ISO 9001 and the Power of a T-Shirt

Posted by IMEC on Nov 25, 2019 12:36:57 PM

This is an original article by Robin Friestad of Quality Time Consulting.


I’ve recently taken the plunge into starting my own business. Part of what I’m learning to do is to “sell” what I love best. Twenty years ago, I would have been dumbfounded to predict that I would want to make a living out of ISO 9001 implementations and Internal Audits. I mean – I had been through a major implementation, several surveillance audits, and a couple re-registration audits at a Fortune 500 company. They were never pleasant. Oh, it wasn’t the external registrar, it was my upper management fretting about whether we would “pass” or not. I even came into work during my maternity leave to lend some confidence to my General Manager that it was going to be ok.

Fast forward to the present. Since the release of the 2015 standard, I have come full circle. I see the light. Here’s what I’ve learned – you can make this stuff as simple or as complicated as you want. I’ve worked with companies who regret the level of detail they’ve added to their quality systems over the years and want to wipe them clean and start over. I’ve worked with companies who had never been registered who are quite pleasantly surprised how you can put together a simple system that has value added and can be maintained with minimal cost and resources. I’m here to tell you that quality systems can be implemented for far less than you can imagine and maintained annually for a fraction of the cost of implementation. I guarantee that those costs will not only be recovered but that efficiency, increased sales, and employee retention and engagement will be net positive.

Where’s the T-Shirt connection in all of this? I’m getting to that. A couple of years ago, I was working with a very small company comprised of 4 salaried employees and 25 hourly shop employees. Their parent company dictated that they must get registered to ISO 9001:2015. The operations manager was old school and convinced it was a waste of money and time. He wasn’t real keen on the use of email, preferred a flip phone to a smart phone, and announced daily the number of years, days, and minutes he had left until retirement. I had my work cut out for me.

One afternoon as I reviewed requirements of the standard with the Operations Manager, President, and Controller, I was getting the typical pushback. It was all I could do to keep the Operations Manager in his seat and keep his undivided attention. I get to the requirement about how the organization needs to support employees. You know the one in section 7 where more detail was added in 2015? Language was added to ensure employers consider social, psychological, and physical needs of their employees in the workplace.

I asked, “How do you show appreciation for your employees?” The Operations Manager, with 7 years, 3 months, and 2 days left until retirement, responded, “We pay them.” OK.  I was hoping to at least hear they got an occasional lunch pizza party. I didn’t; but I did get him thinking. With more questioning and conversation, he opened up and shared with me not only how challenging it is to find employees but even more difficult to get them to show up consistently for work or prevent them from leaving. He blamed the millennial generation and said they only come to work when they feel like it. Many struggled with DUI’s and related issues. He had many negative things to say about his workforce.  

It was odd as I had met many of the employees. I found many of them to be engaging and expressed sincerely that they cared to do the job right. But I also saw little to no employee recognition in the facility. 

I thought for a moment and said, “Well, I believe the best source of recruitment for your company is your employees. If they like it here, they will tell others.” Feeling a bit bolder I added, “Why don’t you give them T-shirts? When they stop at the store after work, the gas station or out to dinner with family and friends, your company will get visibility and your employees will get asked about what they do.”

Oh, you know it was never going to be that easy. He said, “that costs money”. I let it go but I did move on to the pizza lunch idea, employee of the month parking space, and various other ideas.   A few weeks go by and one day when I’m in the office I see the Controller taking orders for t-shirts. I couldn’t believe it was happening. The company was going to buy a t-shirt for each employee, and they were free to order more at their own cost. Within a few days of the t-shirt delivery, the Operations Manager remarked, “Wow, they all wear their shirts almost every day. I never expected that.”

The Controller, in the meantime, came up with an idea to have a monthly drawing for good attendance. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re supposed to show up for your job and why should a company have to provide incentive to do so.  They were desperate. Employees weren’t showing up and it was severely affecting On-Time Delivery of product to customers. It was worth trying. First month, a drawing for a gas grill. The second month, $250 Lowes gift card. The third month, “Mystery Prize”. Wow. Attendance was improving. It was really working. The cost of administering the drawing was ever so slight compared to the behavior and attendance it was generating.  On-Time Delivery turned a corner from rock bottom and started to increase. More customers were getting product when requested. The results were beyond what they had ever expected.

Looking back, I’m convinced that the “T-Shirt” conversation had a larger impact on their business than just improving customer satisfaction. It was the beginning of positive change in their culture. So, when you dread the process of implementing and maintaining ISO 9001:2015, please keep this story in mind. What “T-Shirt” conversation could change the bottom-line results for your organization?

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Contact IMEC at 888.806.4632 or email for more information on ISO 9001:2015.


Written by IMEC

Topics: employee engagement, iso, operations, quality, iso 9001

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