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IJOPM
21,10 An empirical study of the
ISO 9000 standards’
contribution towards total
1326
quality management
Katerina D. Gotzamani and George D. Tsiotras
University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece
Keywords ISO 9000, Total quality management, Performance measurement
Abstract This paper presents the results of an empirical study on the contribution of ISO 9000
standards towards total quality management (TQM). The paper is a continuation of the authors’
research on the ISO 9000 standards effectiveness and capability as an entry key to TQM. The
literature review of the above issue revealed the need for a formal empirical study to resolve the
existing debate about the standards’ long-term contribution and true value to ISO 9000-certified
companies. For the purposes of this study, a TQM measurement instrument was developed and
tested for its reliability and validity to measure TQM performance improvement in certified
companies in Greek industry. This performance improvement was then used to test the basic
research hypothesis: ``Can ISO 9000 standards provide a good first step towards TQM?’’. The
results of the study are presented in eight basic TQM categories, showing the certified companies’
performance improvement in the basic elements of each category, and revealing their strengths
and weaknesses on their way to TQM.

Introduction
It is certainly true that the development and application of a quality assurance
system helps companies to better organise and synchronise their operations by
documenting their processes, clearing out ambiguities and clearly defining
duties and responsibilities among employees and departments. Even more, its
greatest and most important advantage lies in the fact that it introduces a
preventive way of managing quality, focusing mainly on the prevention of
errors, rather than their later detection and correction, which was the focus of
the traditional ``quality control’’. The significance of prevention is highly
realised and appreciated by all authors in the literature, since the new
competitive challenge for the companies is the successful combination of high
quality and low price; in other words, the combination of quality and
productivity. The only way for companies to respond to this challenge is the
use of preventive rather than corrective methods of quality management, since
the latest highly increase costs and decrease productivity, without adding real
value to the products. Based on the above, the implementation of a quality
assurance system presents a good opportunity for companies that want to
respond to the challenge.
International Journal of Operations &
However, there is still one very serious dilemma about the quality assurance
Production Management, standards, which highly concerns both theorists and practitioners in the field.
Vol. 21 No. 10, 2001, pp. 1326-1342.
# MCB University Press, 0144-3577 This dilemma regards the degree to which the development and certification of
a quality assurance system, according to the ISO 9000 series of standards, can ISO 9000
finally guarantee real quality improvement to the companies that apply it. standards’
More specifically, some of the questions frequently raised in business articles contribution
are:
Can quality assurance standards boost and increase a company’s
commitment to quality?
1327
Do they really encourage continuous improvement?
What are the real motives behind certification?
Is it a sign of commitment or is it just another marketing tool?
Can it serve as a first step towards total quality management (TQM)
when this is the company’s final target?
What will this ``certification fashion’’ leave behind it when the temporary
competitive advantage of certification is lost?
Will it have emphasised and strengthened the importance of quality
throughout the company?
Will it have left a modernised system of quality management, with the
capability to evolve into TQM, or will it just leave a complicated,
bureaucratic and non-flexible system, together with a general feeling of
disappointment and discontent about quality and quality improvement
programs?
The aim of this paper is to address this dilemma and provide an answer to the
above raised questions through an empirical study on the standards
contribution towards TQM in the Greek industry. The paper is a continuation
of the authors’ previous research on the ISO 9000 standards’ effectiveness and
contribution as an entry key to TQM (Gotzamani and Tsiotras, 1996), which
proved the need for a formal empirical study on the issue. More specifically, the
basic hypothesis examined in this paper is:
H1. Can ISO 9000 quality assurance standards provide a good first step
towards total quality management?

Literature review conclusions on ISO 9000 standards’ contribution


The above hypothesis was first examined through literature review on this
issue, which gave no specific answers to the above raised questions and
dilemmas.
There is a general confusion and uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of
the standards and their long-term contribution to the companies. In fact, two
different and to a high degree conflicting views/assertions were revealed about
the effectiveness of the quality assurance standards, which can be described as
the optimistic and the pessimistic one.
The optimistic view (Henkoff, 1993; Marash and Marquardt 1994; McQueen,
1993; Rayner and Porter, 1991; Williams, 1997) is mainly based on the fact that
the standards offer a well-structured tool to ``start with quality’’, making much
IJOPM easier top management’s commitment to it. They decrease the gap between the
21,10 current quality management environment and TQM for the majority of the
companies, they offer a shift in focus from the final products to the processes
that produce these products, they improve internal organisation and operation,
they ensure a more effective and uniform communication throughout the
company, they increase employees’ awareness in quality issues, they lower
1328 quality variations and quality related costs, they increase customers’
satisfaction and trust to the company and they encourage continuous
improvement through regular and imperative quality audits. It is also claimed
that although the shortages of ISO 9000 standards compared to TQM are far
too many, the conscientious and consistent implementation of their fixed and
clear requirements can offer a good first step towards TQM, for which there are
no clear requirements and directions. Even more, the quality assurance system,
when properly implemented by the companies, represents a sub-system of
TQM (Conti, 1993b; Lamprecht, 1991), while its final certification increases
responsibility and commitment to quality.
On the other side, the pessimistic view (Corrigan, 1994; Henkoff, 1993;
Johannsen, 1995; Stephens, 1994) is based on the fact that companies focus
mainly on quick and easy certification, without real commitment to quality.
This may result in the development of a static system, which increases
bureaucracy and reduces flexibility and innovation, without guaranteeing real
and continuous improvement of products and processes and improved
satisfaction of the customer, who is finally the only judge of quality. Also, the
standards can not guarantee efficiency, since the processes are not necessarily
evaluated for their efficiency before they get documented, while they also do
not include any operational or other business results in their requirements.
Even more, it is claimed that in cases of bad implementation, the company is
more likely to move one step backwards instead of forwards, because of the
general disappointment and resentment caused to the employees by the
excessive bureaucracy and workload.
That is why Juran (1993) says:
All in all, my prognosis for Europe is gloomy. In my view, many companies are in for a
massive letdown. They will get registered to ISO 9000, but this alone will not enable them to
attain world-class economy.

The main conclusion drawn from the summarisation of different opinions and
assertions on this matter (Betram, 1990; Byrnes, 1992; Carlsson and Carlsson,
1996; Conti, 1993a, 1993b; Corrigan, 1994; Gotzamani, 1996; Kochan, 1993;
Lamprecht, 1991; Marash, 1993a, 1993b; Mayer, 1993; McQueen, 1993; Rayner
and Porter, 1991; Sakofsky, 1994; Searstone, 1991; Stephens, 1994, 1997; Stout,
1993; Taylor, 1995; Tummala, 1996; Zuckerman, 1994; Williams, 1997), is that
the long-term effectiveness and real value of the quality assurance standards, is
not based on their content and requirements, but on the way that these are
adopted and implemented by the companies. The key for their success lies in
the companies’ real commitment to quality improvement and their true motives
for certification, which finally dictate the way and depth to which the standards ISO 9000
are implemented. The ISO 9000 standards offer companies the capability to standards’
develop and implement an effective and dynamic quality system, with a focus contribution
on continuous improvement and adaptation, as long as the companies show the
necessary willingness and commitment to exploit it (Williams, 1997). The key
determinant for standards success is the depth to which a company desires to
proceed in satisfying their requirements. Those companies limiting their efforts 1329
to the satisfaction of the minimum necessary requirements for certification, will
not be able to realise the full potential of the standards and are likely to fail. On
the contrary, companies can really benefit from the process if they see the
standards as an opportunity to organise and improve their internal operations
and quality, by creating a dynamic and ever-improving quality system that
may evolve in a TQM system. The real benefits can be realised only when the
companies that apply them truly understand both their capabilities and their
limits (Henkoff, 1993).
However, the lack of formal empirical research on this interesting and
controversial issue was identified as a main deficiency of the quality
management research (Williams, 1997), since the basic arguments of both the
optimistic and the pessimistic view were mainly based on personal assertions
and isolated experiences of certified companies.
The above mentioned dilemma about ISO 9000 effectiveness, the
controversy that this dilemma raises in literature, the absence of formal
empirical research to support the optimistic or the pessimistic side, the long-
term interest of Greek companies on TQM (Gotzamani et al., 1996) and the
exponential growth of certifications among Greek companies and world-wide
(Lamprecht, 1992; Kochan, 1993), highlighted the need for a formal empirical
research on ISO 9000 standards implementation and their capability to drive
Greek companies towards TQM. Even more, it is claimed in the theory of group
decision making and business dynamics, that every new technical or
managerial approach, is either readily and truly approved, or completely
rejected, depending on its first impression to a company and its employees.
Ahire and Rana (1995) comment:
The first impression of the initial phase of TQM implementation, contributes significantly to
the long-term trust and support from management and employees.

That is why the Greek companies’ experience with the standards becomes so
important for the future of quality management and improvement practices in
the Greek industry, since this is practically one of their first steps towards
quality improvement. If the final impression gained by the companies and their
employees about quality and quality improvement is a positive one, these
systems may serve as a good first step for future adoption of TQM principles
and techniques, which proved to be highly appreciated among them
(Gotzamani et al., 1996)
IJOPM To evaluate the standards’ long-term effectiveness and contribution in the
21,10 Greek industry, we decided to proceed with an empirical research on the Greek
ISO 9000 certified companies, by exploring:
The motives that lead Greek companies to ISO 9000 certification, since
these are said to be decisive for the long-term effectiveness and value of
the standards.
1330
The certified companies performance improvement from the standards’
implementation in basic TQM areas, to test their effectiveness as a first
step towards TQM.
The overall, internal and external, benefits/results that they have
witnessed from certification, since one of the main standards’ criticism is
that companies can get registered without having to prove any positive
business results from the standards’ implementation.

Design of the research questionnaire ± methodology


The 20-page questionnaire used for the research was composed of the following
three main parts:
The first part examined the motives that lead Greek companies to
certification. A list of ten different motives was extracted from the literature
review covering all possible reasons for which companies pursue certification.
The surveyed companies were asked to mention the extent to which each one of
these motives influenced their decision for certification. A typical example of
the items in this part of the questionnaire is:
Quality improvement of final products/services (extent to which they pursued certification for
this reason):
0 = not at all, 1 = very low, 2 = low, 3 = moderate, 4 = high, 5 = very high.

The second part of the questionnaire, which constituted its main body, tested
the standards’ contribution towards TQM. For this reason a special TQM
measurement instrument was built, covering the following eight basic TQM
performance categories:
(1) leadership;
(2) strategic quality planning;
(3) quality data and analysis;
(4) human resource management;
(5) process management;
(6) suppliers relations;
(7) customers relations; and
(8) product quality design.
The last category was addressed only to those companies certified to ISO 9001.
The above eight categories were described through 80 important TQM
elements/questions. The certified companies were asked to evaluate their ISO 9000
performance on these elements, by indicating the extent of practice of each one standards’
of these in their company, both before and after certification. This way we could contribution
isolate the unique standards contribution to the TQM elements performance
and check whether this contribution is significant or not; in other words,
whether the standards implementation boosts TQM performance or not, and in
which specific elements or areas. 1331
A typical example of the 80 items in this part of the questionnaire is:
Extent to which employees are trained in statistical methods and techniques:
Before ISO certification: 0 = not at all, 1 = very low, 2 = low, 3 = moderate, 4 = high,
5 = very high.
After ISO certification: 0 = not at all, 1 = very low, 2 = low, 3 = moderate, 4 = high,
5 = very high.

Finally, the third part of the questionnaire examined the overall operational
and other benefits of certification. Thus, a list of 20 possible benefits was
offered, asking companies to mention the degree to which they witnessed each
one of them as a result of their ISO 9000 certification. This list was also
extracted from literature review and covered all possible benefits that
companies could witness from certification. A typical example of the items in
this part of the questionnaire is:
Extent to which the amount of defects and rework was reduced (as a result of ISO 9000
implementation):
0 = not at all, 1 = very low, 2 = low, 3 = moderate, 4 = high, 5 = very high.

The six-point interval rating scale was chosen for all 110-questionnaire items in
order to prevent the occurrence of the central tendency error. The questionnaire
was sent to almost all ISO 9000 (9001, 9002 or 9003) certified companies by
ELOT (the Greek organisation for standardisation), by that period (May, 1996)
and it was addressed to their quality assurance manager.
Finally, 84 answered questionnaires were received, giving a particularly
high (57 per cent) response rate, considering the magnitude of the
questionnaire. The data were analysed with the use of the statistical package
for the social sciences (SPSS) for Windows (Norusi, 1992).

Test of the TQM measurement instrument


Before using the TQM measurement instrument (in the second part of the
questionnaire) to test the basic hypothesis of the research, the instrument had
to be first tested for its reliability and its validity. As Bryman and Cramer
(1994) mention:
It is generally agreed that when a mean of measuring a concept is proposed, the measurement
mean must be both reliable and valid.

A measurement instrument is called reliable when it gives the same results,


applied to different persons or under different circumstances. An instrument’s
reliability can be tested by three ways:
IJOPM (1) Based on the correlation of the instrument’s elements (internal
21,10 consistency method).
(2) Based on the correlation between two different forms of the same
measurement instrument (re-test or alternative form method).
(3) Breaking down the same instrument into two parts, and testing their
1332 correlation (split-halves method).
From the above methods, the internal consistency method was used for the
research, since this is said to be the most popular for testing an instrument’s
reliability. This method is also suggested as particularly important in
measurement instruments with super-variables or multiple-elements
dimensions (Bryman and Cramer, 1994), as is the case with the TQM
categories. The internal consistency was measured using the Cronbach’s alpha
reliability coefficient. The closer this is to one, the highest the internal
consistency of a dimension, while generally values higher than 0.8 are regarded
as satisfactory. The results proved the internal consistency of each TQM
category’s elements in the instrument, since the reliability coefficients for all
TQM dimensions, were very high (> 0.85). The exact reliability coefficients for
every TQM category are presented below (Table I).
A measurement instrument’s reliability is necessary but not enough, since
the instrument must also prove to be valid, which means that it must really
measure the concept or the phenomenon that it was designed to measure. There
are three validity measures:
(1) content validity;
(2) predictive validity; and
(3) construct validity.
``Content validity’’ or ``face validity’’ concerns the instrument’s adequacy for
the measurement of the concept or the idea that it measures. Content
validity can only be checked qualitatively/subjectively, by its approval from
experts on the subject/phenomenon that it concerns, in this case TQM. The
instrument’s content validity for this research is assured by the extensive
literature review conducted on the subject. The basic TQM categories and
the elements in each category were extracted from extensive literature

TQM category Cronbach’s alpha

Leadership 0.90
Strategic quality planning 0.86
Quality data and analysis 0.89
Human resource management 0.86
Table I. Process management 0.94
Internal reliability Supplier’s relations 0.85
coefficients for each Customer’s relations 0.95
TQM category Product quality design 0.92
review on TQM theory and each TQM area separately, from the most ISO 9000
popular quality gurus’ theories and the main quality awards (MBNQA and standards’
EQA) requirements, as described under their basic categories (Gotzamani, contribution
2000). Moreover, its adequacy was confirmed by academics and quality
assurance managers in its pilot study and, finally, by ELOT, the Greek
organisation for standardisation. The quality assurance manager of ELOT,
through an accompanying letter to the questionnaire, stressed the 1333
importance of the survey and the value of the measurement instrument as a
self-assessment tool for companies to monitor performance improvements
against TQM.
``Predictive validity’’ or ``concurrent validity’’, refers to the degree to which an
instrument can successfully predict the variable or the phenomenon that it
examines. To test this kind of validity, one has to test the correlation coefficient
between the measurement instrument and another independent variable which
is directly related to the variable or phenomenon measured by the instrument.
Since the measurement instrument of this research was measuring TQM
performance improvement from certification, it was related to the overall
companies’ improvements and benefits from certification, as these were
indicated in the third part of the questionnaire. More specifically, the predictive
validity of the instrument was tested though multiple regression analysis
between the companies’ mean performance improvement score in each one of
the eight TQM categories of the instrument (eight independent variables) and
their mean score in their overall benefits from certification (dependent
variable). The multiple regression coefficient R2, was estimated equal to 0.89,
and the multiple correlation coefficient R was estimated equal to 0.94
(significant F = 0.0086). Thus, the strong relationship between the
measurement instrument and the related independent variable proved the
predictive validity of the instrument.
Finally, ``construct validity’’ was assured by applying Factor Analysis
(Rummel, 1970) separately in each TQM category. The results of factor
analysis gave to the measurement instrument its final form, by revealing two to
three basic factors in each one of the eight basic TQM categories (multi-
variables). These main factors (sub-categories) helped to eliminate the initial
number of variables and to better describe the requirements of the broader
TQM categories (Gotzamani, 2000).
The above analysis proved that the TQM measurement instrument
developed for this research measured, both reliably and accurately, the
companies’ performance on TQM elements, and thus it could be safely used to
test the basic hypothesis of the survey.

TQM performance improvement from certification


The basic hypothesis of the survey was tested with the help of the parametric
test (t-test for paired samples) and the non-parametric tests (sign-test for two
related samples and Wilcoxon matched-pairs test for two related samples).
The companies’ performance differences (performance after certification ±
IJOPM performance before certification) were tested for each one of the 80 TQM
21,10 measurement elements of the instrument. The null hypothesis that this
performance difference is equal to zero was rejected in 99 per cent confidence
interval for all 80 TQM measurement variables. Performance after certification
was found to be significantly greater in all TQM elements and in every basic
TQM category, proving that the companies’ TQM performance is significantly
1334 positively affected from certification. This finding provides an answer to the
ISO 9000 effectiveness debate, proving that the development and certification
of an ISO 9000 quality assurance system really boosts TQM performance in
certified companies, providing a good first step towards TQM.
Figure 1 shows the performance improvement achieved in each one of the
eight basic TQM categories in the ISO 9000 certified Greek companies (the
companies’ score in each TQM category was taken from their mean score in
the items describing this category, where 0 = not at all, 1 = very low, 2 = low,
3 = moderate, 4 = high, 5 = very high).
The standards’ most important contribution was in the category ``process
management’’. This was more or less expected since the standards mainly
concern the development, standardisation and documentation of those
processes that directly affect quality. Thus, while the mean performance in this
category before certification was less than moderate, it reached very high levels
after certification, mainly through systematic documentation and control of
critical processes’ and products’ quality, which provides a solid basis for future
improvement. Generally, the process management methods and techniques
become more preventive than detective, since the standards require tighter
controls during, instead of after, the production process, preventive
maintenance and calibration of equipment, errors prevention at the product

Figure 1.
Performance on the
basic TQM categories
before and after
ISO 9000 certification
design phase and clear definition and standardisation of duties and ISO 9000
responsibilities. On the contrary, there is little, if any, improvement (the lowest standards’
in this category) regarding the work system’s flexibility. Flexibility was the contribution
only element to which some companies (seven) declared an even negative effect
from certification, something that is frequently mentioned as a main deficiency
of the standards implementation.
Less encouraging also, is the dramatic increase of incoming materials 1335
supervision and control after certification. Although this increase helps assure
the quality of the materials, and thus the quality of the final products, it
contradicts with the TQM philosophy. According to TQM theory, mutual trust
and co-operation between the company and a small number of carefully
selected and reliable suppliers should replace excessive quality controls of
incoming materials. The same thing holds also for the final products controls,
which also highly increase, although to a lower degree, after certification. This
increase also adds cost to the final product without really adding value to it and
it should ideally be replaced by trust in the production process and things made
right the first time. Deming’s (1982) point: ``Cease dependence on massive
inspection’’, and Crosby’s (1979) slogan: ``Do things right the first time’’, are
indicative of the TQM philosophy on this matter. However, before a company
reaches the point where it can really trust its operations, excessive quality
controls are necessary in order to assure the quality of the products that reach
the customer and in order to avoid the enormous cost of dissatisfied or
disappointed customers. Only dramatic improvements in the operations
process quality can really increase the company’s trust in it and lower the need
for excessive quality controls.
Also very significant is the contribution of ISO 9000 standards to the
monitoring and use of ``quality data’’, one of the categories with the poorest
performance before certification. However, the improvements in this category
are mainly related to the monitoring and keeping of quality data and less to
their real processing and evaluation for fact-based decision making and quality
improvement.
The standards’ contribution is also very significant in the company’s
performance in the category related to ``customers’’. Although this contribution
is not as high as in other TQM categories, it proves to be very important
because it improves areas with very poor performance before certification, but
also areas which are vital for the customer’s satisfaction and the company’s
survival in the future. Particularly positive is the improvement it offers in
complaints handling and processing for the quality improvement of products
and/or services.
Significantly lower is the improvement offered in the category ``human
resource management’’, which was the one with the lowest performance both
before and after certification. The results in this category are impressive,
proving that Greek companies have very low performance before certification,
almost the lowest of all TQM elements, in issues related to human resource
management. Particularly low is their performance relative to employees’
IJOPM training and education in quality-related issues, in methods and techniques for
21,10 quality improvement, in the development of employee participation programs
and systems for formal proposals submission, in employee evaluation,
appraisal and continuous training, in offering formal incentives for quality
improvement, participation and contribution to decision making, as well as in
recognising those who contribute towards quality improvement. For the
1336 majority of the companies, the improvement they have in these issues, as a
result of certification, is almost zero, although it increases for companies with
very poor performance before certification. Thus, human resource management
constitutes the most challenging and demanding category for those companies
that want to proceed to TQM.
Regarding the companies’ relations with their ``suppliers’’, a highly positive
result is the increase of quality’s significance, compared to the significance of
cost and time, in choosing suppliers. On the contrary, there is very little
improvement, as a result of certification, in the development of close
partnership, mutual trust, and parallel growth with suppliers, all of which are
highly stressed in the TQM philosophy.
The greatest improvement in the category ``product design’’ was achieved in
the clarity of the product and process design specifications, in the totality of
new product’s tests and inspections before entering the market and in customer
requirements analysis at the product development phase, all of which are
particularly important for customer satisfaction.
Finally, the category with the lowest improvement from certification is the
category concerning ``leadership’’. At first, this observation looks particularly
discouraging, since the role of leadership is commonly agreed to be decisive for
the success of every effort, and particularly for the adoption of TQM. However,
performance in this category may not be very high after certification, as
desired, but it does get improved from the standards’ implementation. Even
more, particularly promising for the long-term success of companies, is the fact
that the highest score after ISO 9000 certification in this category, was top
management’s commitment to quality and the importance of quality as a
strategic competitive weapon.
Great improvement is also achieved in the evaluation of the managerial
system, in the frequency of quality issues discussions in top management
meetings and in the development and monitoring of quality goals in the
business plan.

TQM performance after certification


The companies’ TQM performance after certification was found to be quite
good in most TQM categories, and especially in ``product design’’, ``strategic
quality planning’’ and ``process management’’, although their performance in
specific elements of those categories must be further improved. On the
opposite, there is need for more effort in the areas of ``human resource
management’’ and ``suppliers’ relations’’, which have the lower after-
certification performance. The role and importance of the human factor in
improving quality and increasing customer satisfaction has been strongly ISO 9000
stressed by all TQM authors, and so employees’ commitment and participation standards’
is regarded as necessary for the successful adoption of TQM. contribution
More specifically, it is proved that certified companies’ performance is
particularly high in TQM elements directly related to the final product quality,
like quality control of processes and final products, recording and availability
of quality data and the role of the quality department. However, their 1337
performance is particularly low in elements less directly related to the final
product quality, but equally important with them. Such elements are: employee
motivation and participation for quality improvement, employee training
in quality improvement methods and statistical techniques, employee
encouragement for offering suggestions and proposals, partnership and
technical support of suppliers, systematic monitoring of customer satisfaction
and comparison to the satisfaction offered by competitors.
Another important finding of the research is that the certified companies’
final performance on TQM elements is not totally explained and attributed to
the ISO 9000 certification. Part of this performance level is explained and
attributed to the companies’ performance on the same TQM elements prior to
their certification. This was proved by the examination of the correlation
coefficients Pearson’s r and Spearman’s n Ä , which proved that there is
statistically significant and positive relationship between the companies’
performance before and after ISO 9000 certification.
It was also proved that although there is significant variation in the
companies’ performance before their certification, this variation decreases after
certification, showing that the lower performance companies make greater
efforts than the others do, minimizing the performance distance that separates
them. This was also proved by the statistically significant but negative
relationship between the companies’ before-ISO performance and the
improvement of their performance from certification. Companies with a lower
performance in TQM issues before certification, benefit more from it.
Companies with high performance on TQM issues before certification have less
to gain from ISO 9000 certification, but even in these cases, the implementation
of a standard quality assurance system does offer some progress, although
lower, towards TQM.
Finally, a company’s performance in any TQM category was proved to be
positively related to its performance in all other TQM categories, both before
and after certification, since all relevant correlation coefficients were found to
be positive and statistically significant in a 99.9 per cent confidence interval.
Thus, companies with a high or low performance in one TQM category, tend to
have similar performance in all other TQM categories, proving the holistic
nature of the TQM philosophy.

Differences in certification results based on the companies’ size


The examination of significant differences between small (< 50 employees),
medium (50-200 employees) and large size (> 200 employees) companies, using
IJOPM one-way ANOVA, proved that there are no significant differences between
21,10 them in respect to their TQM performance after certification. However, they
presented statistically significant differences, in a 95 per cent confidence
interval, in their performance improvement from certification in most TQM
categories, as well as in their overall benefits from the standards’
implementation.
1338 The TQM performance improvement was significantly lower for large
companies than it was for small- or medium-size ones. This proves that large
companies, which usually operate more formally than the smaller ones, are
more likely to have higher quality management performance before
certification, and thus fewer chances for improvement from it.
A number of other studies also prove that certification benefits are more and
greater in small than in large companies. Huarng and Fenghueih (1998), prove
that SMEs improve their documentation system of quality processes and
performance assessment more than the largest enterprises, and as a result, they
stand to benefit more from ISO 9000 registration.
On the other hand, small companies do not seem to be interested in
proceeding to TQM. Lee and Palmer (1999) prove that small companies are
more likely to implement the standards because of external rather than internal
factors and show less understanding of the relationship between ISO 9000 and
TQM. This results in them implementing ISO 9000 only, having little intention
of exceeding their quality programmes further. They prove that large
companies are more likely to use ISO 9000 as a precursor to TQM, whereas
small companies are satisfied with ISO 9000 accreditation. Also, McAdam and
McKeown (1999) prove that although many small businesses are benefiting
from ISO 9000, an increasing number of small ISO 9000 businesses are not
progressing towards TQM. Small businesses are reluctant to pursue TQM,
mainly because they are happy with ISO 9000 benefits and they are less aware
of TQM than larger ones. Small businesses have already the advantage of flat
administrative structures and high flexibility (not common of large businesses),
facilitating implementation of TQM, but at the same time, making less
important the need for it.

Differences in certification results based on the year of certification


The examination of differences, using one-way ANOVA, between those
companies recently certified (in the last two years) and those earlier certified
(more than two years ago), showed significant differences between them
regarding their performance in the category ``human resource management’’
and in specific other TQM elements.
Performance improvement from certification and performance after
certification in the category ``human resource management’’ was significantly
higher for the earlier certified companies, compared to that of the most recently
certified.
Also, the earlier certified companies presented significantly higher
performance improvement in many important indicators of quality
commitment, like the frequency of quality issues discussed in top management ISO 9000
meetings, the systematic recording of data for overall performance evaluation, standards’
competitors’ performance evaluation, dedication of time and money for contribution
employee training, implementation of employee participation programs and
recognition of employees who contribute to quality improvement.
The above finding supports the argument that the certified companies’
commitment to quality and their progress towards TQM increase as time goes 1339
by and as their quality assurance system becomes more mature, achieving
significant improvements in many of their weak performance areas.

Conclusions
The main findings of the above research offer a strongly justified and formal
answer to the many and important dilemmas presented in the literature about
ISO 9000 long-term effectiveness and value to the certified companies.
The basic conclusion drawn, based on the combination of literature review
results with the results of the empirical study on the Greek industry, is that the
development and certification of a quality assurance system according to one
of the ISO 9000 standards can offer a good first step towards TQM, since it
offers significant improvement in companies’ performance in all TQM
elements and areas examined by the research. Moreover, it is proved that it
boosts quality culture and quality commitment and it offers significant
operational and other benefits to the certified companies. However, the
standards’ contribution was found to be higher for small- and medium-size
companies, companies with lower performance on TQM elements prior to their
certification and, in certain issues, companies that have been certified for a
longer period of time.
But although the start seems positive and optimistic, there is much yet to
be achieved by the ISO 9000 certified ccompanies on their road to TQM,
concerning mainly the ``soft’’ elements of quality, like human resource
management, suppliers’ relations, and others discussed earlier in the paper.
Further research should focus on the companies’ steps after ISO 9000
certification. Those companies wishing to proceed further should focus on
those important quality issues not covered by the standards’ requirements,
which were discussed earlier in the paper. There is no research as to the right
order of their implementation and it will be really difficult for anyone to
suggest an ``ideal’’ order. How companies will proceed depends very much on
their particular needs and on where they stand after certification.
However, it is clear that the companies’ efforts after certification should
focus on the ``soft’’ elements of TQM (``leadership’’, ``employee participation and
empowerment’’, ``customer relations’’), which proved to be the ones with the
lowest performance improvement from certification. Improvements in these
elements are particularly important, since there is adequate research proving
that business performance is more heavily influenced by the ``soft’’ elements of
TQM rather than the ``hard’’ ones.
IJOPM A study performed in 1,200 Australian and New Zealand companies
21,10 (Samson and Terziovski, 1999), investigating the effect of the different TQM
factors on operational performance, proved that strong predictors of
operational performance are the so-called ``soft’’ factors of TQM, ``leadership’’,
``human resource management’’ and ``customer focus’’, and not the more
systems- and analytic-oriented factors of ``information and analysis’’, ``process
1340 analysis’’ and ``strategic planning’’.
However, a great number of these issues seem to be addressed by the
requirements of the revised ISO 9001:2000 series. The new ISO series
represents a real step forward in quality assurance, since it aims at
``customer satisfaction assurance’’, not just ``product quality assurance’’. It is
generally accepted that the new series is more process-based and focuses far
more on continuous improvement and customer satisfaction than the past
versions. However, again, following standards requirements alone will not
be enough to guarantee sustained competitive advantages. As Conti (1999)
says:
It is difficult to see how a standard-guide can offer any added value.

Standards’ requirements, no matter how good, can always be copied from


competitors. The true competitive advantage stems from a company’s efforts
and success to build internal special strengths and efficiencies, which can not
be easily copied from competition.

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