ISO 9001 Certification Motivations and Realized Benefits – Does Organizational Size Matter?

ISO 9001 Certification Motivations and Realized Benefits – Does Organizational Size Matter?

Over the last 20 years, a growing number of companies support and recognize the importance of quality management, and a certified quality management system, to an organization’s business processes. ISO 9001:2015 is currently the world’s most recognized standard for quality management systems. To be more specific, according to a survey conducted by the International Organization of Standardization (2018), roughly 878,664 valid ISO 9001:2015 certifications were active as of December 31, 2018, with a total site number of 1,180,965, throughout 191 countries China leads the way with 295,703 active ISO 9001:2015 certificates, followed by Italy is in second place, with 87,794, and Germany in third with 47,482.

The ISO 9001 standard helps organizations to define, structure, document, an implement procedures and processes that work to create a greater probability that output quality is maintained. ISO international recognition is also a big part of why the ISO 9001 standard has been adopted worldwide.

But is quality improvement the main motivating factor behind why businesses seek ISO 9001 certification? It turns out that an organization’s size can affect how it perceives the value it receives from ISO 9001 certification.

ISO 9001:2015 - A Survey of Businesses Certified

Last year, Laura Bravi & Federica Murmura conducted a study of Italian businesses (the country with the second most active ISO 9001:2015 certificates in the world) that have adopted ISO 9001:2015 based quality management systems and have achieved ISO 9001 certification, titled: Evidence About ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 9004:2018 Implementation in Different-Size Organizations.  According to Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021), the size of the organizations surveyed within the study varied from what was referred to as “Micro” (less than 10 employees), Small (10-49 employees), Medium (50-249 employees) and Large (250 and greater).

The results confirmed an over-arching theme that was found previously in other, similar studies, Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021) found the following:

 “…significant differences between Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Large firms in the implanting of both ISO 9001 certification and a Total Quality Management (TQM) program in the organization. Regarding quality programs, SMEs focus more on informal, people-oriented approaches, while large firms are more structured, organized and process-oriented.” (p. 2)

In a separate study titled, “ISO 9001 and Supply Chain Quality in the United States”, conducted by Dellana and Kros, highlighted why it’s important to consider an organization’s size when looking into the effect ISO 9001 certification has on a business, Dellana (2018), & Kros (2018) discovered:

 “…in a given supply chain there are many organizations of differing sizes and supply chain positions, such as manufacturers of basic materials and components, subassembly suppliers, final assemblers, distributers, wholesalers, and retailers” and each possibly perceiving different benefits from ISO 9001:2015. (p. 2)

ISO 9001 Certification Motivations

There are many potential factors that contribute to the motivations behind an organization’s action to seek ISO 9001 certification, or to implement an ISO 9001 based quality management system with that goal in mind.

But, according to the Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021), 

“…the major reason cited (for seeking ISO 9001 certification) is to improve corporate image (4.36), followed by the necessity to obtain internal organizational improvements (4.04). However, considering company dimension (size), …organizational improvements have been a major driver for Small and Medium-sized enterprises compared to “Micro” ones. Medium companies are also driven to get the certification due to customer pressure and avoid potential barriers to export(ing).” (p. 8)

Perceived ISO 9001 Certification Benefits

The motivations behind achieving ISO 9001 certification seem straightforward and could likely have been surmised before conducting the study.

What about the perceived advantages the organizations gained after achieving ISO 9001 certification? Did it align with the initial motivations that the company had or did different, unexpected benefits emerge?

While the top motivation was realized as one of the top perceived benefits, a close second rated benefit wasn’t even mentioned in the study's motivating factors, Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021) found:

 “As for the main benefits (see Table 4) obtained from the whole sample, the improvement of corporate image and reputation seems to be the most perceived one (3.99), followed by the greater awareness of business opportunities (3.91) and the reduction of companies’ non-conformities (3.55).” (p. 8)

According to Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021), a greater awareness of business opportunities was a perceived benefit of ISO 9001 certification, which could be a major benefit for any organization and one that is rarely associated with ISO 9001 certification.

For more details on the results of perceived benefits by organizations surveyed in the Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021) study, see Table 4 below: (p. 12)

ISO 9001 Certification Motivations

* Table 4: Benefits to ISO 9001 implementation from study - Laura Bravi & Federica Murmura (2021): Evidences about ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 9004:2018 implementation in different-size organizations, Total Quality Management & Business Excellence

ISO 9001 Certification: Does the Size of the Organization Matter?

According to the data collected in the Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021 study, “Micro” sized organizations have the greatest difficulties in perceiving the benefits mentioned previously after achieving ISO 9001 certification.  Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021) state:

“Considering company size, it can be seen as.. all Micro companies feel the weight of the certification, showing a more significant rise in business costs compared to other companies. Therefore, this result is in line with the studies of Garengo and Biazzo (2012), Murmura and Bravi (2017), that underline how companies of smaller size have fewer financial and human resources and face a smaller management capacity than larger firms. In any case, the intensity of these barriers does not seem to prevent even the smallest companies from being able to adopt certification.” (p. 14)

How Does the Study Relate to North American Companies?

Without conducting a separate study including North American companies, it would be hard to guarantee finding the same results, however considering that Italy has the second most active ISO 9001 certification in the world, they are a great case study, and it would be fair to assume the following for North American organizations:

  • It’s likely that in North America, larger companies will be motivated to achieve ISO 9001 certification with the goal of internal improvements and cost savings through greater efficiencies, similar to the findings in Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021).

  • The smallest organizations in North America could face similar challenges with financial restrictions and lack of management capacity, but their motivations for seeking ISO 9001 certification might center on an improved corporate image.

  • Much like what they discovered in Bravi (2021), & Murmura (2021), there is a high probability that companies that adopt a strong quality management system and achieve ISO 9001 certification become more aware of potential business opportunities not previously recognized.

Learn More About ISO 9001 Certification with Smithers

If you have questions about the ISO 9001 standard, or if you’d like to learn more about the potential benefits your organization could realize with certification to it, contact us at your convenience. We’re always happy to help.

If you're considering ISO 9001 certification, Smithers offers the best auditing to get you ISO 9001:2015 certified to help improve your organization's performance through increased process efficiency and output. Request a quote for ISO 9001 certification services today and begin your journey.

Citations to referenced studies:

* Laura Bravi & Federica Murmura (2021): Evidences about ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 9004:2018 implementation in different-size organizations, Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, DOI: 10.1080/14783363.2021.1954900

**Dellana, S., & Kros, J. (2018). ISO 9001 and supply chain quality in the USA. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 67(2), 297–317.

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