Forced Into ISO Certification?
It Isn’t Difficult And It Really Will Help Your Organization
While no company likes mandates that they feel can add to their production or service delivery costs, complying with a requirement to become ISO certified isn’t an automatic burden these days. New efficient implementation options, better explanations and the support (and clarity being given by ISO itself), gaining and maintaining certification is becoming a very manageable process and your organization can achieve it yourself (learn about our certification packages). Whether this easier path to ISO is encouraging customers to require certification from their suppliers isn’t clear, but there certainly are many that are asking.
For instance, here’s a requirement from The Alabama Community College System (ACCS) which consists of 22 comprehensive community colleges and four technical colleges serving approximately 300,000 students and other trainees. ACCS runs a combined purchasing program serving these different schools and organizations. Its purchasing guidelines note that ISO certification is not only their requirement, but is written into the state’s legal requirements:
Any vendor interested in submitting a sealed bid MUST BE ISO-9001 Certified per State Law Requirement for Joint Purchasing. Additional Information and clarification regarding ISO Certification is located in the Q & A section of the ACCS JPA site.
Is ISO Certification Worth It? How Can You Achieve It?
As with any business decision, the return on investment must justify the expense. However, there is a growing body of solid business evidence that ISO certification does far exceed most investments. A recent Harvard Business School study which examined similar companies (market-industry, etc.) indicates that ISO certification appears to increase value after certification over those who had not been certified, specially citing:
- Higher sales and growth rates after certification
- Earnings outpaced non-certified comparison groups
- More benefits for smaller firms than larger
- Lower injury and death rates than their non-certified peers
How You Should Comply With An ISO Certification Request
While there are costs associated with ISO 9001 certification, many companies may not realize how much savings can occur by:
- Doing part or all of the work themselves, versus hiring outside consultants
- Seeking reimbursement from various government resources
- Shopping diligently and negotiating better pricing from those outsourced processes (training, auditing, registrars, etc.) functions that are required
There are typically three options for an organization seeking registration:
- Create everything (documentation, training materials, etc.) on your own by reading and interpreting the standard. (Of course, you know your business better than anyone, and you are in the best position to document your processes. But do you have the time to create hundreds of pages of documentation plus training?)
- Use documentation templates and training programs to train your organization. You still do it yourself, but you don’t do it alone. (For a very small investment, you can train your people and create a solid QMS very efficiently — saving you weeks and weeks of time and frustration.)
- Hire an ISO consultant to complete the entire process with you. If you are short on people and have the funds, this may be the most effective option. However, this is the most expensive option ($5,000 -$50,000) as they would typically create (and charge you for) many of the documents included in a package. You will end up paying for the transfer of knowledge to the consultant so he/she may put together the Quality Management System (QMS).
Quick Lessons That Will Make Your Registration Process A Lot Easier
As that Harvard Business study documents, ISO certification usually pays off and is well worth your time. But don’t do it without sincere commitments from management to support it. It won’t work and you will be wasting everyone’s time. Here are some “must do” actions to take when implementing ISO 9001:
- Get the right team together and motivate them. Making quality a priority and turning your quality team into heroes, not impediments, makes the process easier for you and everyone else.
- You don’t own the quality process, it’s for everyone. In fact, there is no way any type of quality effort will succeed if anyone feels it is someone else’s job. Force doesn’t work that well either, but a thorough education and understanding does, and that is your job: To educate, inspire and aid others in producing quality products and services.
- Train, train, train. Letting people know what’s in it for them helps. If there are additional certifications that people can gain to help them be more valuable in their career, then promote that. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific skill improvements like SPC, FMEA, Root Cause Analysis. And don’t forget the standards themselves. Make sure you not only have one but provide the text and explanations to everyone in language that can be understood and acted upon.
- Don’t use the excuse that certification requires extra effort. Many times, people may say that standards require specific extra effort that isn’t justified. Before you accept this, ask them where in the standard this requirement is. Often it is a matter of interpretation as to the level or type of action needed to comply. And there are always less expensive choices.
In the end, ISO 9000 should be a plus. Being truthful about the process and the attitudes taken along the way can keep it from becoming a burden and make it the asset that so many other companies have found it to be.
Bottom-Line Justification For Getting ISO Certified
Of course, putting other reasons to gain certification into the return on investment evaluation may make more sense, and provide a higher level of buy in and execution from the organization. (It will also prevent problems downstream when the inevitable customer quality audit comes around). In that case it may be possible to Here are just some of the reasons you may wish to “go with the program” and gain certification other than just to retain/acquire business:
- ISO 9001 certification is a risk management tool for the overall business. Those businesses that engage in a quality management system, particularly one that encompasses all operations as ISO does (particularly if you add in the ISO 9004 Series, which adds in all those who might affect the business including investors, customers, suppliers, etc.), tend to do better in responding to changing conditions. Also, they work within a more defined scope and tend to avoid situations that may degrade their overall profitability.
- ISO 9001 certification is an engine of growth. Because if opens the doors to a wider spectrum of business relationships (up and down the production and distribution chain), it can open new opportunities in areas that may not be possible otherwise. In effect, this is the flip side of being forced, since knowledge of a company having an ISO certification can be a marketing aide, as customers search for ISO qualified firms with which to do business. (Yes, it happens, they call you!)
- ISO 9001 certification helps keep business longer. Companies that require ISO certification as a mandate for doing business, also are typically willing to invest more and do more to maintain the relationship. It is a cost of doing business for them as well since they must audit the process, so they do not want to have to change unless conditions require it. In the end, ISO certification increases customer loyalty and lowers production costs. Unplanned or unwanted product deviations cost everyone time and money.
The bottom line, from a customer’s standpoint, is that the higher the quality level that can be consistently produced, the more they repeat their purchases. People (or companies) don’t change purchasing habits without motivation. If pricing, availability, attributes (size, color, etc.) are still available, keeping consistent production means keeping a consistent purchasing base.