Exploring performance attribution

Gavin P.M. Dick (Kent Business School, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK)

International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management

ISSN: 1741-0401

Publication date: 24 April 2009



Accreditation to the ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems Standard has proven to be a persistent and growing phenomenon in services and manufacturing, yet to date little attempt has been made to explore how performance results in cross‐sectional research may be attributed to different causation mechanisms and how their influences may alter over time. This paper aims to fill this gap.


The paper defines four possible causation mechanisms before searching and analysing the empirical literature on quality management system certification to ISO 9001 and business performance for evidence of their causal influence.


From the analyses, it is found that the benefit that can safely be attributed to the treatment‐effect of ISO 9001 accreditation is lower waste; while the benefits of lower costs and better quality are less likely unless motives for adoption are developmental rather than externally driven. From an analysis of longitudinal studies a strong selection‐mechanism is found where more profitable firms have a greater propensity to adopt than less profitable firms. From the finding propositions are developed to show how the influence of these mechanisms change over time.

Research limitations/implications

The existence of the selection‐mechanism has profound implications for interpreting business performance achievements because the benefits that are attributed to the treatment‐effect from adopting quality management system standards are likely to be greatly inflated by the influence of the selection‐mechanism. The author suggests that richer theory is needed that can incorporate bi‐directional influences and new research is needed to explore the underlying causes of the selection effect.


The paper is believed to be the first to systematically explore attribution of performance in the ISO 9001 literature. Its findings provide new insights into the complexities of attribution of performance in studies of new practices and systems.



Dick, G. (2009), "Exploring performance attribution", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 58 No. 4, pp. 311-328. https://doi.org/10.1108/17410400910950991

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