have purpose.

Below are some components of Purpose:

  1. Vision and Mission
  2. Need Identification
  3. Policy
  4. Objectives
  5. Risk Analysis
  6. Management System Design


A1. Vision and Mission


A “Vision” is a picture of the desired future state which an organization aspires. Organizational units should create a vision, ideally involving everyone in the unit in its development so all can have a stake in and commitment to pursuing that vision.

A “Mission” statement is the unit’s raison d’etre – the reason it exists. It can come from a variety of sources like the purpose which originally inspired the organization’s creation or it could be inherited or provided by unit members.

It can be renewed and re-made to respond to changing circumstances and needs.

For some organizations, the Environmental Policy serves to articulate the vision and mission of the stewardship program.

It is important that the mission and vision be stated explicitly. The members of the organizational unit should have a strong personal stake in achieving the mission and vision statements. Therefore, the management should ensure that the mission and vision are valued by all in the unit.

Mission and Vision – some questions:

  • Are the Mission and Vision of the organizational unit well known to its people?
  • Does the Mission reflect its ‘raison d’etre”?
  • Do the unit’s people have a personal stake in the Vision and Mission?
  • Do the people in the unit have a clear sense of vision, consistent with the organizational unit’s mission?
  • Do the unit’s people have a sense of involvement with the mission and vision of the organization?

A2. Need Identification


Each organizational unit should identify its stakeholders and their needs and expectations.

The unit’s Mission sets the scope for identifying stakeholder needs and expectations. Needs that are not relevant to the mission are excluded. However, at times, it may be necessary to re-address the mission’s adequacy to accommodate needs outside the scope of the current mission.

The needs should be translated into action requirements and when appropriate document the needs analysis.

Needs identification – some questions:

  • Are the direct and indirect stakeholders of the organizational unit identified (customers, employees, suppliers, etc., local community, society, etc)?
  • Are the needs of stakeholders identified?
  • Is there a process to continually communicate and understand stakeholder needs?
  • Is there a process to align the needs with the Mission and Vision of the organizational unit?
  • Are the people in the unit aware of the stakeholder needs and how they affect the daily actions?

A3. Policy


Policies establish an overall sense of direction and set the parameters of action.

Some examples of policy include an organization’s code of ethics, its set of decision making principles, statement of social responsibility, or environmental policy. An organization’s policies often incorporate an organization’s values implicitly or explicitly. They set the boundaries for what an organization will and will not do, and what actions of its people are and are not acceptable.

Policies should be brief and worded in a way which allows freedom of action and creativity within certain parameters. Actions should be guided by a statement of ethics, and a minimum number of rules.

Policy – some questions

  • Do the people in the unit understand the parameters of acceptable action to guide them in their actions and decisions?
  • Is there explicit understanding of the organization’s code of ethics and decision making principles?
  • Does the organizational unit have a statement of social responsibility and organizational ethics?
  • Do the policies of the unit allow freedom of action and creativity within certain parameters?

A4. Objectives


Organizational units should translate their mission, stakeholders’ needs and policy parameters into objectives to be achieved. Objectives are the basis of focused action and part of organization’s overall strategic plan.

The process used to set objectives is often critical to how well these objectives will be met.


  • Should be set by the people most knowledgeable about the functional area.
  • Are best set with the full involvement of the organizational unit to which they apply
  • Should be congruent with the overall organizational mission, vision, and values
  • Should specify the desired result of activity but not necessarily specify how that result should be achieved

Objectives – some questions:

  • Has the unit developed a set of objectives, which reflect its mission, vision, stakeholder needs and policies?
  • Are objectives established with the involvement of the people responsible for achieving them?
  • Do objectives specify desired results, rather than specific procedures?
  • Are objectives revisited and revised in the light of learning?

A5. Risk Analysis


A risk analysis ensures that appropriate resources are applied to achieving objectives. Risk analysis for objectives is an integral part of management system design.

Risk analysis determines the most critical objectives for success so more effort and resources can be applied to achieving those objectives. A risk analysis should address the cost-benefit considerations of setting and achieving objectives in light of the risk of failing to achieve them, and the organization’s overall mission.

The risk analysis process and the results analysis should be documented to support future decisions.

Risk Analysis – some questions:

  • Do the people in the unit understand which objectives are important, and which are less so, and allocate resources and energy accordingly?
  • Do people perform risk analysis to assess residual risk of failure to meet an objective?
  • Does the risk analysis address cost benefit considerations?
  • Does the risk analysis address risk tolerance considerations?

A6. Management System Design


A management system comprises the processes and operational actions necessary to meet the organizational unit’s objectives, and prescribes the required capabilities, procedures and actions.

The design of a management system is an ongoing, iterative process. It is interactive with the organizational unit’s actions, and based on learning and reactions to environmental changes. Design processes establish the operational processes and actions which should be reassessed in the light of learning and experience.

Design also involves reassessing the objectives and their ongoing relevance and suitability. As a result, it involves challenging policy and needs analysis to ensure continued understanding of Purpose.

The design of operations processes is normally documented, often in the form of flowcharts, other process charts and in narrative. The documentation is an integral part of the design process.

Management system design – some questions:

  • Do the people in the organizational unit focus on the design of their management system?
  • Are processes designed to meet objectives based on learning and on changes in opportunities and risks.
  • Is the management system design process iterative to determine the ongoing suitability of Mission, Vision, needs, objectives, and actions of the organizational unit?

B. Commitment

People in organizational units should be committed to taking the appropriate action to support the organizational unit’s purpose.

Below are some components of Commitment:

  1. Shared Values
  2. Alignment
  3. Accountability, Responsibility, and Organizational Structure


B1. Shared Values


The extent to which the individuals in an organizational unit identify with its values is critical to the integrity of the management system.

The mission defines “why we are here” and the vision defines “what we want” and the shared values define “unit members’ commonly held beliefs about how the vision should be achieved”.

Values can be provided by a strong leader or by sharing and blending the personal visions and values of several people.

An organization’s shared values include different elements. A particularly important one relates to honesty and integrity, which is essential to the effectiveness of management systems in that it teaches to use mistakes as a source of learning not cover-ups.

All members of the unit should participate in establishing the shared values. The values should be documented.

Shared values are expressed in actions which in turn determine the true nature of the organization’s vision and values. The actions of all unit members are influenced by their senior members.

Shared values – some questions:

  • Do people in the organizational unit share commonly held values about how they should accomplish their vision?
  • Do these common values reflect the involvement and commitment of the people in the unit?
  • Are the values explicitly stated?
  • Do the actions of people reflect these stated values, or are they contradictory to espoused values?

B2. Alignment


An organizational unit’s success depends on individual actions. Their actions are partially determined by the degree of alignment of the various elements of the management system.

It takes open communication and trust to ensure that the objectives, skills, information and support systems, compensation, training, development, processes and guidelines, resources, accountability structure and consequences of success or failure are aligned and reflect the organization’s mission, vision, and shared values.

Properly aligned systems help turn the organization’s shared values into action.

In an atmosphere of open communication and trust, misaligned elements that affect the organizational unit or its individuals can be addressed. It may be useful to document meetings where alignment issues are discussed.

Alignment – some questions:

  • Is there a high level of open communication and trust between people in the organizational unit?
  • Is this level of communication and trust reflected in open dialogue concerning conflicting objectives/priorities?
  • Are reward systems congruent with the objectives and values of the organizational unit?
  • Do mistakes and conflict get openly addressed, or are there underlying frustrations and cynicism?
  • Is there a process to ensure that elements of the management system are aligned and congruent?

B3. Accountability, Responsibility, and Organizational Structure


The scope of an individual’s action is driven by accountability and responsibility. Individuals / groups should be responsible for performing certain actions and achieving objectives. They should be accountable to the organization’s other members or stakeholders for achieving those objectives.

All members of an organizational unit should clearly understand the responsibility and accountability structure that applies to them. An organizational structure is the result of the way accountability and responsibility is distributed among the organizational unit’s members. An important component of a management system is the clarity of its accountability organizational structure.

Accountability and responsibility should be documented in an easily updated format.

Accountability structures remain relatively stable though some organizations have fluid structures due to different management styles.

Accountability – some questions:

  • Is there clarity on accountability for objectives
  • Is there clarity on the structure of accountability relationships and responsibilities?
  • Is there a shared understanding and acceptance of the accountability structure?
  • Where accountability relationships and responsibilities change quickly, do the values of the organizational unit accommodate this?

C. Capabilities

Organizational units must be able to perform to support their objectives.

Below are some components of Capabilities:

  1. Knowledge, Skills, Job Design
  2. Best Practice/Know-How
  3. Information Systems
  4. Resources – Physical/Financial
  5. Measurement and Monitoring
  6. Operational Processes and Documentation


C1. Knowledge, Skills, Job Design


Knowledge and skills are the basis of actions to achieve objectives.

The knowledge and skills available to an organization are based on recruitment, training, skill development, ongoing education, and flexibility. Flexibility pertains to the availability of the people with the right skills when they are required, such as at peak periods and emergencies.

The organizational unit should ensure that enough people have the required skills to meet the unit’s objectives, and that those skills are maintained and improved. Equally important is the organizational unit’s ability to adapt its processes (its job design) to suit its individuals’ unique skills.

Knowledge, skills, job design – some questions:

  • Are people trained in what they need to know to achieve their objectives?
  • Is there continued upgrading of knowledge and skills?
  • Are specialist skills available to the team when necessary?
  • Is there support for development of people’s skills.
  • Is there a process to manage the resourcing and development of people
  • Are jobs designed to suit the special skills of individuals.

C2. Best Practice / Know How


An organizational unit should be able to improve based upon reflection of its and other units’ actions. This involves an ongoing process of identifying and sharing the best practices. The organization’s ability to develop, adapt and apply best practices is one of its core resources. The practices form the organizational unit’s combined knowledge base or “know how”.  These practices should be documented in chart or narrative form.

Best practice, know how – some questions:

  • Do people in the organizational unit review the practice of others to assess whether it can be applied to their unit?
  • Are benchmarking processes used?
  • Is there open sharing of information about best practices among different organizational units?

C3. Information Systems


An effective management system has information systems to support its people in performing actions and making decisions.

Information systems should focus on tracking stakeholder needs, key performance variables, and effectiveness of the management system elements.

Information systems – some questions:

  • Are communications effective vertically and horizontally in the organization?
  • Do people in the organizational unit believe they have the information and communication they need?
  • Are supporting information systems adequate to meet the needs of people in performing their actions?
  • Are there information systems to track stakeholder needs, key variables of performance, and other data necessary to the objectives of the unit and to analyze data by trend and pattern?

C4. Resources – Physical/Financial


An organizational unit must have the financial and physical resources necessary to carry out the actions which support its objectives.

The unit should clearly communicate if the lack or unavailability of resources will hinder its ability to achieve its objective. It must take appropriate actions to assess alternative actions or obtain the necessary resources.

Resources – some questions:

  • Are financial and physical resources available to support the unit in achieving its objectives?
  • Is there clear communications when lack of resources may prejudice achievement of an objective?

C5. Measurement and Monitoring


Measurement and monitoring refers to the measurement of the unit’s operational processes and activities, and monitoring those measures against its requirements.

Most management systems must be able to develop and install measures and conduct real-time monitoring of those measures. Actions that are not measured and monitored within an appropriate time scale may diverge from helping to realize the desired objectives.

A core component of measurement is data analysis —the tracking and monitoring of trends. The results of measurement and monitoring should be documented to provide an evidence trail for performance tracking.

Measurement and monitoring – some questions:

  • Are performance measures established against which progress can be checked?
  • Is there ongoing monitoring of performance against measures?
  • Are variances monitored and investigated when appropriate?
  • Are measurements analyzed for patterns and trends?

C6. Operational Processes and Documentation


Operational processes reflect ongoing design. In light of learning, they should be subject to continuous improvement. In this way, redundant or wasteful processes get eliminated and ones which support the organization’s objectives are encouraged.

Often, it is necessary to document the operational processes to provide evidence to support certain objectives, such as the compliance with laws or regulations, health and safety objectives, due diligence objectives, warranty and product tracking objectives, etc. As such, the documentation process should be an integral part of the process.

The documentation may include:

  • Policy statements
  • List of specific objectives
  • Risk assessments
  • Stakeholder needs analysis
  • Shared values
  • Organizational and accountability structure
  • Best practices
  • Systems documentation
  • Training documentation
  • Performance measures
  • Reports – internal and external
  • Self assessment documentation

Operational processes and documentation – some questions:

  • Are operational processes clearly understood by people responsible, and are they supported by documentation?
  • Are documentation requirements analyzed (regulatory, due diligence, product liability, etc.) and documentation processed designed?
  • Is the documentation process subject to continuous improvement analysis?

D. Learning

Organizational units should continuously learn how to perform better in pursuing their objectives, and improve their learning processes.

Below are some components of Learning:

  1. Continuous Improvement Processes
  2. Monitoring the Operational Environment
  3. Self-Regulatory, Self-Correcting, Self-Assessment Processes (Double Loop Learning)
  4. Delivery/Reporting/Feedback


D1. Continuous Improvement Processes


Continuous improvement processes involve evaluating the process of measurement and monitoring results, and initiating actions to correct and reduce undesirable variances.

The organizational unit should constitute ongoing continuous improvement processes based on measurement and monitoring of performance and corrective action.

Continual improvement processes – some questions:

  • Are continuous improvement processes established, such as measurement, variance analysis, process evaluation, and corrective action?
  • Do people in the organizational unit understand these processes and the related measurements and analysis?
  • Are measurements and results communicated to all people in the unit?
  • Are ideas of improvement of processes actively sought after and communicated throughout the organization?

D2. Monitoring the Operational Environment


The organizational unit should continuously monitor changes in its operating environment. This activity should not be merely reactive, but should incorporate ongoing research into developments and trends that may affect the organizational unit’s viability.

Monitoring the operational environment includes processes to obtain stakeholder feedback on the organizational unit’s performance. This information should be used as a source of learning and improvement.

Monitoring of the operational environment – some questions:

  • Do people in the unit collect data, conduct research and analysis to assess the impact of changes in their environment which may have an effect on the viability of the unit?
  • Is information from stakeholders considered and reviewed?
  • Is there a focus on detecting trends and patterns in values/events that may have an impact on the organization?

D3. Self-Regulatory, Self-Correcting, Self-Assessment Processes (Double-Loop Learning)


Self-regulating, self-correcting and self-assessment processes are sometimes called “double loop learning” processes.

A single-loop learning process is one of learning from errors or variances indicated by measurement and monitoring processes (such as operational environment monitoring and continuous improvement processes). Double-loop learning processes focus on the organizational unit and its management system as a whole. They assess how well the entire system is operating, and determine whether it can perform better. This is known as double-loop learning because it includes learning whether the operational environment monitoring and continuous improvement learning processes can be improved. This typically includes processes for self-assessment by the team, unit or entire organization and self-correction and self-regulation activities based on the assessment and learning.

Self-assessment activities may be formal processes to assess the system’s objectives, the management systems’ elements and how well they work together. However, the process may also be informal, for example comprising a work group’s reflective sessions on the adequacy of its own processes.

On its own, self-assessment is of little use. To be effective, it must be linked with self-regulation and self-correction – the actions resulting from the self-assessment evaluation which are taken to correct and improve the management system. These actions may include:

  • Challenging objectives and their relevance in the light of new circumstances
  • Challenging policy or the system’s design
  • Re-assessing the appropriateness of residual risk tolerance
  • Assessing the level of commitment to the objectives, and
  • Examining instances which indicate low commitment levels – re-examining whether the organization’s actions reflect its espoused mission, vision and values, and whether those values are appropriate and shared.

The organizational unit may assess the adequacy of its capabilities, and examine the need for additional training, new people with different skills, new or changed information systems, or changes to physical resources. Finally, it may assess the adequacy of its own learning and continuous improvement processes, and whether necessary actions are taken in light of what is learned.

The organizational unit should institute self-assessment activities to assess the adequacy of its management system elements in action, and to take corrective action to improve that system.

Self regulation, self assessment – some questions:

  • Do the people in the organizational unit learn from their mistakes and their successes, and take action from that learning?
  • Does the organizational unit conduct any form of self-assessment to assess how well it is doing in pursuit of its objectives, and whether there are any opportunities for improvement or need for change?
  • Are communications, and supporting values of trust adequate to support real learning and constructive dialogue?
  • Do people in the unit reflect on the adequacy of their learning processes and take action to improve their ability to learn and improve further?

D4. Delivery/Reporting/Feedback


A required component of most management systems is some form of reporting to stakeholders on the organization’s performance.

Sometimes the reporting is implicit – it is embodied in the product or service delivered. At other times the reporting must be explicit, for example in reporting environmental performance to interested stakeholders or reporting quality performance to internal or external customers. On occasion, the reporting process may include a third party’s attestation or certification of management systems. In all cases, the reporting process should be used as an opportunity for the organizational unit to gain feedback on its performance and ability to satisfy its stakeholders’ needs. The organizational unit should have processes to track this feedback and learn from it.

Delivery, reporting, feedback – some questions:

  • When the product or service is delivered, do people in the organizational unit try to obtain feedback on the product or service delivered?
  • Do people in the unit report to others on their progress in achieving objectives – including how they have improved, and plan to improve their processes?
  • Do people in the unit use report cards, or similar processes, as a measure of the success of their unit as a whole?

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