In the early 1980s, a new concept entered managerial discourse: Total Quality Management (TQM). TQM was heralded by governments, major corporations and the business media as the most effective and elegant way out of the economic crisis and into the global market.
TQM claimed not to be a set of techniques but a philosophy of management (Sashkin and Kiser, 1993). Some commentators have argued that TQM is little more than an attempt to enhance management’s control over labour (Delbridge et al., 1992; Sewell and Wilkinson, 1992; Parker and Slaughter, 1993; Boje and Winsor, 1993; McArdle et al., 1995).
Thus, on one hand we have the ‘gurus’ who argued that TQM is an effective method for improving organizational performance and on the other hand, we have its ‘critics’ consisting of academics who spend time questioning current and emerging management theories.
TQM also earned its share of detractors who accused it of being merely a fad. Several authors pointed out that while total quality approaches have met with considerable success, their failures, though less publicized, have been even greater (Achire, 1996; Dreyfuss, 1988; Hammonds, 1991; Krishnan et al., 1993; Roberts and Corcoran-Nantes, 1995; Schaffer, 1993; Sherwood and Hoylman, 1993; Spitzer, 1993). Others questioned TQM’s conceptual soundness, its applicability and its ideological basis (Schaffer and Thomson, 1992; Dean and Bowen, 1994; Hill, 1995; Tuckman, 1995; Wilkinson et al., 1991).
Several authors have also described the confusion created by the existence of distinct definitions of, and perspectives on, quality management (Chatterjee and Yilmaz, 1993; Dean and Bowen, 1994; Wilkinson and Willmott, 1995). For example, Dean and Bowen concluded, “Despite thousands of articles in the business and trade press, total quality remains a hazy, ambiguous concept. The difference among frameworks proposed by writers such as Deming, Juran and Crosby have no doubt contributed to this confusion” (1994: 394). However, the confusion is not only to differences in approach, but also to the lack of interest shown by academics. The attempts at differentiating schools of thought in the literature are limited to a distinction between “hard” and “soft” approaches. The former are associated with the systematic control of work using statistical tools, while the latter emphasize qualitative and human aspects (Hill, 1995; McArdle et al., 1995).
Furthermore, critics argue that practitioners fail to implement “full” or “proper” TQM, instead it is adopted in a partial fashion (Hill, 1995). Thus, does TQM work? Is TQM scientifically sound? Does TQM lie? Here there are no easy answers. Unlike the “gurus”, we cannot pretend to provide a ready solution to such problematic and intractable issues.
The precise origins of TQM are difficult to pin down satisfactorily. Discussing the origins of TQM, Wilkinson and his co-authors (1998) observe that Peters and Waterman (1982) should be acknowledge as offering an early statement on the importance of quality. Others, however, would be more inclined to trace the origins of TQM back to the work of Shewhart who, in the 1940’s, mentored Deming- now a recognized quality ‘guru’- while they were both employed to service the US Defense Department’s need for reliable statistical analysis (Halberstam, 1987). These works of Peters’ and Waterman’s, and Shewhart aside, there are generally acknowledged to be seven, or eight, quality ‘gurus’.
However, there are different frameworks for analysis. This framework attempts to analyze the extent to which the work of each ‘guru’ might be considered to be either ‘hard’ (focused mainly upon statistical measures of performance and conformance), or ‘soft’ in orientation (focused more upon methods and systems of persuasion designed to encouraged managers and employers to ‘commit’ to new ways of working). This framework, suggested in the work of Storey (1991) for the analysis of human resource management (HRM), and by Wilkinson et al. (1991) for the analysis of TQM, might be represented as a continuum.
On the ‘hard’ side of the continuum of TQM, there are the lists of works of such quality ‘gurus’ as Shingo (1987), Tagushi (1987) and Juran (1988). These authors have been placed on the ‘hard’ end of the continuum since each places a stress on ‘improvement tools’ and ‘measurement systems’ above ‘organisational approaches’ (such as teamworking and empowerment) in the pursuit of TQM (Collins, 2000). For example, Shingo’s analysis, which is clearly influenced by Taylor’s (1911) ‘scientific management’, demonstrates a mechanistic concern with production and with organisational matters. Thus, in the pursuit of total quality and ‘zero-defect’ production, Shingo argues that human workers, and the human assessment of quality, are both error prone and inconsistent ( Collins, 2000).
Towards the ‘soft’ side of the continuum, there are the lists of works of Ishikawa (1985), Feigenbaum (1986) and Oakland (1993). In common with the quality ‘gurus’ listed on the ‘hard’ side of the continuum, each of these authors demonstrates a concern with ‘improvement tools’ and ‘measurement systems’. However, what sets the accounts of Ishikawa, Feigenbaum and Oakland apart from their ‘hard’ counterparts is their willingness to document ‘organisational approaches’ designed to facilitate both measurement and improvement (Collins, 2000). In this sense, the advocates of ‘soft’
TQM operate with a qualitatively different model of humanity, a model with expresses the idea that humans are, to some degree, the creative mediators of technological potential (McLoughlin and Clark, 1994 as cited in Collins, 2000, p:194) and so must be regarded as central to the processes of production and improvement. Ishikawa argues that to maintain motivation, management should reward not only achievement but also worker effort. Thus, as compared to the mechanistic accounts of organisation offered by the ‘hard’ accounts of TQM, Ishikawa seems to offer a more sensitive and more organic account of work motivation and management (Collins, 2000).
One way to look at the critics is to distinguish those who appear to focus on the work intensification aspects from those who concentrate on the self– disciplining effects of quality management programmes. The former perceive TQM as increasing surveillance, product testing (SPC) and enforcing ever increasing work loads on the employee and, thereby view TQM as the very opposite of empowerment at work. Techniques such as increased surveillance and monitoring, heightened accountability, peer pressure through teams and customers, and involvement in waste elimination through continuous improvement, lead to a situation which: Intensifies work by eliminating “waste” or “slack”… total quality control in effect translates into total management control (Delbridge et al., 1992, p. 97).
Parker and Slaughter (1993) usefully explore the ways in which a concern with management control lies beneath the surface of TQM, such that they refer to it as “management by stress”. Unlike the gurus, Parker and Slaughter (1993) do not view the concern to “reduce variability” as a “neutral” intervention. For it is management that sets the “standards of variation and the specifications” that attain control over work and employees, leading to highly repetitive and routine tasks, and work intensification. Likewise, in “documenting” work tasks and standardising routines, the autonomy of employees is removed, and their indispensability greatly reduced. Another TQM concept “waste elimination” is seen by these critics to mean job displacement and further work intensification, since labour is the most expensive factor of production. Also from a control perspective, Tuckman (1994) has argued that while TQM purports to transform the culture of the workplace, attempting to construct a “new” self-managed worker, it takes away individual autonomy and reconstructs worker initiative in a manner which allows management determination (Tuckman, 1994, p. 732).
Thus, it is seen to share in common many of the characteristics of Taylorism, as has been argued elsewhere (Boje and Winsor, 1993). In contrast to the gurus who believe that TQM will empower and enrich the work experience of employees, these critical theorists are more inclined to perceive it as another example of work intensification and worker degradation. Such theorists are in general sympathy with the work of Braverman (1974) and a labour process analysis where the emergence of “job enlargement, enrichment, or rotation, work groups or teams, consultation or worker ‘participation'” was seen as a response by management to “social antagonism” within the workplace. Such innovation, as Braverman (1974, p. 36) saw it, is concerned with “costs and controls, not in the humanization of work”. While post-Braverman, labor process theory has encouraged a departure from such deterministic approaches (Burawoy, 1979), there is always a tendency to slide back into “heavy duty” conceptions of management control (Jermier et al., 1994).
Moreover, data concerning alleged TQM failure rates and the description of particular cases have given rise to a new debate: did the companies which experienced failure really adopt a TQM approach? According to some observers, businesses which met with success were those which had adopted a “true” TQM approach, while those who experienced failure had either not adopted TQM or had poorly implemented it (Ahire, 1996; Becker, 1993). In response to this claim, others maintain that the “true” TQM is that which is described as such by managers and not what it is supposed to be in theory (Harari, 1993b).
The failures of TQM (and the disillusionment of the workforce) are often attributed to a lack of top management commitment, a lack of rigor during implementation (which leads to a failure to develop a quality-oriented culture), or a lack of understanding of the “real” nature of TQM (Ahire, 1996; Becker, 1993). Dean and Bowen (1994) claim that total quality prescriptions regarding worker leadership, training, and participation could be corroborated by human resources management theory. Furthermore, Spencer (1994) proposes that TQM, generally associated with an organic management model, could in some way be brought closer to the mechanistic model and the cultural model. However, the TQM literature has been criticized for its failure to take into account the presence of different interest groups within the organization, social issues, and the problem of industrial relations (Hill, 1995; Roberts and Corcoran-Nantes, 1995; Wilkinson et al., 1991).
Moreover, Dean and Bowen (1994) consider that total quality places too much emphasis on the formal analysis of information, which is inconsistent with research demonstrating the importance of maintaining a certain degree of informality and ambiguity in organizational contexts characterized by uncertainty and political issues. Dean and Bowen also argue that total quality imposes a strategic formulation that centers exclusively on client expectations, without taking into account considerable literature on strategy that recommends that consideration of an organization’s strengths and weaknesses and its competitiveness is just as important as that of the market needs.
Organizational contingencies are either completely forgotten or viewed as having little importance (Dean and Bowen, 1994; Reed et al., 1996). Sitkin et al. (1994) go even further to suggest that this “overselling” of TQM might be the cause of many of the reported failures.
While TQM rhetoric advocates autonomy and worker empowerment, the fact is that its implementation is generally accompanied by an increase in control (Delbridge et al., 1992; Webb, 1995). TQM is supposed to be a collective effort in pursuit of a common cause. Yet the concept of an internal customer on which it is often based inherently conveys the other side of any market relations: exploitation based on power (Webb, 1995). TQM promotes worker participation, their personal involvement in the organization’s success, and the possibility of improving their working conditions and their chances for advancement by initiating a true “meritocracy” (Webb, 1995). However, critics believe that TQM implementation is often undertaken within the framework of massive streamlining, accompanied by a flattening of hierarchical structures, which reduce chances for advancement (Kerfoot and Knights, 1995; Roberts and Corcoran-Nantes, 1995).
Some researchers have focused on the impacts of TQM approaches on employee life. For example, Aubert and de Gaulejac (1991) conducted in-depth studies of the harmful effects of approaches advocating excellence, which fit in well with the culture of anxiety currently prevailing in industrialized societies, but which frequently lead to burnout. Employees are said to endorse their own exploitation and willingly, even at times enthusiastically, participate in what McArdle et al. (1995) have termed “management by stress.”
Empirical data show that TQM introduction increases the control over workers, though it is supposed to reduce it (Delbridge et al., 1992; Webb, 1995). According to McArdle et al. (1995), the increase in control might be even more facilitated, given that it is justified by rhetoric of the market and competition, which play on the fear of job loss in order to eliminate resistance.
It has been argued elsewhere that the model of TQM is full of internal contradictions particularly in terms of the human dimension. For instance, some commentators have argued that TQM offers employee involvement whilst excluding employees from strategic level decision making (Dawson and Webb, 1989); whilst some point towards the contradiction between employee involvement and TQM’s emphasis on clearly laid down instructions (Wilkinson et al., 1991; 1992). Many of the tensions facing TQM revolve around the problem of a mechanistic model designed to transform the behaviour of employees in the direction of providing quality products and services to both external and internal customers. However, whereas the quality of material products could often be improved by physical interventions in the work task and its organization, customer service demands that employees transform themselves both in body and soul.
This means that their very sense of self and identity has to come closer to the task and the relationship with customers than has ever been the case before. Hochschild (1983) has described this as the commercialization of human feeling – something that involves “the task of managing an estrangement between self and feeling and between self and display” (Hochschild, 1983, p:131). Her argument is that employees have to suppress their feelings in order to sustain an interaction in their encounters with customers. Many employees are competent at managing this estrangement but the models designed by engineers for manufacturing activities on which both TQM and more recently business process reengineering models have been constructed, are often insensitive to the emotional energies required of staff on the front line. Rather than facilitating the delicate balances that employees engaging in emotional labour or “face work” have to maintain, quality programmes can take staff to the edge of their endurance. This is particularly the case when, because of “bottom line” pressures, management continues to place emphasis on the quantity of output above the quality of service.
The notion that TQM is holistic, as implied by the word “total”, is vital. Yet evidence exists which suggests that the gurus of the quality movement have not adequately contextualized their ideas. They have provided prescriptions as a guide to the practicing manager seeking to launch his/ her organization along the road to continuous quality improvement without providing the manager with an adequate integrated framework within which the tenets of TQM can be operationalised, sustained and brought to fruition.
Prescriptions abound and are apparent by their prominence in the work of gurus: Deming’s 14 points, Juran’s ten steps, Crosby’s 14 steps – yet such prescriptions only resolve the specific questions asked by practicing managers seeking to implement TQM at the most general level and fall short of furnishing the specific details demanded of an action plan. Little coherent advice is offered about how to design behaviors for improving the staff-customer-processor interface, for empowering the user, and for improving access or equity (Kogan et al., 1991). Further, the gurus fail to draw on broader organizational issues such as strategic thinking, exercise of power rather than leadership and continuous managerial renewal. The most readily discernible consequence of this is the lack of a conceptual understanding on the part of managers as to what constitute the essential organizational elements and requirements for the successful implementation of TQM.
What the gurus have failed to deliver, in a readily comprehensive and coherent format, is a statement of the philosophy that both underpins and elaborates the philosophy that they are seeking to espouse. Such a philosophy can, however, be made overt. All philosophies vary to the extent to which they seek to explain social, economic and political reality, and differ to the extent to which they are integrated. For instance, if a philosophical continuum were to be produced, then traditional right wing thought would be placed toward one end of the continuum and comprehensive, weltanschauung, radical critiques of the status quo would be placed at the other end.
The gurus tend to have a rather unitary view of the firm and, hence, some barriers to organizational change are underplayed. There is little acknowledgement that there may well be tensions between the production orientated “hard” aspects of TQM, which seek to emphasize working within prescribed procedures, and the “soft” aspects which emphasize employee involvement and commitment (Wilkinson, 1992).
For TQM implementation to be successful, many writers call for a cultural shift in the organization, with a fundamental change in values, structure, the way people work together, and the way people feel about participation and involvement. TQM therefore is suggested as a radical change strategy, which is geared to changing the culture of the organization in the long term. For example, Atkinson argues that culture change is the secret to implementing TQM (Atkinson, 1990). Similarly, Smith notes that TQM requires wholesale organizational improvement towards a stated goal; in other words, culture change (Smith, 1990). Wilkinson and Witcher also support the view that TQM requires wholesale organizational change and a re-examination of production methods, working practices and industrial relations (Wilkinson and Witcher, 1991).
However, creating changes in organizational culture is difficult, because of the inability of management to walk-the-talk of TQM, and much of the recent spate of academic research claiming the efficacy of culture change for improving organizational effectiveness is short on evidence. The gurus in their respective contributions are long in advice about the “what to do” of TQM, but short on useful recommendations for how to actually do it, i.e. a concise and comprehensive framework for business improvement. It is not surprising that various models of TQM (Oakland, 1989; Kanji and Asher, 1989; McDonald, 1994), fail to address the following key issues:
how to change organizational culture, particularly people behavior and attitudes to work;
sustainability of TQM;
dealing with organizational politics, power and authority;
achieving business results, particularly in terms of financial and operations performance;
peed in terms of new products and responding quickly to changing customer needs.
In the 13 years that have passed since June 1980 when NBC aired a White Paper, If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?, total quality management (TQM) has achieved what might be termed “cult” status. The current zeal for TQM makes it difficult, even unacceptable, to offer the most benign constructive criticism of anything related to the concepts of TQM or continuous quality improvement (CQI). TQM critics can make significant contributions to the quality of a TQM program and the achievement of its goals. However, if an organization’s environment is not conducive to open comment on the why’s and how’s of TQM, it will not be conducive to overall process improvement.
Reflecting the appearance if not always the substance of “enlightened” beliefs in individual autonomy and responsibility, modern management philosophies such as TQM have the potential to generate a collective sense of purpose and identity. Although far from even or uncontested, a TQM strategy seeks to transform the conflicts within organizations away from a focus on individual and incompatible interests towards competing definitions of how to achieve a given set of goals that comprise the collective enterprise. Despite a long history of industrial conflict (Eldridge, 1968;
Jermier et al., 1994), TQM focuses on the idea that employers and employees should unite under the quality banner so as to “continuously improve” service quality to the customer on a “right first time” basis. Debate may then occur as to how best to achieve this improved service but within strategic parameters that preclude any questioning of the objective itself.
No useful purpose is served by categorical condemnation of TQM or by attacking the teachings of TQM advocates Deming, Juran, Crosby, Feigenbaum, and others. However, there is value in raising constructive criticism about the paths taken, or not taken, in the TQM process. Perusing the writings of authors who are willing to address the “darker” side of TQM is worthwhile. Listening closely to employees who are less than enthusiastic about TQM is important. Pausing to assess the possibility of an overzealous organizational or personal commitment to TQM can be productive. The objective is not to foster a TQM counter-culture, but to strengthen the TQM process through evaluating and, when appropriate, acting on the perspective and suggestions offered by the TQM critic.
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