In order to stay in business, our production processes and our products must have many attributes. For example,

a) . the product, and the way we make it, must be safe

b). the product and the way we make it must be economically sustainable and return a profit to the shareholders .

But these are attributes of every business , not just ours. They are not in and of themselves distinctive to our business — although we may well live or die as a business depending on how well we do them.

But we must never let them replace the core of our business. We have seen this happen again and again in the history of business. Some so-called “quality systems" ran rampant and caused the decline and death of their host businesses — behaving like parasites, not commensals.

So we need ways to think about the scale and relevance of attribute systems to roles.

There are some new attributes in the marketplace that actually can be traced to a starting date – September 11, 2001In this case the core area is “food making”. “Quality” in food (desirable attributes to the customer) has been focused through different attributes as time has unfolded. Note: the core topic hasn’t changed, the environment has. This is diagnostic of attributes.

The business environment:

Up to 19th century:

The concerns of the “user” focused on the arts of food storage, spoilage prevention and preservation. Salting, drying, curing….

20th century:

The microbiology of food in intense production and consumption environments, novel anti-spoilage tactics. UHT, canning, asceptic processing, gas packing

21st century:

Preventing intentional contamination of food with hazardous biological agents through tampering or other malicious, criminal or terrorist actions or threats*

The central claim to credibility of any management system must be its capability to drive deep contextualization of its topic. We want a Safety Management System to make our safety safer, not to make our paperwork heavier. We don’t want a better generalization and abstraction of management when we start out Environment Management System – we want a better handle on our environment.

This is the core implication of understanding Compliance management as an “attribute” system – it lets us manage the “attributes” better.

Simply put, nobody goes into business to do “quality”, or gets paid to do “environment”. They go into business to make pharmaceuticals – and they better be quality (assured) pharmaceuticals, or they won’t last long. Or they go into business to mine gold – and they better do it with an eye to the environment, or they’ll have no long term future. “Quality, Safety” and “Environment” are like adverbs – they describe the way we do something, not the thing itself.

This was a key breakthrough for me as I tries to understand how good quality management was different from good production management in the vaccine firm I started my management career in. What was my value add – if it wasn’t “policeman” or “sales prevention specialist”, what did I bring, and how could I discern the boundaries. And how could I teach that discernment?

Seeing the common theme in things like quality, safety and environment – my portfolio – as “attributes” – perspectives on the core business we were in, unlocked the puzzle.

Attributes expand and contract according to business and/or role focus

Picture attributes as perspectives on a business that interest us eg:

Like businesses themselves, attributes expand and contract. Whether you are a sole trader or a multinational, the core issues of business – ROI, Profit, cash flow remain the same. Whether the attribute function is a part-time responsibility or a GM-led function, the core issues of compliance remain the same.

So then we end up with a variaety of different kinds of businesses, with different needs and mixes of attributes