To become ISO 9001/SN 9001 certified and stay that way, a company has to adopt a permanent culture of process improvement. Case Snow Management did just that and is now reaping the benefits.
Case Snow Management’s reason for pursuing ISO 9001/SN 9001 quality management certification was simple – to grow the business. And not only did the company achieve the certification, it became the first company in the snow management business to do so.
“When you’re growing your business, you know you need to have processes in place,” says Bill Carello, vice president of Case Snow Management. “But when you’re small, you don’t need all those processes, and they actually get in the way. In order to grow our business, we knew we needed ISO.”
When Carello and the other leaders at Case discussed the concept with Kevin Gilbride, executive director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA), consultant John Allin and others a couple years ago, it just made sense to them. And with a background as a CPA, he already had a good understanding of ISO.
“It’s a quality management system that’s all about customer satisfaction, and that’s what we do,” Carello says. “We looked at it and said, ‘Look, we know we want to grow, and it’s a quality management system that’s all about safety, training, customer satisfaction, crossing your Ts and dotting your Is and the whole nine yards.’ It was perfect.”
Gilbride says there are many benefits to becoming ISO certified, but the initial driver for ASCA creating the SN 9001 quality management system (which works in conjunction with ISO 9001) was risk management.
The grass is greener
To Frank Mariani, being an ISO-certified organization simply means trying to embrace and encourage continual improvement.
His company, Lake Bluff Ill.-based Mariani Landscape, has always tried to do that, especially over the five years since it first achieved the ISO certification.
Mariani was first introduced to the concept by his partner Fred Wacker, who came to the company from the manufacturing business where ISO is more common. He also saw lean principles, one of the components of ISO, in practice during a tour of Ariens Co. and was blown away.
“I said, ‘This is spectacular’” Mariani says. “I was awestruck by it, and I came back and told Fred that I think we could benefit from it.”
It took Mariani Landscape nearly two years to achieve the certification, and it’s never looked back. He has seen numerous benefits from ISO certification, including boosting camaraderie among employees and general improvement of the way they do things.
“In the past, when we would have certain incidents come up, we would fix that one problem and wouldn’t capture that information but just wait until it happened again,” Mariani says.
“Now, when something comes up that we think is important and feel we could benefit from changing the way we go about doing that task, instead of just jumping on the problem right away we try to come up with a policy/procedure to make sure the problem never comes up again.
"Instead of putting a Band-Aid on it, we pull the thorn out of the finger, and that’s really beneficial.
“At a company like ours, everyone always has a better way of doing something, and that’s fine and dandy – but not if you have 430 people all doing it a different way. Now, we try to encourage people to make recommendations on how we can do something better. But until we officially adopt it, we don’t change the way we’re doing it.”
“The ASCA was looking for ways to reduce risk because of the skyrocketing insurance costs out there,” he says. “We wanted to give professional snow and ice management companies the tools to manage risk themselves to reduce that risk for insurance companies.”
Gilbride continued, “Of the slip and fall lawsuits that are lost or settled, more than 50 percent of the time, they’re lost or settled due to a lack of documentation. ISO 9001 plus SN 9001 ensures that you have that documentation and that it’s verified by a third party.”
The process for Case Snow Management, while not simple, went very smoothly. ASCA put Case in touch with Smithers Quality Assessments, a company that audits and certifies companies for ISO 9001/SN 9001. It turns out one of Case's employees, Gretchen Merriman, was going through the process of becoming accredited herself and needed a company to beta test. Merriman spent a full day at Case doing a pre-assessment and examining its quality manual.
“(Merriman) said, ‘I think you already have 75 to 80 percent of the processes in place,’” Carello says. “We already had the training, safety and paperwork, and we were meeting the industry standards anyway, but it just had to be put in ISO language.”
After hiring an outside internal auditor to examine the quality manual, Carello says he set up stage 1 with Smithers where the auditing company looked at Case from top to bottom.
“Basically, we had to summarize our processes and list the process names and associated requirements of each along with that,” he says.
After Case fixed a few minor things, Stage Two was scheduled, where the company passed and Merriman was witnessed and accredited.
“Stage 2 was an audit comprised of observations, record reviews and personal interviews to determine the level of implementation and effectiveness of documented procedures,” he says.
From start to finish, the process lasted roughly six months. Carello estimates it cost $8,000 to $10,000, including the internal auditor he hired outside of Smithers because he felt he was too close to the process itself and an outside opinion was needed.
“At the end of the day, you will be more efficient, and that will correlate to customer satisfaction. But (employees) have to take the steps in place in order to get to that point,” Carello says. “By implementing and living ISO, the product is better at the end and the customer is satisfied.”
Carello says Case had no trouble with employee buy-in as they had already been doing a lot of things ISO requires anyway.
“We hold ourselves to a higher standard and employees know that, so they bought in 100 percent,” he says. If someone had acted out and said, ‘This is ridiculous,’ they wouldn’t be with us.”
What Carello loves most about ISO is that it’s auditable and never ending. Every year, the company will be audited to see that it’s conforming to the ISO standards.
“Every single year, we could be audited any day, so we have to be 100 percent,” he says. “That’s what I like about ISO – you have to keep on top of it. With ISO, it’s not just a piece of paper. If you’re not living it, you will have nonconformities and you could lose your certification.”
Other benefits aside, Gilbride emphasized that the risk management advantage of ISO 9001/SN 9001 is huge in the snow world.
“Plaintiffs’ attorneys are running a business just like everyone else, and they ask three questions when a case comes in – can I win it, how much can I win it for and how quickly can I win it?” Gilbride says. “They’re going to find out very quickly when they’re filing claims against ISO 9001/SN 9001 companies that they’re not going to be able to answer yes to all those questions.
“Therefore, in time, there will be a reduction of lawsuits because ISO 9001 and SN 9001 will be like a neon sign to these guys saying these companies are going to have their documentation and be able to paint a picture from two years ago.”
The author is a freelancer based in Cleveland.