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TQM for the 90's?

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?

Quality accepted

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.

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings:

a. body of principles
b. aim
c. supporters who argue in favour (of something)
d. improved in quality
e. increasing in strength and speed
f. natural and instinctive
g. persistent preoccupation
h. draw attention away (from)

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