Why become certified?
Companies seek certification for a range of reasons but primarily they will be motivated by one or more of the following external and externally facing motivational factors.
The vast majority of certified companies seek certification because a major customer either requires it, or at least strongly favours suppliers that are certified. In other words it is a pre-selection criteria on more lucrative contracts. This applies most often in B2B supply chains. Companies supplying predominantly to domestic customers rarely come under such pressure to become certified by domestic customers. That said, the certification to ISO 9001 is usually used as more than a tick in the box in a tender scoring exercise, the certified company will usually seek to maximise the publicity value of certification and promote itself as a more “well-run company” on the strength of it. It is a differentiator in that respect.
The application of an effective quality management system, certified or not, should generate value to the management of the company. The requirements of ISO 9001 promote best practice and offer an off-the-shelf structure around which to develop the approach. If implemented correctly it can deliver many, or even all, of the following benefits;
- A standardised approach, meaning a reduction in the degree variation between the company’s good days and its bad days. Customers like to know what they are getting
- Increased transparency – the monitoring and internal audit requirements promote the flow of information top down and bottom up. This delivers more accurate, timely and reliable management information, aiding a more informed decision making process on actions, targets, targeting of resources etc. This also reduces the opportunity for fraudulent behaviour. Managers can be more confident they have an accurate picture of what is going on (which most managers tend to like)
- Removal of a “knowledge is power” culture – a documented, proceduralised management system reduces the opportunity for overtly political behaviour and selfish agendas by individual employees. The company is less vulnerable to the absence or resignation of key staff members as the knowledge does not leave with them
- Staff involvement and ownership of work activities – the transparency created by the approach clarifies lines of communication, responsibilities, highlights gaps and identifies opportunities for improvement, leading to a more proactive improvement culture
Ultimately the implementation of a standardised, transparent approach can be considered to deliver benefits in three key areas;
- Efficiency – by identifying gaps, duplication, bottlenecks and overlap
- Effectiveness – by identifying things that are not quite working as they should
- Risk management – by delivering accurate management information upon which more informed decisions can be made
When researching the benefits of certification, by the way, I’d recommend a hefty pinch of salt be applied to any list of benefits espoused by those with a financial interest in issuing certificates. Not all the benefits I’ve outlined above will be realised in every case, as there are a host of other variables to consider.
If a company chooses to follow an ISO 9001 agenda, what does it need to do? Well, first it needs to know to what extent its current arrangements meet (or otherwise) the requirements. This means that a gap analysis is required.
The gap analysis
A gap analysis is a top to bottom review of the current arrangements by a competent person. The gap analysis will identify the gaps. The gaps will generate the action plan.
The action plan and implementation
The action plan is the statement of how the company will address its current gaps, it will identify the sequence, timelines, responsibilities and, also, the costs. Typical actions will involve drafting procedures, staff training and awareness and establishing systems for monitoring and measuring. Obviously if the gap analysis identifies that there is a lot of work to do, then the implementation stage will probably take a while, unless the company is prepared to throw a large resource at the project.
To certify or not?
Once the gaps are addressed, the company will then have the option of seeking formal external certification. This carries an additional cost that the company will need to make a judgement on, taking into consideration whether it will secure any additional competitive advantage for the company either through positive publicity or in tendering processes.
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