Why ISO Matters

The concept of a ubiquitous quality standard has been around for many years. Fortunately, the ISO standard is recognized worldwide and is used as a gauge of a company’s commitment to meet certain expectations when it comes to a quality program.

Mereco has been certified to the ISO 9001 Standard since 1997. In 1995, when I was Vice President of the company, I proposed that we begin an initiative to become certified to the ISO Standard that was in effect at that time. My proposal was perceived as an unnecessary diversion of resources, simply because of the cost involved and the personnel required to make the commitment. As a small company, management of cash flow, developing new customers and supporting current customers are the major priorities of day-to-day life. Taking your eye off the ball on any of those items can result in a quick deterioration of your business situation. When customers suspect or lose confidence in your quality program you will quickly lose orders and opportunities. Without sales coming in the door the business is in deep trouble.

When I became President in 1997, I finally convinced my partner, Herb Spivack, the founder of Mereco, that the time was right to begin the certification process. Mereco had many current and prospective customers that were expecting the certification as a condition of maintaining present business and bidding on future business. We both agreed to cross the Rubicon and begin the march on ISO. We hired one of the premier and most recognized certification companies in the world, Det Norske Veritas (DNV) to do the auditing.  After spending about $ 150,000, we were certified by DNV in 1997. In April of this year (2014) we again passed our annual periodic audit with DNV, with no new non-conformances and a few observations that will enhance our business.  We are very proud of the fact that Mereco has never had a major non-conformance.

Over the past 17 years Mereco has become an ISO-centric company. As the President and COO, I am certified as an ISO internal auditor and I either lead or participate in one audit every year. I try to rotate my audit participation so that I can be involved with the four major areas at least once every four years. The employees at Mereco know that I am a true believer in the benefits of ISO and my belief system flows down to them. Out of thirty-two Mereco employees, thirteen (41%) are ISO auditors that participate in the internal audit process.  This extremely high rate of employee participation insures that they all have skin in the game when it comes to the periodic and recertification audits. Our employees take our ISO certification seriously and as a personal badge of honor, as do I.

The move in the 2008 Standard to a process audit orientation with a focus and expectation of continual improvement was a huge step forward from the old way of auditing discrete departments. We can now assess the workflow through the entire organization, from order entry to the shipment going out the door, to the end consumer. Additionally, we are expected to plan for and implement continuous improvement efforts which are synergistic with operational efficiency programs like Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing.

So, why does ISO certification matter?  It matters because it tells the world (Quality Statement) you are serious about your quality program and care enough about your customers that you are willing to commit the time and money to provide them with that extra level of effort to meet their expectations. It is also a phenomenal tool for your Operations, making sure that all Standard Operating Procedures and Work Instructions are well documented and reviewed on a routine basis, and ensuring that you are indeed doing what you say you are doing. It also provides you with a fantastic vehicle for presenting your company to customers and prospects.  The most powerful presentations I can make to Mereco customers or prospects  begins with an intro of our Quality Statement, ISO certification, and ISO story. I can assure you that this approach immediately captures their attention.

The most important component of any ISO certification effort is that to be successful it needs to be led from the top and requires the very visible attention and support of all of top management, especially the Chairman/CEO or President/COO. Without the complete support of top management, the unfortunate Quality Manager or consultant who is assigned the process without direct support and direction from the top will be looked on as a distraction by the other employees, many of whom are critical to the success of the project. In that situation the ISO certification effort is doomed to failure or to an endless period of delays and meetings only appropriate for sneaking in a power nap.

What ISO is NOT is a simple marketing gimmick that will immediately result in customers or prospects inundating you with new business.  Your customers and prospects will visit and audit your ISO system to make sure you are not treating it as hype, and if you’re not doing what you say you are doing, or not adhering to the Standard, woe to you.

In closing, if you’re not ISO certified, you should be. If you are already certified, then keep your eye on the ball, use it as a vehicle to provide continuous improvement, and by all means promote your certification as the lynchpin of your business success.

Best regards,