Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Norberts Erts – Cofounder of HR software company CakeHR. His opinions are his own.
What do a healthcare provider, an artisan instrument maker and a management institute have in common?
Try tangible returns on their Total Quality Management implementation for an answer!
There is no such thing as sitting on your laurels in the competitive business world. From startups to stalwarts, brands vie to outdo each other, capitalize on disruptive opportunities and encourage brand loyalty – which is about the only insurance against an unstable market.
The concept of being and doing better is thus ingrained in the DNA of companies that wish to conquer the decades and their competitors.
In this respect, TQM or Total Quality Management is an unsurprising concept. But the fact that it is more of a philosophy than a framework aimed at transforming a particular department sets it apart from other contenders claiming to improve the output of a business.
And it is the culture rooted philosophical take on quality management that makes employee participation, buy-in and evangelizing so critical to the successful implementation of TQM.
In this piece we will take a close look at Total Quality Management, the components it covers, the impact Human Resource Management has on the propagation of a quality conscious culture, plus the quick steps to start implementation.
Total Quality Management (TQM): The what
Total Quality Management aims at continuous quality improvement of the product or service offered by a business through continuous feedback.
Its simple objective is to do the right thing the first time, and every subsequent time so that resources are not wasted fixing mistakes and broken processes.
At this point of time you may feel that TQM sets unrealistic expectations and probably is too rigid. But the beauty of the concept lies in the fact that it takes into account both the mundane and the granular, as well as the 50,000 foot-view big picture.
Total Quality Management looks at an organization as a collection of processes. To this effect there is a need for stringent recommendations and best practices that must be developed to improve them.
But the philosophy piece is prominent too since Total Quality Management relies on the truth that processes repeated for a long enough duration of time have the power to shape culture.
The traditional top down approach first sets culture parameters and then trickles this culture down from the C suite to the employees in the form of dos and don’ts.
Through Total Quality Management, the tables are turned. The processes and practices which are being constantly tweaked based on data and feedback produce small changes which accrue over time to positively impact culture and business vision.
This sets up an effective loop where culture and processes benefit from each other, the nuts and bolts of ensuring customer satisfaction are regularly optimized and the business can boldly prepare for the future.
Total Quality Management (TQM): The why
Total Quality Management acknowledges the fact that where humans are involved, there is always room for error.
But the rules that control processes should step in to compensate.
1. First and foremost, there should be provisions to ensure that mistakes are not made.
2. Second, if they do creep in, there should be a system to detect errors efficiently and swiftly.
3. Third, if an error is somehow propagated down the value chain, there must be authority vested in individuals or processes to shut down the production flow so that more errors aren’t added the mix resulting in faulty units or poor service delivery for future clients.
The three-pronged approach springboards off of mundane, well-defined processes. But it also necessitates a culture of honest communication where each employee acts as a sensor gathering feedback and using it to plug the holes in the current process set, without fear of repercussions.
There are of course teething pains and implementation struggles. Employees may not have the mindset of “speaking up” and by default look to consensus for action. Managers may not appreciate the new-found employee independence. But once the culture of improvement is in place and the numbers prove that the effort is worth the while, total quality management frees up the company to be progressive, innovative, risk taking and free thinking.
Total Quality Management (TQM): The how
Total Quality Management stands on 7 key pillars.
1. Focus on the Customer – Customers are the true North Star and barometer of a business. In the TQM approach, customer sentiments and feedback are closely monitored through call tracking and surveys.
2. Employee Involvement – Employees must understand why the obsession with improvement ultimately gives them the freedom to innovate on their jobs. TQM not only boosts the financial health of a business, it also improves talent connectedness and communication.
3. Process Centeredness – The 8 requirements are met by defining processes. There should be processes to collect and integrate customer and employee feedback. There should be distinct processes to course correct on the TQM journey by adjusting strategy and tactics. And even a set of processes to measure the process centeredness of the implementation.
4. Integrated Structure – Silos stymie Total Quality Management. As discussed, though the concept advocates structure and processes, isolation is not favoured. Different departments in the organization need to learn from each other and refine their processes in collaboration.
5. Strategic Approach – Begin with the company vision and objectives to achieve. Set the processes according to this overarching strategy. Then let the TQM changes manifest as changes in culture, vision and objectives.
6. Clear Communication – Without clear, unhesitant communication between employees and between a business and its customers, gathering authentic feedback and driving improvements is impossible. In any power dynamic, the final say should be in favour of the approach dictated by data and honest feedback.
7. Iterative Improvement – TQM is capable of ushering changes because when an organizational sensor actually “senses” a gap, action is taken according to defined processes and improvements are made to eliminate the errors. The best feedback loop is useless if continuous improvement isn’t prioritized.
By now you realize that processes underpin the success of Total Quality Management. The actual definition of these processes is governed by models like the Deming Way and DMAIC process.
The Deming Way is also known as the Plan-Do-Check-(Re)Act (PDCA) cycle where scheduled improvements are made, the impact measured and further changes planned accordingly.
DMAIC stands for Define-Measure-Analyse-Improve-Control. In this approach businesses:
- Define who they are serving and thus want to improve for
- Measure KPIs
- Analyse the gap between the actual results and desired outcomes, as defined by the business objectives
- Implement data backed improvement suggestions
- Control or monitor how the improvements impact systems
Human Resource Management (HRM) and its Impact on TQM:
This doesn’t require a lengthy prologue.
Empirical studies have shown that HRM practices like training and development, employee career planning, and recruiting and selection have the greatest significant influences on the implementation of Total Quality Management.
Since a particular sample size can never be large or varied enough to guarantee a positive impact of HRM on TQM, most experts consider these strong positive signals as a good enough reason to invest in Human Resource Management to complement TQM processes.
- Human Resource management makes the talent in an organization more receptive to the suggestion of continuous improvement. Buy-in is crucial in the early stages of Total Quality Management implementation. If employees feel that their freedom is being curtailed in any way, or if they sense that their feedback may be viewed as being “adversarial” by the management, TQM comes to a screeching halt.
- Human Resource Management gives employees the skills they need to be great TQM sensors. This includes clear communication, parsing constructive criticism and feedback from interactions with people of different cultures and backgrounds, overall better productivity and strategic planning.
- The HR department is closely associated with the culture of an organization. It sets boundaries, limits and incentivizes conformance with best practices. Total Quality Management reshapes culture. So, without HRM and HR evangelism, TQM is just a disruption and will never come across as the vehicle of enhanced employee freedom.
TQM advocates customer orientation, process management and leadership development. This is the domain of HRM. And HRM in return prepares employees to be better TQM practitioners. The two are intertwined and both contribute to the overall competitiveness and morale building of organizational talent.
5 Steps to Total Quality Management Implementation:
Total Quality Management works. But since the process of permeation of improvement consciousness is delicate and time consuming, some organizations are predisposed to be better TQM adopters.
- Have a track record of quickly identifying external change
- Craft a response plan
- Implement the action steps
are more likely to taste success with TQM. In siloed and rigid organizations employee buy-in is difficult to build and scepticism impedes progress.
1. Management Audit
Here are the 5 steps that must be taken to institute a culture of Total Quality Management:
Total Quality Management is a journey of going from where a business and its processes are, to where it would ideally like to be. The very first item on the agenda of TQM implementation is thus a management audit to take full inventory of the processes that do exist, the results they yield and what gaps have already been identified.
2. Defining Critical Success Factors
Total Quality Management lives on in a business’ culture. But it is far from being intangible. There are very well-defined processes operating under the hood of a TQM enterprise. This is why it is important to quantify future success too. Critical Success Factors (CSF) are performance-based measures that can reflect the impact of TQM in numbers, charts and graphs.
3. Developing Processes to Meet the 8 Requirements
Once an organization is capable of determining whether TQM is working (or not), it is time to develop processes. Processes are governed by rules and can be executed by either tools or talent. For example, one of the 8 requirements is to be customer focused. A business can choose to automate the collection of feedback from users or it can rely on trained employees who understand that every interaction with the brand is a chance to cement customer loyalty and thus follow-up with a review request.
Once the feedback is received, it has to be processed. Positive indications are used to strengthen what the brand already does well. Negative inputs open up new areas of improvement.
The what, why, who and how of meeting the 8 requirements have to be crystal clear.
4. Being Data Driven
Data doesn’t lie.
Often the feedback collected from customers and employees shake the status quo. Change isn’t easy and TQM is all about constant change. The discipline to never avoid data advocated shifts – no matter how uncomfortable they are – is the fourth and penultimate step in the process.
5. Being Relentless
Last but not the least, an organization has to relentlessly keep “doing”. No change is insignificant and making improvements in small but consistent steps is what brings the real benefits of TQM.
Total Quality Management done right is done for the lifetime of the employees who embrace it. Something that has such far reaching effect should be given a great deal of time and thought during and after implementation. Having the HR department and the employees onboard is non-negotiable.