The Total Quality Management doctrine began in Japan in the '50s and was enthusiastically
taken up in the USA in the '80s. It proclaims that a genuine recognition of the
customer's needs and demands is vital to a company's success. It also stresses the
importance of involving employees in the quality movement and the need to view business
activities as processes, with a goal of continuous improvement. How successful is
TQM in Europe? And is it relevant in the '90s?
Proponents of Total Quality Management (TQM) emphasize its many internal and external
benefits, such as improved business results, customer and employee satisfaction,
the positive impact on society, improved management and enhanced leadership skills.
They believe that the TQM principles of total quality will remain the cornerstone
of good management.
According to a recent survey, TQM is gradually building up momentum in Europe although
progress remains slow in several sectors and countries. Compared with 55% in the
USA and 53% in Asia, only 30% of European companies have adopted TQM. Why has there
been this slow take-up?
In certain countries, such as Germany, TQM has had relatively little impact because
quality has always been established as an important management consideration.
Implementation of TQM
In addition, there are several problems in implementing TQM. It is not always easy
to gain the support of employees, especially in those companies where morale has
been undermined by redundancies or where the top management is seen to lack a gut
commitment to quality.
Middle managers are often unenthusiastic about involving their subordinates too
much in the quality process; it could prejudice their chances of meeting their budget
targets and could threaten their own jobs.
TQM is seen as rather inward-looking. An obsession with methodology and standards
can distract a company from chasing sales. Excessive bureaucracy, for example filling
in forms and following detailed procedures, can disillusion employees.
Large or small companies?
It is noticeable that many of the companies in Europe who have taken up TQM have
been large international manufacturing companies. This is partly explained by the
introduction of quality standards at international level. (Service companies, where
there has been less standardisation than in the manufacturing sector, have adopted
TQM to a much smaller extent).
Smaller companies have been slower to take up TQM partly because managers have felt
too busy to undertake the extra work involved. Also, in many cases, these managers
are already in close touch with their customers and readily responsive to their
feedback and demands. However, in future, as companies deal on a more international
basis, there is likely to be pressure on such small companies to adopt TQM principles,
if only to satisfy the demands and requirements of larger suppliers. Indeed, as
global competition increases, many companies will have to accept that a narrow definition
of product quality is no longer sufficient to ensure success.
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