Becoming ISO certified isn’t always a straightforward process and, often, there will be challenges that organisations must overcome along the way.
While your business may be eager to get compliant with a given ISO standard or set of standards, certification doesn’t happen overnight. In most cases, companies wishing to DIY ISO compliance need to remain dedicated to their compliance goals for a number of months before getting the outcome they set out to achieve.
That said, with a little preparation and research (and possibly intermittent support from an expert) it is possible to develop systems and processes which will achieve ISO certification in a way which immeasurably benefits a business and adds little if any burden of effort or documentation.
From experience, as businesses take steps to get closer to compliance, unwanted surprises can be frustrating and set you back. With this in mind, when you’re just starting out, getting a clear idea of what the ISO certification process entails and the types of challenges you may encounter is a great first step to take. This gives you the opportunity to prepare for potential setbacks and proactively plan for how you would overcome them.
In the following article, we’ve compiled some of the most common challenges we see organisations grapple with, while also giving you practical suggestions for managing them – so you can stay well on track to achieving ISO certification.
Understanding ISO Certification: Motivations & Benefits
So, what makes ISO certification a justifiable objective, both financially and logistically, for businesses? Some of the benefits that go hand-in-hand with compliance include:
- Improved credibility of product, service and/or brand as a whole;
- Reduced number of injuries and injury-related costs;
- Assurance that you’re operating in accordance with any applicable legal requirements;
- Access to more business opportunities from customers that preference certified companies;
- Improved employee morale and productivity;
- Greater harmonisation and consistency across operations;
- Alleviation of clunky, out-dated and inefficient management systems;
- Improved communication capabilities;
- Improved risk management.
At the end of the day, reaching your compliance goals is a major investment of time and effort, and will likely impact staff across all levels of your organisation. Before taking any action, you need to be sure that your company is ready, able and willing to take on this responsibility.
Common challenges and how to overcome them
For an organisation to successfully achieve ISO certification, everyone across all business levels needs to work together harmoniously. Differing ideas across the team on how/whether it’s worth it to become compliant can set a company back and make it more difficult to reach their objectives.
To overcome this, organisations need to be proactive, involving and engaging employees in the process from the beginning, so they understand why the company is striving towards certification. This will also be central in helping staff recognise their role in change and how what they currently do will be positively impacted in the months to come.
Often, companies find getting an experienced consultant on their team helpful at this time, as consultants are well aware of how compliance is just one of the benefits of becoming ISO certified – and can emphasise aspects which will help achieve buy-in from staff.
Additional benefits of using a consultant to facilitate your project can include:
- Greater speed to achieve compliance (generally 1/3 to 1/4 of the time needed to DIY) and less chance of the project derailing due to operational considerations;
- More streamlined, low-document and low-burden compliance systems;
- Fewer pitfalls and wrong turns;
- Bringing greater clarity to an organisation’s operations and how they could be more efficient;
- Improved communication organisation-wide;
- Improved ability to meet customers needs;
- Cost and waste savings.
Hiring the Wrong Consultant
Deciding which consultant is a good fit for your business can be difficult, and knowing what to look for isn’t always obvious. Before you commit to a specific consultant, there are some key points to consider.
First you want to establish whether the consultant has worked with businesses like your own to implement management systems before. Have they have helped organisations in your industry get certified with the standard you’re looking to become compliant with?
If your potential consultant is inexperienced, they may lack the knowledge of compliance to see your project through to completion in a timely manner. They may also over document the standard’s requirements in a bid to ‘cover all bases’, which again can be inefficient and impractical.
A couple of other important considerations when determining which ISO consultant is right for you include if the consultant:
- GOOD- Has strong communication skills, is on the same page as you and works well with you and your team;
- NOT GOOD- Has a ‘one size fits all’ approach and doesn’t take your business’ distinct needs into account.
With all of this in mind, you may be tempted to use a template system and ‘do it yourself’ rather than hiring a consultant. But, this can be more time consuming, while also leaving you more susceptible to a bloated, over-documented system and potentially costly mistakes and setbacks.
If you decide to go through the process of choosing a consultant, just remember not to take shortcuts, rush into a decision or make a choice based purely on how much they charge, as this isn’t always reflective of their quality of service.
Your leaders don’t take charge
Strong leadership is fundamental in helping organisations drive real change and achieve certification. Top management needs to lead, setting a strong example for the rest of the company.
If management adopts a different set of expectations for themselves, fails to encourage and support staff in meeting certification goals and/or sends mixed messages – this will make achieving certification all the more difficult.
This starts with top management first ensuring they fully understand what the desired outcome is, what needs to be done to get there and their role in helping the company achieve this. Next, as mentioned, smooth implementation relies on management leading by example and communicating clearly and considerately with employees.
Appropriate resources aren’t allocated
Often, to help the business achieve certification, employees will need to take on more responsibilities.
This can cause stress and unrest, with staff becoming time poor and taking on the weight of additional pressure in their role. These stresses are further amplified when suitable resources aren’t allocated to support them during this time.
It’s for this reason that management needs to ensure they’re scoping out required resources at the start of the project, and that these are provided to employees in a timely manner. Employees also need to feel comfortable, for instance, raising their hand to request additional resources if this becomes necessary.
Lack of knowledge
Before working towards certification, you need a clear plan to guide your efforts. This is based on your understanding of where existing systems are at, where they need to be and how you’re going to reach your goals.
Without this knowledge, you’ll struggle to make progress, as your efforts may be somewhat misguided and disjointed. This will, inevitably, unnecessarily waste time, money and resources that could have been better allocated.
There are various ways to overcome this, such as the following:
- Conducting sufficient research before getting started, which may involve speaking with an ISO consultant who can provide you with expert advice and assistance, so you fully understand the certification requirements;
- Determining the core, important steps needed to achieve ISO certification and, respectively, developing a clear and systematic plan;
- Providing staff with sufficient training programs, all of which will keep them informed, focused and driven by purpose.
Systems aren’t easily maintainable
Central to ISO certification is the need for systems to be maintained once they have been developed. While implementing a ‘quick fix’ to get certification may seem like a reasonable option, it won’t help you achieve long-term results and could result in you losing your certified status if the resulting system is difficult for your staff to maintain and keep up-to-date.
From the beginning, top management needs to clearly communicate the need for continued commitment to compliance and the importance of maintaining systems, preferably emphasising how the business and the employees benefit from compliance and the changes that have been implemented.
Even once your compliant systems are in full swing, over time, employees may fail to continue following required processes and/or recording information that is vital in monitoring the ongoing performance of systems. This is a reason why systems need to be designed in a way that’s intuitive and allows for staff to use common sense, with a minimum of extra paperwork.
In addition to this, businesses are encouraged to conduct regular audits of their systems, which in turn helps them identify and get on top of issues quickly. It can be a challenge to keep a team of people trained up and experienced enough to perform these audits in a way which will bring benefit to the business, but it is vital to do so both to get the most benefit from certification and to maintain your compliance status.
The most important antidote to all these challenges is to design a system in the first place which poses the lightest possible burden on staff and is as intuitive and easy to use as possible – following your existing processes as closely as possible to minimise the need for change, and all without adding a huge paperwork burden.
Take the first step towards ISO certification
If you’re ready to take the next step towards achieving ISO certification, get in touch with our team of experienced consultants. We have expertise across a wide range of industries developing lean, low burden systems complying with ISO standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 45001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001 and ISO 55001.
Contact us today and find out how our team can help you achieve your business’ compliance goals.