ISO 9000: The Inside Advantage
Most growing companies don't embrace ISO 9000, a generic set of quality standards, unless certification is considered key to their success in international markets, or their customers suddenly demand that all suppliers be ISO registered. Not so for Braas Co., a $20-million employee-owned company that distributes industrial products. President Steve McClintick saw ISO as a blueprint for creating the internal management systems his company lacked. "We had good intentions, but we didn't have good processes," he says. "ISO was the outside influence that would hold us to our intentions."
The ISO 9000 standards provide strict guidelines that help companies develop quality systems to fit their particular situations. Essentially, ISO requires a thorough documentation of certain pro-cesses and strict adherence to those systems. Independent auditors review the company's system, and if everything is up to snuff, the company's ISO certification is ensured.
Many companies hire outside consultants to write ISO documentation (which includes a quality manual, work procedures, and work instructions), but McClintick and his management team decided that the best way to get their 85 employees committed to ISO was to involve them in the process. With 20% of everyone's bonus riding on Braas's becoming ISO registered by June 1994, enthusiasm was more or less guaranteed. An eight-employee ISO steering committee, led by marketing manager Tim Bloudek, spearheaded the effort. "We looked for people who were good at detail, who could accurately identify steps in a process, who understood the organization, and on whom we could depend to do creative work," says McClintick.
Bloudek and four other committee members sequestered themselves in a hotel room for a day to begin hashing out a quality manual. "We needed more employee participation as we started to document the procedures," says Bloudek. "We struggled with that. We kept having to tell people, 'Say what you do, don't say what you wish you were doing.' You can't try to create improvement at the same time you're trying to document your system."
Eighteen months, 3,000 working hours, and $30,000 later, Braas's registrar announced the good news at a companywide meeting: the company had achieved ISO registration. Now, a year later, McClintick thinks Braas is just beginning to reap the rewards. "ISO has helped us identify the weaknesses of our processes and their root causes, so that we can attack them." Subsequent changes in warehouse systems have yielded 99.8% shipping accuracy, and the company has established a formal training program for new employees. The certification process, McClintick adds, built in-house expertise in project management that has been applied to such endeavors as a new contact-management system for compiling customer information.
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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