When an organization implements a new managerial practice how should timing affect its decision? Should it be among the organizations that implement the new management practices early, i.e. first movers, or wait for others to implement and implement it a later time, i.e. second movers. The literature's findings with regard to many management practices, especially those that deal with quality, such as total quality management, suggest that while first movers implement a new management practice because of real needs and a high fit between what the practice suggests and their needs (technical efficiency), second movers implement the new management practice because of customer pressure and the fear of falling behind the competition (external pressure). Second movers just mimic first movers, and the new practice does not really fit with their operations. Thus, the new management practice achieves more for the first movers than the second movers. In this paper we ask whether this premise holds for the ISO 9000 quality standard, one which was specified in considerable detail by outside forces but was implemented in many different ways by organizations. Our results are based on a survey of 1150 quality managers who implemented ISO 9000. We find that learning is a more important factor than timing in explaining ISO 9000 performance. First movers achieve a high level of performance because they learn from their own experience, and second movers achieve a high level of performance because they learn from the experience of others. Whether an organization is a first mover or second, the ones that benefit from ISO 9000 are those who learn.
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Many thanks to two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this paper. This paper was presented at the Strategic Management Society annual conference in San Francisco, October 2001. Bill McEvily of Carnegie-Mellon University, whose ideas are reflected in this paper, deserves our special thanks. The writing of this paper has been supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (SES-9905604). We would like to thank Paul Scicchitano, of McGraw-Hill, who has provided us with the data and helped us in other ways to understand the quality system, which we examined in this paper. David Knoke of the Sociology Department at the University of Minnesota provided us with comments, as did Isaac Fox of the Strategic Management and Organization Department. We would also like to acknowledge suggestions and comments from Aks Zaheer of the Strategic Management and Organization Department, Andy Van de Ven, and Larry Katzenstein of the same department. This paper was presented at a seminar of the Strategic Management Research Center at the University of Minnesota. Gov Allen helped us design the Internet site, which we used to carry out the survey about which we report in this study.