5 Costly Mistakes Businesses Make When Implementing ISO 9001:2015
... And How to Avoid Them (Part 2)

Table of Contents

In the previous article of our three-part series, we discussed how to ensure your organization pursues ISO 9001 certification for the right reasons. This second part looks at the human side of the implementation process and what can go wrong.

Mistake 2: Not Having Buy-In and Support for the ISO 9001 Implementation Process From Top Management

Once your organization has determined the right reasons to seek certification, that information should help to prevent making this second mistake:

Not having buy-in and support from Top Managers for the ISO 9001 implementation process.

Not having support from top management

In a small business, 'Top Management' might mean the owner. In larger organizations, it might be the Executive and Board of Directors. If they don't provide the leadership, resources and direction required for the Quality Management System, then the likelihood for successfully gaining certification and reaping the potential benefits is diminished.

Why Top Management Support Is Crucial to the ISO 9001:2015 Certification Process

There are several sections in the ISO 9001:2015 standard that clearly spell out expectations of Top Management for successful certification. However, the crux of it all is that the Quality Management System (QMS) is integral to managing the business. While it's possible to delegate operational aspects of the QMS and empower employees to manage their part of the organization, the overall responsibility for the Quality Management System lies at the top.

What Is Meant by Top Management Support for the Quality Management System?

Demonstrated commitment by the organization's leaders to the Quality Management System means:

Taking accountability for the QMS

Communicating the importance of the QMS's requirements

Engaging, directing and supporting other people to make sure the QMS is effective

Utilizing the QMS, e.g., making management reviews a forum where top-level decisions are made

Requiring other managers to demonstrate their support for the system

These are all requirements.

Moreover, the key word here is "demonstrated". Managers have to walk the talk, not just mouth the words.

Among other things, top managers are responsible for:

Developing the Quality Policy. This document is a message to everyone - clients, employees, and regulatory authorities included - of the organization's commitment to quality. It's not a good look if they're stating one thing and doing something else.

Assigning resources to the implementation and maintenance of the Quality Management System. That doesn't mean spending a load of cash on an external consultant and expecting them to 'magic up' their certification. Nor does it mean assigning responsibility to a Quality Manager and telling them to go for it without giving them resources and authority. It means providing enough financial and human resources to put the system in place, keep it running, and support continuous improvement.

Visibly playing an active role by consistently complying with the "rules" of the Quality Management System, and providing an excellent example to the rest of the organization.

Ensuring that others understand what their roles, responsibilities, and authorities are within the system and taking action if they don't meet those obligations.

Making sure the QMS supports improvements in the way the business operates, rather than creating an administrative burden and making employees' lives more difficult. That means they have to understand the requirements and how they apply to their organization, monitor data, and make decisions accordingly. There's a whole part of the ISO 9001:2015 standard that requires review of the system - ie. clause 9.3 Management Review.

What Can Happen When You Don't Have Top Management Support During the QMS Implementation Process?

Besides the obvious audit non-compliance, a lack of top management support can have a serious impact on how the rest of the organization responds to their responsibilities for quality and the effectiveness of the resulting QMS.

A study by Kumar and Balakrishnan (2011) shows a lack of Top Leadership support and involvement as one of the primary reasons why quality management systems are ineffective.[1]

Employees need authorization and empowerment from leaders to engage in improvement and change operational processes. If leaders don't buy into the system, they become the bottleneck rather than the enablers.

Greg Thompson

Greg Thompson, Customer Service Manager, 9001Simplified

After working closely with organizations seeking certification for many years, Simon Keller, Lead Author for 9001Simplified has a personal insight into what can go wrong. "There are several reasons Top Management support is so important," he explains. "For one, ISO 9001 is a management system, a tool for management. If leadership doesn't use their tool, it loses much of its potential. Secondly, leadership's visible use of the ISO 9001 system is a motivating factor. On the other hand, leadership that doesn't buy into ISO 9001 and doesn't "walk the talk" will discourage and frustrate the rest of the organization from utilizing the ISO 9001 system. Thirdly, ISO 9001 leads to improvement, and improvement implies changes. If leadership doesn't fully support ISO 9001, the required changes can often not be implemented."

Greg Thompson, Customer Service Manager for 9001Simplified adds: "Employees need authorization and empowerment from leaders to engage in improvement and change operational processes. If leaders don't buy into the system, they become the bottleneck rather than the enablers."

The way Top Managers view the certification process and how they behave gives a clear message to the rest of the organization about how important it is. Employees are unlikely to be enthusiastic about their role in ISO 9001 and the required changes if:

Management believes certification is just something else that has to be done to get some ticks in boxes

Management doesn't understand that the Quality Management System is an integral part of the way the business is managed and treats is as a separate entity

Management doesn't champion the expected benefits and communicate the improvements

Management openly flouts the requirements of the system by not following the same rules they expect everyone else to abide by

Management delegates their responsibilities without the required authority and resources to go with them

Even worse, management throws a heap of money at an external consultant to make the certification happen for them and then takes no further active part in the process

As we'll discuss in Mistake 3, if everyone in the organization doesn't play a role in the Quality Management System the changes won't lead to improvements and the implementation will be more expensive, less effective, and take longer. Even if certification is somehow achieved in the first instance, it's unlikely to be sustainable.

How to Ensure Top Management Support When Implementing ISO 9001:2015

Understanding the full range of reasons and benefits of certification to ISO 9001:2015 will help bring the entire Top Management team on board. If it's just a marketing strategy, the Sales and Marketing Manager might get excited, but the Production and Customer Service Managers might not be so enthused because it's going to require a significant amount of work on their part without a payoff. However, if everyone understands that improved customer satisfaction and production efficiency can also be outcomes, they're more likely to take ownership and get involved.

So as with avoiding Mistake 1, it is essential to have at least one person who understands:

The ISO 9001:2015 requirements of the standard

The changes the organization will need to make as part of the process

The potential benefits for the whole organization

However, the Top Management team then needs to be educated in those benefits and the importance of their role in the certification process. It's essential to get all their commitment, starting with the person at the top.

You can leave this education process to the internal champion of the certification process, or seek outside help from an external training consultant.

The second approach (external training consultant) can bring a degree of "credibility" and structure to the training, especially if the organization is very new to ISO 9001:2015. However, the costs can be significant, and an external consultant is unlikely to know the business well enough to define the benefits without a considerable amount of (costly) research. Unless the external party can customize their training so that it clearly articulates the benefits Top Managers will receive, management won't be motivated to take ownership of their role in the process to the level that's required.

But there is a third way that is far cheaper, and more effective. An organization can utilize proven training tools in online and DVD formats. Online courses offer interactive training while DVD courses are available as engaging multimedia presentations. These training methods offer the benefits of consistency, high quality, and efficient learning. In addition, they are a whole lot cheaper than face-to-face alternatives.

9001Simplified provides a range of excellent training and support tools that organizations can use to underpin their certification efforts. The resources cater to all levels of employees, including the Quality Representative and Top Management.

Follow our training recommendations and get your certification on track now.

Mistake 3: Not Involving Everyone in the Organization in the QMS Implementation Process

Why Is It Essential That All Employees Are Involved When Implementing a Quality Management System?

We've already detailed how ISO 9001:2015 certification encompasses all of the critical areas of an organization, so by definition, the resultant Quality Management System will have some impact on virtually all business processes, and the roles and responsibilities of all employees.

Not involving everyone

Certification of an organization is not just the "Quality Manager's job," nor is it the job of an expensive external consultant. While you might assign key individuals to coordinate the process, it will still require effort by everyone at the coalface to adapt to the changes needed to meet the requirements.

It's therefore essential that:

Everyone understands the changes necessary for achieving certification and how that will impact them and their roles and responsibilities

Everyone takes ownership and contributes to those aspects relevant to their job

Note: It is possible to exclude some departments, for example, the Finance Department, from the scope of the actual certification if they are regulated by other standards and auditing processes. However, seeing how some of their operations interface with other parts of the business (for instance Procurement), it makes sense that they are aware of and work with any Quality Management System requirements related to those areas.

What Can Happen If Everyone in the Organization Isn't Included in the QMS?

If employees aren't involved in the implementation process or feel that new responsibilities are yet another thing they have to do not knowing "what's in it for them," they are likely to feel threatened and resentful. New responsibilities with no perceived benefit will lead to superficial compliance or worse still, resistance to the changes required. Their lack of constructive input will impact on the success of the certification process, and the resulting QMS is unlikely to reflect the best way of doing things.

Not involving everyone also wastes a valuable resource. People who perform tasks day in, day out, are usually well aware of the problems with the way things are done and have a suggestion on how to do them better. However, they might not feel empowered or have had the opportunity to suggest or make those improvements. This is particularly true for interdepartmental processes, where a silo mentality can develop, and employees don't understand how their outputs contribute to the final product or service.

The certification process offers an opportunity for organizations to re-examine everything they do in a structured way. If they don't use the collective knowledge available throughout the process, the outcome won't be as robust and effective as it could be.

How to Involve All Employees in the ISO 9001:2015 Certification Process

As with the solutions discussed in Mistakes 1 and 2, education is the key to ensuring everyone who needs to get involved in the certification process does get involved. But not only should they be involved, but they should also believe that the changes will have merit, improve the way things are done and will benefit them as individuals, along with the business itself.

If the organization has clearly articulated a comprehensive list of reasons why certification is necessary AND the benefits they aspire to, it's imperative that all employees understand what those are, not just the Top Management.

If the organization has clearly articulated a comprehensive list of reasons why certification is necessary AND the benefits they aspire to, it's imperative that all employees understand what those are, not just the Top Management.

Simon Keller

Simon Keller, Lead Author, 9001Simplified

Once the organization has committed to the ISO 9001 Certification Process, set up meetings across the organization to let everyone know:

That the organization is seeking certification and why (reasons)

What the benefits of certification are, in a way that relates to them, not just the business

How the implementation of the quality management system is likely to affect them

That they will receive the support and training necessary to make any changes

What opportunities they might have as a result of the process

What the next steps are

Initial training for everyone should focus on an introduction to ISO 9001:2015 certification and how the different aspects might apply to them. You can deliver training in small groups, at team meetings, or even one-on-one with key individuals.

Businesses, especially larger organizations, might consider video presentations as a way to provide consistency in the information provided, reduce costs, and provide flexibility to enable delivery of the training at multiple times and locations, and to different sized groups. The multi-media format also makes the exercise more captivating and motivational. Products such as the ISO 9001:2015 Basics - What Employees Need To Know and Quality Basics - Quality is Everyone's Job DVD courses offered by 9001Simplified, are less than $270 which is excellent value when averaged out per person.

As with training of Top Management, it's beneficial if the information delivered communicates what each group will gain from the system. Initial sessions might only provide a general overview explaining overarching principles. However, as the implementation progresses, training is best facilitated by someone within the organization who can interpret the elements of the standard in terms of local vernacular, as opposed to an external consultant without that insight.

During the implementation process, give employees the opportunity to contribute to the changes and the associated documentation that impacts on their jobs.

Identify key influencers in the organization and get them involved and enthusiastic as early as possible. They, in turn, will have a positive effect on others in their sphere of influence.

Provide opportunities to get involved with the broader aspects of the Quality Management system, e.g., the audit program, business improvement activities, and root cause analysis of problems.

Involving All Employees in the Certification Process

Celebrate achievements regularly across the whole organization. Provide updates on the progress of the certification process, and how the changes realize benefits and improvements. Don't just let the initial buzz created by the initial announcement fade away.

Provide an avenue for employees to give feedback and ask questions with impunity.

Publicly recognize employees who actively engage and improve the way things are done. When certification is successful, acknowledge that it's been a team effort.

9001Simplified provides a range of excellent training and support tools that organizations can use to underpin their certification efforts. The resources cater to all levels of employees including those at the coalface.

Visit our training catalog and get your certification on track now.

Now that we've examined the various mistakes you might make with your people during the certification process, let's move onto potential problems with the Quality Management System itself in part 3 of our three-part series.


    What has been your experience with ISO 9001 certification? Do you agree that the involvement of everyone in the organization is critical for success? Let us know in the comments below (all relevant, respectful feedback is welcomed per our guidelines).


    1 Kumar, Durai Anand; Balakrishnan, V. (2011) , "A Study on ISO 9001 Quality Management System Certifications - Reason Behind the Failure of ISO Certified Organizations", Global Journal of Management and Business Research, 11 (9): 147-154

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