Establishing “total quality management” in the workplace is not as easy as some assume

Establishing “Total Quality Management” in the workplace is not as easy as some assume. The idea implies action as well as quantifiable improvements in quality and service. But some implementations turn out to be entirely ineffective. One study conducted by Canada’s Conference Board revealed that about 70% of North American companies experimenting with TQM fail even to show a useful “total quality strategy.” However, TQM is not some passing fad; many companies which could benefit have yet to give the plan a real trial. Some proponents of TQM may only be making half-hearted efforts or doing what could best be described as PQM, or “Partial Quality Management.”

Lou Holtz, a football coach for Notre Dame has observed that people often say and promise more than they will actually accomplish. In spite of all the things actually “said” and promised in the form of catchy slogans, impassioned speeches, clever advertising, well-marketed videos, pressing sales pitches, pretty brochures, quality and service provided by most companies and organizations still suffers a great deal.

It can be very difficult to make the leap from PQM to TQM. It requires that your company take more action and do less talking. Some suggestions are listed here:

Involve your Senior Management! – Lip service (not even passionate) and permission are not enough. The bosses’ visible priorities become the priorities of managers and supervisors. Improvement of service, and the quality of services are often relegated from top level, to middle level – who relegates it to the bottom level. Finning, Ltd in Vancouver (largest Caterpillar dealer in the world), Jim Shepard (CEO) and the executives have taken the initiative to be the first to take all of the service and quality training that all other employees receive. Not only that, they often train and teach the sessions to their employees as well.

Teams for Support and Focus – At the center of many of today’s high-volume organizations are work groups and departmental, branch, process improvement or progress teams. Many managers make the mistake of having more teams than they are needed. Most medium and large companies cannot host more than a handful of teams in their first few years. Organizations that are ill-prepared find that their improvement teams clash with the “old guard” managers and supervisors – these employees often feel that coaches belong in sports arenas, and the term “fostering innovation” is synonymous with “If I want to hear your ideas, I will tell you what to say”. Suggestions made to realign systems that are inhibiting quality and processes that are cross-function receive a lukewarm reception at best by these “old-guard” specialists and managers that install and micromanage them.

Improved Reporting and Planning – The quality and service improvement that should be overseen with rigor and discipline, which proper business planning is all about. Supervisors with more subordinates, money and training at improving the business has little expectation. Often it ends with even less or no service or quality. A superior organization can be most effective with teamwork from management, work teams, board members or union members, with a little extra effort from the vendors or customers that will develop the quality strategy. The same effort given to financial statements should be put into quality and service ratings and the reporting system.

An indication that PQM is being implemented is the excessive reliance on a few improvement techniques and the exclusion of others. TQM on the other hand requires using a wide range of techniques, such as awareness of what constitutes excellent customer service, understanding the basic principles behind quality improvement, understanding the meaning of value and learning how to improve processes at all levels using the Xerox principle of “management based on fact”. The goal is to incorporate all of these ideas and practices into the company culture.

Improving Both Understanding and Proficiency – Employees and managers alike can learn all the book-learning they want about team direction and overseeing processes from the most charismatic of presentations, slide shows, videos, and tons of literature, but this will not teach them the more intricate skills of conflict resolution or focusing meetings. We know that having common sense and putting that common sense into practice through action are two completely different concepts. We accept this in physical fitness training, but many programs that are used for business training purposes have no effect because they only use technology geared toward educating the minds of the trainees and leaving them energized and informed but no more skilled than they were before to act on their new-found knowledge.

When performed properly, total quality management yields excellent results. Moving from a long-standing PQM system requires consistency, discipline, and breaking old habits to acquire new ones. It can be a lot like finally getting off the diet yo-yo in your personal life and just beginning healthy eating habits. Both require dedication and commitment to a permanent and significant change.

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