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Why do ISO management systems fail?

Certifying your organization to an ISO management system can be an involved task, no matter whether you take the route of outsourced consultancy, a toolkit, or the do-it-yourself method. The process involves creating new procedures and policies, management reviews, internal audits and of course the certification itself. The time and money spent to implement the management system can sometimes be wasted as once certified it doesn’t get used as a working system.

Here we look at the main reasons why ISO management systems fail and ways to prevent this from happening.

Staff buy in

A management system is only as good as the people using it. If senior management do not use staff to their full advantage, or don’t know what to expect from them, the system is doomed to fail. If staff are not aware of their responsibilities and inputs to the management system again it is on the road to failure.

Any system must be driven, policed and more importantly embedded! Miss any of these three aspects and the system will just stop. Commitment across the whole business, from top to bottom is crucial for success.

We’d advise that all staff be involved during implementation so they can understand what it is all about, use their knowledge to craft their procedures and feel part of the process. During embedment the system must be tested, developed, tweaked, and accepted by staff as a core part of their roles.

Implementation and embedment

Implementation and more importantly embedment are the foundations that should mould the system to the business. Many businesses think that getting all the documentation in place within a week, a month or six weeks is enough to gain certification for some management systems. And, if the certification body decide to overlook the required amount of evidence to prove the system is being used fully, then a certificate will be issued. However, the system will likely fail the next audit as it hasn’t been embedded properly, it isn’t second nature – it is a task that can be easily forgotten about.

Continual improvement

Regular health checks of the management system are crucial. Internal audits not only check that employees are following Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), but also highlight areas for improvement. The whole system should be looked at on a regular basis too. We’d recommend management review meetings every 6 to 12 months and these should look at the bigger aspect, involving each department to identify any issues or opportunities for improvement.

More reasons why ISO management systems fail

So, for those thinking of certifying to an ISO management system, or those businesses that already have one in place but the system is not working, here are more reasons why they fail to look out for:

  • Lack of embedment period – the system hasn’t been clearly moulded to the businesses processes and gets forgotten about
  • Lack of training – staff lack knowledge and awareness, and are unsure of their responsibilities
  • Lack of communication – there are stifled lines of communications throughout the business
  • System not being monitored (internal audits) – this allows errors and mistakes to slip through the net and build up over time
  • Lack of desire for improvement – this is likely due to management priorities and staff not being supported
  • Avoiding responsibility – all levels of the business not being held accountable for their requirements

Identifying the reason(s) your management system is failing is the first step to improvement. A management system that is fully implemented and embedded into a business will give the business all the benefits and confidence it is designed to do, and will make it worth the time and money spent to achieve compliance.


Written by Ted Spiller, Compliance Consultant. Ted is an expert in many ISO management systems; he is a Lead Auditor for ISO27001, ISO9001 and ISO14001 and Auditor for ISO45001 and ISO22301. This blog was originally published in August 2021 and was reviewed and updated for accuracy in March 2023. 

How can CertiKit help with your ISO Management System?

Whether you’re looking to do-it-yourself with the help of our toolkits, or you need some additional assistance with our consultancy and internal auditing services.

At CertiKit, ISO standards are what we do best, and we have a range of solutions available to help businesses prepare for certification to the following standards:

  • ISO/IEC 27001 – Information Security
  • ISO/IEC 27701 – Privacy Information
  • ISO/IEC 20000 – IT Service
  • ISO 22301 – Business Continuity
  • ISO 9001 – Quality
  • ISO 14001 – Environmental
  • ISO 45001 – Occupational Health and Safety

Contact us to see how we can help you achieve compliance fast and efficiently.

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