Managing continuous improvement and culture change.American industry today is facing its most serious challenge since the 1930s. There is a revolution in the air. Ferocious fe·ro·cious
1. Extremely savage; fierce. See Synonyms at cruel.
2. Marked by unrelenting intensity; extreme: ferocious heat. international competition and constantly changing technologies are forcing the transformation of our industrial organizations. The traditional division of labor in industry is obsolete; to deliver better products at lower cost in less time requires that we change the way we do work.
This article argues that total quality management (TQM (Total Quality Management) An organizational undertaking to improve the quality of manufacturing and service. It focuses on obtaining continuous feedback for making improvements and refining existing processes over the long term. See ISO 9000. ) is a powerful and compelling vision of how we should be doing our work. But it is not a complete road map. It does not tell us how to change the existing culture of industrial organizations.
Culture change is virtually inevitable when introducing quality principles into a corporation. This is because TQM represents a new cultural system, one that often clashes with the traditional culture of American work organizations. Yet, many quality programs fail to recognize and deal with cultural change and, as a result, they are not effective in guiding the change process. This article examines the clash of two cultures that often unfold unfold - inline as TQM is implemented.
The Challenge of TQM
Although TQM programs differ in detail (depending on which quality guru guru (g`r, gr` you follow), many have several features in common, including: the program is organizationwide and often has direct involvement from senior management (i.e., these are top-down programs); they are based on an off-the-shelf formula or standardized standardized
pertaining to data that have been submitted to standardization procedures.
standardized morbidity rate
see morbidity rate.
standardized mortality rate
see mortality rate. method for improving quality; they usually rely heavily on education and training as the stimulus for change; and they require a plethora plethora /pleth·o·ra/ (pleth´ah-rah)
1. an excess of blood.
2. by extension, a red florid complexion.pletho´ric
1. of special activities (meetings, committees and reports) that keeps everyone busy.
TQM programs such as these have drawn criticism recently from both the practitioner and academic communities. The charge was led by Michael Beer and his colleagues who presented data from a four-year Harvard study of transformational change programs (including TQM) in several large American corporations.
In this study, researchers and employees independently ranked the companies' improvement in interfunctional coordination, decision-making, work organization and concern for people on a scale of 1 to 5. As it turned out, the worst performers were the firms with the biggest and most elaborate transformational change programs. The clear leader had no such program in place, but had instead been revitalized re·vi·tal·ize
tr.v. re·vi·tal·ized, re·vi·tal·iz·ing, re·vi·tal·iz·es
To impart new life or vigor to: plans to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods; tried to revitalize a flagging economy. by a series of bottom-up changes initiated by line managers.
Since the publication of this piece, other articles have confirmed Beer's observations using independent data sources. For example, Business Week recently reported results of an Arthur D. Little Arthur D. Little, Inc. is the world's first management consulting firm. Founded in 1886 by Arthur Dehon Little, an MIT chemist who discovered acetate, and co-worker Roger Griffin, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Arthur D. Little pioneered the concept of contracted technology research. study of TQM in 500 American corporations; only 36% of the firms felt that it significantly improved competitiveness.
To what do we attribute the anomaly discovered by Beer--that the biggest change programs seem to be least effective in generating change? The main criticism lodged against TQM and other top-down programs by Beer and others is that they are not results-driven. Top-down change programs usually are too large and diffused dif·fuse
v. dif·fused, dif·fus·ing, dif·fus·es
1. To pour out and cause to spread freely.
2. To spread about or scatter; disseminate.
3. to guide specific change at the level of day-to-day operations, which is where change must take place if we are to see real improvement.
Because they are disconnected from results, there is little opportunity to test the efficacy of various TQM methodologies or approaches; people must accept their validity on faith. The faithful seem to believe that if they carefully perform certain TQM activities (such as training) according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. a guru's cookbook (programming) cookbook - (From amateur electronics and radio) A book of small code segments that the reader can use to do various magic things in programs.
One current example is the "PostScript Language Tutorial and Cookbook" by Adobe Systems, Inc (Addison-Wesley, ISBN , then their organization will improve, almost as if by magic!
The gurus tell the organizations that they must be patient and wait a long time for change, so the organization may go on drifting for months, often while things continue to get worse.
While I agree with many of these observations based on my own experience, I believe there is more to the difficulty of implementing quality principles than Beer has pointed out. Quality is difficult to implement because it represents a profound culture change that clashes in many ways with U.S. industrial culture, and most TQM programs misunderstand mis·un·der·stand
tr.v. mis·un·der·stood , mis·un·der·stand·ing, mis·un·der·stands
To understand incorrectly; misinterpret. the nature of culture and the process of culture change.
The Nature of Culture
Culture can be defined as a set of shared assumptions, beliefs and values that are linked to and support a related set of social behaviors In biology, psychology and sociology social behavior is behavior directed towards, or taking place between, members of the same species. Behavior such as predation which involves members of different species is not social. , roles and relationships. Our basic assumptions tell us what is true and right about the way the world works and how we should behave in it. A more modern term for this part of culture is paradigm--we each have a paradigm about the way the world works; shared paradigms are a part of culture.
It is important to note that the paradigm is tied to and reinforced by behavior. If we treat people as if they are lazy and can't be trusted, then soon they will respond to our beliefs with behaviors that will reinforce our paradigm. They will not work as hard for us and they will resist our directives.
Another point about culture is that it comes in two basic forms: real and ideal. The real culture is what we really think and really do; the ideal culture is what people think they should think and do. Thus, someone who believes that people are lazy and untrustworthy probably won't admit that because today these beliefs are unacceptable.