The single most important determinant of an organization's success in implementing total quality management is its ability to translate, integrate and ultimately institutionalize TQM behaviors into everyday practice on the job. And, because of line management's vital role in leading the organization, their ability to tangibly and consistently demonstrate their buy-in through their actions is particularly critical.
Despite the fact that many people -- advocates and detractors alike -- insist that TQM is simple (probably because its logic is so direct and compelling), one of the most frequently asked questions by both managers and employees is, "How do I apply TQM to my job?"
The answers will make a lot more sense if we agree on the fundamentals of TQM. That is no small task because one of TQM's greatest hurdles has been its misinterpretation and consequent misapplication. So, at the risk of boring the TQM experts, a quick refresher of the basics will help. With that framework agreed upon, we can apply TQM to any job. We are ready to speak the language of TQM (to talk the talk) and ready to model the behavior of TQM (to walk the walk).
A TQM primer
TQM is both a philosophy and a system of organizational management. Therefore, TQM has two dimensions: cultural (organizational behavior) and technical (processes by which the product or service is produced and delivered). Of those two, the "people change" dimension is the most important and the most difficult.
TQM involves everyone, but management must lead it proactively. Management authority is redirected toward energizing, engaging, equipping and empowering employees, utilizing their collective wisdom for improving the organization. Therefore, TQM represents a dramatic change in management's job and role.
TQM is an effort to continuously improve all human and business systems and processes by focusing all employees on identifying customers and meeting their requirements.
Now that we have established what TQM is, let's look at what TQM is not:
TQM is not an initiative apart from the real business of the organization. It is not a contrived appendage separate or apart from the organizational chain of accountability.
TQM is not "democracy in the workplace." It does not imply soft discipline nor mandate that management give up authority to allocate resources and provide guidance and direction.
TQM is not a mandate to use teams for everything.
TQM is not a limited system of incremental improvement. As early as 1950, Joseph M. Juran called for seeking "breakthrough" opportunities and using "breakthrough" thinking and techniques.
TQM is not a destination, a quick-fix/one-time program nor an effort to fix "broken" employees.
What Philip Crosby's concept lacked in the weight of its approach to process change was more than offset by the power of its human change concepts. His idea was that the key to making TQM work was to introduce a new quality language as a framework within which all employees could understand and apply the new quality paradigm. His language contains four components:
A definition of quality (and customer)
An organizational quality performance standard
A work system that would consistently produce quality
A meaningful way to measure the results of the quality system
While his specific definitions proved too rigid and unrealistic for many, the logic and interconnection of the four elements of Crosby's generic framework are conceptually flawless. They provide much of the foundation for specific answers to the question, "How do I apply TQM?"
A brief review of TQM's language and conceptual principles and their implications helps to understand the philosophy:
Quality means meeting the customer's requirements. Anyone producing work output is a supplier; anyone receiving work input is a customer. Use of the term "customer" is significant because the word implies a valued relationship that helps establish the proper attitude toward the recipients of a person's work. Customer and supplier are not positional terms; they are solely related to a given work transaction and are irrespective of organizational rank and structure. The supplier's responsibility is to fully understand customer requirements and to strive to meet them every time. The customer's responsibility is to establish specific, unambiguous, consistent, achievable, objective requirements and be open to negotiating with their supplier aspects of those requirements so as to improve organizational resource utilization and optimize performance.
Quality is achieved by doing the right thing right the first (and every) time. In this definition, "the right thing" is the customer's requirement. The organizational performance standard for providing work is do the right thing (meet the customer's requirement) right the first time. Also, the organizational attitude for providing work is to do the right thing right the first time. And, finally, the organizational goal for providing work is to do the right thing right the first time.
The organizational technical approach to cause quality to happen is to apply the proactive system of prevention vs. the reactive system of inspection. The proactive organizational approach to quality is to adopt the mind-set of prevention.
Quality can and must be measured. Measuring customer satisfaction is the only accurate means of validating whether quality was delivered. Measuring costs of quality, nonquality and unquality provides a framework for determining whether corporate resources are being utilized optimally.
These are the operating principles for implementing and applying TQM. They are extrapolated from TQM's definition and conceptual principles. They fall into some natural groupings, as indicated.
Always use the line organization (the chain of accountability) to implement TQM.
Never assign line authority to any artificial entity created to facilitate TQM implementation.
Remember the nature of TQM: It is a system of organizational management. It is not democracy in the workplace nor a vehicle to disestablish management authority.
Never allow the TQM process to dictate doing dumb things. (When in doubt, apply the sanity check, i.e., "Does this make sense?")
Implementing TQM requires integration of two change disciplines: organizational development (organizational behavior change) and industrial engineering (process change).
Consider the impact of change on customers and suppliers. Involve them early on in the change process. Remember, people do not resist change as much as they resist being changed.
Undertake only initiatives having organizational validity (i.e., apply TQM to real work).
Recognize the vital importance of establishing and maintaining both credibility and a momentum of success for the TQM effort.
Require decisions and action to be taken at the lowest level in the organization consistent with responsibility and authority.
Always observe and apply the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) principle.
Personally applying TQM
Armed now with this framework and definitions, TQM can be applied to individuals' daily work. They are ready to practice quality for one! It is important to apply the principles in two dimensions: talking the talk and walking the walk.
Crosby understood the fundamental behavioral truth that what a person says relates directly to what that person thinks and how that person acts. That is why his concept and framework of establishing and using a language of quality is so central to implementing TQM and in changing individual and organizational daily work life.
The following are ways to use the language of TQM to talk the talk:
Use the terms "customer" and "supplier" when describing any work transaction, especially those in which you personally are involved.
When using the term "customer," focus on its attitudinal implication (i.e., all customers, especially internal customers, should be viewed as valued assets and treated as such).
Use the term "requirements" when describing the specific elements of work output. Keep in mind that valid requirements (i.e., those that can/will actually be delivered) are those agreed to by both customer and supplier.
Use the phrase and concept "doing right things right" in setting objectives for individual work output, as well as the goal of processes and of process design.
Use the phrase and concept "doing wrong things right" to describe redundant, irrelevant work elements embedded in processes that add no value and/or that do not support some customer requirement and therefore should be eliminated.
Use the term and concept of "prevention" as the framework for designing and delivering individual work products and as the basic approach for system and process design.
When discussing outcomes, use the terms "measurement" or "metrics" describing "percentages of customer satisfaction" or the "number of requirements met."
An old saying represents another facet of human behavior change: "It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than to think your way into a new way of acting." Walking the walk comprises a set of actions based on the conceptual and executional principles of TQM, which usually are not natural for most people. The trick is to understand them, recognize the importance of the message they send and begin practicing them based on faith until they become the natural way you do things.
The following are ways of practicing the principles of TQM to walk the walk:
Adopt a visible customer focus. Involve customers (particularly internal customers) in any decision or action that will affect them. Involving the customer increases the likelihood of a better system or deliverable, and it increases the likelihood of customer buy-in to the ultimate decision (especially true for the internal customer).
(Note for managers: Relax! This does not undermine your prerogative to make decisions and assign action as appropriate. TQM is a system of management built for the purpose of improving effectiveness and efficiency of the organization's chain of accountability.)
Find out specifically how your internal customers view your personal job performance by asking three questions: What work output do I provide you that helps you to do your job? What work output do I provide that is a hindrance or does not help you to do your job? What additional output could I provide (assuming I have the resources) that would help you do your job better?"
These questions are deliberately crafted to address the personal aspects of both dimensions of the TQM change process. They should enable you to discover fully all customer requirements (thereby enhancing the technical change effort) and establish or re-establish good communications and teamwork (critical for successful cultural change). The answers you get to these questions help to better serve your internal customers.
Adopt an internal customer-oriented mind-set -- frequently consider your performance from your various internal customers' points of view by asking yourself the following questions: Would my peers hire me as their supplier if they had the choice? Would my employees hire me as their boss given the choice? Would my boss hire me again?
Set clear requirements. Without executable requirements, quality cannot happen. In fact, the majority of problems that occur in organizations are the result of poor requirements statements. Often, requirements are stated in terms that don't promote clear understanding between customer and supplier, resulting in wasted resources. Therefore, carefully consider each time you and your internal supplier or customer are setting requirements for work output and ensure that requirements are agreed upon and executable.
Adopt a mind-set and behavior of doing right things right. This is the first step in setting executable requirements. From the other perspective, continually search out wrong things done right by your organization and encourage others to do so as well. Then, act to eliminate these resource wasters.
Encourage, recognize and reward as appropriate others who adopt the "do the right things right the first time" mind-set and performance standard. Do the same for those who identify wrong things done right.
Adopt the proactive prevention attitude and system. Stop reacting and fighting fires.
Drive out fear! W. Edwards Deming was right: One of the most critical needs of any organization is the need to drive out fear. Often organizations have cultures in which fear is reinforced on a daily basis. One of the most common ways that is done is the way organizations (and individuals) respond when a mistake occurs. They ask, "Who did it?"
So, when mistakes occur, be sure to ask the right question: What went wrong? Do not ask the wrong question (either explicitly or implicitly). Do not ask, "Who did it?"
Set the tone in your organization, work unit or to your other co-workers by responding appropriately to errors. When an error occurs, follow up the initial right question with a search for the root cause of the error by asking the why question (at least five times in order to eliminate all the symptoms, disclaimers of responsibility and/or excuses).
Establish meaningful output and quality-related measures. Identify and establish measures that are key indicators of the health of your business, such as customer satisfaction and improvements in individual, team and process performance. Review the measures frequently. Get everyone else focused on measures.
Especially for managers -- recognize the inherent power you have to influence the behavior of others that accrues to you simply by virtue of your organizational position. Recognize that your actions are being scrutinized. Ensure that you send a clear and consistent message about your values and business objectives.
Recognize that although your authority remains the same, the way you do your job has changed dramatically. Avoid the command-and-control mode. Become a coach, a listener, a facilitator and an empowerer. Encourage, recognize and reward in your employees: their buy-in and participation in the process, their successes (especially team-related achievements), their failures (make them learning experiences), their ideas for improvement (even those that don't work) and their demonstrated prevention attitude and approach.
Even though you do not have to explain why to your employees, it is a powerful indication of your respect for them as individuals.
For everybody -- challenge existing paradigms. Practice thinking outside the box. Encourage others to do the same. Practice personal self-development, keep learning, stay current in your field, learn about other subjects and broaden your perspectives personally as well as professionally. Be positive and supportive of the change process. Management has deliberately chosen this as the new system and style of management. Indulging in stonewalling/sniping is tantamount to insubordination. Don't tolerate it in others.
Each person should recognize that he or she has a sphere of influence over others. Sometimes, as in the case with managers, it comes with the territory, but for others it is greater (or smaller) than our finite span of organizational authority based on how others judge our performance and action. When it comes to organizational change, the task seems too overwhelming for many people. They fall into the "what can I do, I'm only one person" trap and become a bystander. In fact, each person should recognize the truth that they can make a difference.
About the author
J. Michael Crouch, CEO of LEADS Corp., has 27 years' experience in the field of change management, the last 12 years specifically in TQM. He was corporate director of quality management at Blue Bell Inc. for three years, where he directed a TQM effort involving more than 20,000 employees. Blue Bell is a large textile manufacturing firm that makes Wrangler blue jeans and Jantzen swimwear.
Since 1987, Crouch has been a principal and officer with LEADS Corp. He became its president in 1993 and CEO in 1996.
Crouch is the author of An Ounce of Application Is Worth a Ton of Abstraction. He is a member of the ASQ, AQP and QPMA.