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Managing continuous improvement and culture change.

Quality has its own unique culture--its own distinctive set of beliefs and behaviors that must be in place if quality objectives are to be reached. Some of the key assumptions and behavioral implications of quality culture include:

Key Assumptions/Behaviors about People: All people in an organization--including entry-level workers--are key assets that can and must be involved in the process of creating quality goods and services. This assumes that people want to do a good job, and will if given the opportunity and the right conditions.

Key Assumptions/Behaviors about Work Organization: To get people involved, committed and making creative improvements, several things are necessary: management must view work as an integrated process that cuts across traditional functional silos; people must learn to work together in teams that cross job descriptions and functional areas; management must provide training on the job that helps people understand their process and gives them the analytic tools to identify and solve problems; and supervisors have to stop punitive inspections that create fear and eliminate pride in workmanship.

American work culture was built during an era when traditional manufacturing organizations were on the rise. Manufacturing process technology of the early 20th century was inflexible, and demanded a work process that was rigid and a work force that was highly controlled. Indeed, in those days the theory of industrial production saw the machine as the prime mover in production and the worker as a malleable extension of the machine.

It was under these conditions that classical management theory and the scientific management movement established the basic principles of industrial organization that became the foundation of most modern U.S. manufacturing firms.

Scientific management theory applied the division of labor principle to create efficiency in industrial organizations, but besides efficiency it embeds a number of interrelated assumptions and behaviors (a culture) that run directly counter to the culture of quality.

It doesn't take much analysis to see the possibility for profound culture clash between this set of beliefs and behaviors and those of the quality culture.

Cultural Blunders

Despite the clear potential for culture clash and resistance, most TQM programs don't seem equipped to deal with conflict or to guide the process of culture change. What cultural blunders do most TQM programs make?

First, most TQM programs don't understand that what they represent culturally can be very threatening to many people who are entrusted with carrying out the program. Some middle managers and supervisors stand to lose a lot of their privileges and power with TQM.

Second, most TQM programs seem to assume that one can change culture just by changing what people believe, and that you can change what people believe by education and training. These assumptions fail to consider where culture comes from. Culture is the response of a group of people to a set of concrete challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis.

When a group first forms, people experiment with different ways of doing things, and when something really seems to work, they latch onto it and use it over and over. If it continues to work, they start to believe this is "the way" and they teach it to newcomers and discourage deviation. This is culture.

Finally, many TQM programs seem to be naive about the difference between ideal and real culture. It is easy for people to mouth lofty ideals and change their surface behavior to meet expectations. TQM programs produce a lot of activity, and the champions of TQM mistake this activity for real change. Change is when people are doing work differently and they are getting better results.

So where does this leave us? What can we do to try to ensure that our organizations are among those that learn, change and survive? Here are some basic principles:

* We must start with the understanding that TQM means culture change, and that neither TQM nor culture change proceeds in a strictly top-down fashion. Both have to grow from the bottom of the organization up.

* Don't initiate quality for the sake of quality because we think quality is "good." Link quality culture change to your business' concrete need to change the way work gets done.

* The profound knowledge about what the problems are and how they can be addressed needs to come from the people.

* Top managers have to give strategic direction to the organization and create an environment in which line managers can make the changes necessary to improve business results.

* Profound change appears to start on the periphery of a population and work its way across the population once it has proven itself.

There is no magic formula for quality culture change. The process that changes culture must be tailored to the organization.

Some organizations will learn to make the necessary changes; others will not. Those that do not will fall by the wayside and be supplanted by new kinds of work organizations. But we know from the experience of many American corporations that it can be done--and that it is worth doing.
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Title Annotation:part 2
Author:Baba, Marietta L.
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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