Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

Mining the TQM Mother Load

Companies' improvement efforts should first focus on management.

Improvement efforts such as total quality management focus on involving an entire organization in quality initiatives as soon as possible. I believe this is a major mistake made by many consultants and organizations. First, organizations send everyone to team training classes, basic problem-solving seminars or Green Belt courses. Then employees are expected to prospect for the hidden gold that's being wasted by inefficient or ineffectual quality processes.

Unfortunately, the really lucrative TQM gold veins can only be mined by management. Unearthing a few gold nuggets is gratifying to employees, but the real benefits come from working the mother load. In a TQM process, only managers can do this because they're the ones who have registered a claim to that part of the diggings. I believe that successful TQM projects focus the change process on the management team before they focus efforts on employees. When management improves first, the organization's personnel will follow naturally.

 Why start with managers? The answers are simple if you look at managers' areas of responsibility. These include:

  Allocating resources

  Establishing an organization's structure

  Selecting leaders

  Developing processes

  Setting performance standards

  Making job assignments

  Preparing job descriptions

  Providing measurement and reward   systems

  Setting priorities

  Selecting and training employees

 Obviously, we must first execute these responsibilities in a quality manner if we hope to succeed in the improvement process. Only when management effectively executes its responsibilities can organizations hope to release the enthusiasm and pent-up creativity that exists in their employees.

 Before they were promoted, managers got the word through the grapevine. They thought their promotions would grant them entry into the inner sanctum, where they'd learn all the inside data. In most organizations, however, that's not how it works.

  Top managers consider middle and first-line managers employees' representatives. They're not allowed to share in the organization's critical information because upper management fears that it will be disseminated to rank-and-file employees. These employees, in turn, drop middle managers from the rumor mill because they represent management and are assumed to be in the know. As a result, an information void is created. One manager shared his concerns with me, stating, "I find out more about what's going on in the organization by reading The Wall Street Journal at lunch than I do at all of our staff meetings."

 Even Japanese firms don't involve middle management in their decisions when they operate outside Japan. In a survey conducted by the Japanese Machinery Export Association on Japanese companies doing business in Western Europe, 67 percent of the 94 participating companies' representatives stated that they were unwilling to let locally hired staff take part in decisions about raising funds for long-term purposes. Seventy-six percent stated that locally hired staff shouldn't be permitted a voice in making decisions about new plants. Forty-two percent said they were unwilling to allow local staff to take part in research and development. When he was president of Honda, Nobuhiko Kawamoto stopped using Japanese-style consensus management in his U.S. operations in preference of a typically American organization chart. As a result, communication and decision making have become much more streamlined within the modern Honda corporation.

 Joseph M. Juran has long stated that 80 to 85 percent of all problems are caused by management. Donald A. Stratton, quality manager at AT&T Network Systems, reported the following findings in a Quality Progress article:

  Eighty-two percent of the problems analyzed were classified as "common cause." These are process problems owned by management.

  Eighteen percent of the problems analyzed were "special cause." These are caused by people, machinery or tools. Only a small portion of these problems can be solved by employee teams.

  Of the 82 percent of problems management controlled:

  • Sixty percent of the corrections could be implemented by first- and second- level managers
  • Twenty percent could be implemented by middle managers
  • Twenty percent could be implemented only by top managers.


 Clearly, the major problems within most companies are processes that management is responsible for modifying and controlling. Unfortunately, all the talk in the world and the desire to do something well won't solve these problems. Certainly employees can't correct problems created by management. Only management's personal involvement in the improvement process will bring about the required changes.

About the author

 H. James Harrington recently retired from his position as COO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company.  He has more than 45 years of experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books. E-mail him at jharrington@qualitydigest.com . Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com . Letters to the editor regarding this column can be e-mailed to letters@qualitydigest.com .

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