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IS CERTIFICATION WORTH IT?

There is only one way to remain successful and that is to keep up with the trends and comparative improvement it may bring. There may not actually be anything wrong with the way processes are performed, but customer expectations will always follow the trends. Just look at some of the conveniences we’ve come to rely on such as paying bills online and click and collect. They’re value-added services for the customer that add cost to the organisation, but if they’re not provided, customers will turn to those willing to provide the value add.

Likewise, industry standards are best practice, and comparing your business to these standards helps you to identify your weaknesses.


International and Australian standards are documents that define best practice on a particular topic. They are developed by a panel and scrutinised by technical experts from the relevant industries, associations and government. They are valuable documents to use as a reference point of what is considered best practice.


When it comes to standards against which a company can be certified, such as quality management, environmental management, safety management systems and HACCP; organisations need to ask themselves, “is it just a good reference document or is it worth our while to become certified?”


CAN STANDARDS REALLY HELP MY BUSINESS?

When you consider your own personal values, morals and ethical standards, they are ideals by which you compare yourself and strive toward. You can’t always have impeccable moral standards, because you are after all only human. When you don’t meet the moral standard you might give yourself a hard time, but then you make some decisions about who you want to be and you align yourself to the standards that ring true to you.


International standards are the moral standards of business. Some aspects of standards will make sense to you and you strive to implement them. Getting to know the content of standards can help you figure out what’s important to you and the ethos of your business and perhaps where your weaknesses are. Without this type of comparison, how do you know whether you’re measuring up to best practice?


Becoming certified to a standard means implementing a best practice method of operating. If this best practice of operating is actually integrated with how you run your business, the ‘extra work’ that is often associated with becoming accredited will actually be business as usual processes. If there is an ulterior motive for certification such as reputation or tender eligibility and it is not integrated into BAU processes, it will be extra work to maintain and prepare for audits. The choice is yours to make.


I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR STANDARDS

It’s a fair comment. We’re all busy and standards are notorious for being hard work. The reason for this is that they cover everything you’ll ever need to know about a perfectly run business. It’s an unobtainable goal to be perfect in everything. It’s like having a self-pity session on Facebook. If you compare yourself and your achievements with every single friend from high school as a collective, you’re going to feel inferior. In reality there isn’t a magical person out there who travelled every country, had a whole heap of kids, volunteers in orphanages, has the best million dollar career, is insanely gorgeous and lived happily ever after. But let’s face it, if you see something on Facebook that makes you envious, that could just be the motivator to get that part of your life in order.


It’s the same with standards. They are a collective of all of the good aspects of business and it’s unlikely that any company ever had a single moment where they scored perfectly in them all. As you read a standard, it gets you thinking about all of the things you are lacking in your business and all of the tasks ahead of you. At this point you need to refrain from throwing the standard out the window and realise that there is nothing wrong with your business, but there are things you can start to incorporate to make it better. Once you get to read a few standards you get to see the common formula in all of them. To make your life easier, here are the basics:


All standards contain the following fundamentals:

  1. A clear organisational goal

  2. A set of processes to achieve that goal

  3. A way to measure if you’re achieving your goal

  4. A method and attitude to always make improvements

  5. A method of implementing your improvements

This formula is not unique to quality management. It is the same in risk management, safety management and asset management.


As a starting point, this is a good 5 point list to measure your business against. Going back to the standard for more detail, one topic at a time, will help you to further compare how you measure up.


SHOULD I GET CERTIFIED?

There are different motivations for getting certified. It’s common to require certification to be eligible for tender submissions. If this is the only motivator for you, then it can become a chore, just another task that needs to be done to satisfy another auditor, however it will satisfy your purpose and get you that tender.


If it’s reputation driven, where you believe customers will choose your product or service over another’s because there is a guarantee of quality that comes with certification, market it to your advantage and pull in the customers. A warning comes with this though; your marketing plan needs to match the expectation of the certification logo. If your objective is to provide the best quality product to your customers, then certification makes a great deal of sense. If your objective is to be a cost price provider with no expectation of quality, it might be worth evaluating whether certification is worth the effort.


If the intention to certify is coming from a place of genuine desire for business excellence, certification is certainly worth pursuing. The benefit of being certified is that it motivates to continue with the system, continue striving for that state of perfection and continue reviewing, monitoring and measuring.


HOW DO I GET STARTED?

A great place to start is to develop your overarching document that describes your business. No matter which standard you are looking to certify against, this is an essential document. Start with your original business plan if you have one. Include the headings from the 5 fundamentals mentioned earlier :

  1. A clear organisational goal

  2. A set of processes to achieve that goal

  3. A way to measure if you’re achieving your goal

  4. A method and attitude to always make improvements

  5. A method of implementing your improvements

Organisational goal – your intentions for the business – mission statement, vision, goal, background of why you started this business and what you’re hoping to achieve.


Processes: how will you achieve your intended purpose and what are the most important values to you along the way – keeping in touch with customers, quick service, well manufactured equipment, testing phases etc.


Resources required: what sort of resources will you require on every step of the way, including human resources, technology, buildings, equipment and machinery.


Risks and improvement culture: how will you empower your employees to identify risks and opportunities to ensure your business thrives? This is everyone’s responsibility and they must be given the power to make decisions on risks and improvements that you as the management team are comfortable with.


WHAT DOES GETTING CERTIFIED INVOLVE?

Getting certified, is a simple process, where an auditor from a certification body of your choice, will compare your methods of working against each element written in the standard. So it makes sense to read through the standard and make sure you have a process for everything listed as requiring a process.


The auditor may test the knowledge of random employees to ensure what is written is the same as what is actually performed. If they find any areas where you have not met the standard, they will issue a non-conformance, which isn’t something to freak out about, this is why you have chosen to be certified. To get a third person perspective on how you can improve. You’ll be given time to rectify the non-conformance and send evidence of this. Once you’ve passed, you’ll receive your certificate and logos for you to use on your marketing material.


This process will be repeated with regular audits (every 6-12 months). Some preparation is required, but most importantly you are trying to show that the concepts in the standard are being carried out as business as usual. It is especially easy to do this if it is true, which is why certification lends itself to the intention of actually pursuing business excellence.


SO IS IT WORTH IT?

Becoming certified to a standard will not magically make your business function perfectly. There is a great deal of freedom in applying a recognised standard. The standard merely talks about best practice. How you interpret and implement that is up to you. It is not a magic formula and does not guarantee success. Reading and understanding the concepts in a standard should provide ideas about what is needed in a well-functioning business, but you will still need to decide what kind of company you want to be and how you’re going to make that work.


The real benefit of becoming accredited is that you are accountable to what you said you would do. It’s very easy to say we’ll do something, but then cut corners down the track. This kind of attitude can affect employee safety and morale and then your objectives start to run off the rails as the direction of the company takes a turn. Being accredited keeps you on track and the audits can find cracks you didn’t know were starting. So yes, it can worth it provided you believe in the concepts of the standard.



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