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Bringing quality to the people.

A recent Gallup survey of employee attitudes, done for the American Society for Quality Control, provides some interesting insight into why quality-improvement programs often fail. Key points in the survey were confirmed by candid comments we received from participants in our annual salary survey, covered elsewhere in this issue.

In sum, the key causes of failure were: wasted human assets and opportunities; i.e., the failure of management to communicate the quality message, respond to employee ideas, or involve them in the decision-making process. The picture continues to be one where the workforce's talents, abilities, and energies are not being effectively applied to quality improvement.

Yet, despite these handicaps, the survey found a workforce keenly aware that they would personally benefit from quality improvement. They are essentially saying, "Sure, I want to be paid more, and I want more job security, but more than that, I want a better chance to put my ideas to work."

Unused assets:

Obviously, quality is not a part-time job, yet the survey found that more than a third (36%) of employees in companies with quality-improvement activities do not participate. Nonparticipation is even higher if you count those companies with no formal quality-programs in place. One fifth of those surveyed said they had none of the programs on a list of common quality-improvement activities.

Why aren't they participating? Lack of motivation, of course, but also lack of opportunity. For 16%, the opportunity never came, while 10% said they were too busy, 8% said the program didn't affect them, and 6% said they were never asked to participate. As a tool designer in Colorado summed up his situation in our salary survey: "We don't have one good people manager in this plant!"

A little recognition would help, a process-development engineer in the defense industry tells us. He is getting his masters degree this month, and wants out of that industry: I want to be recognized for my efforts to improve both myself and my value to the company. I will likely have to seek another job to be properly compensated, even though I enjoy the duties and responsibilities I have been assigned here."

Getting the message:

Respondents were asked to evaluate their company's commitment to four basic quality policy objectives. Those segments of the ASQC survey who felt their company considered these issues very important" were: showing our customers our commitment to quality, 55%; making quality everyone's top priority, 53%; producing high-quality products and services, 53%; and trusting employees to make good quality decisions, 34%.

Thus, although a slim majority in three of the four policy objectives agreed with the company's quality goals, a substantial minority clearly do not. For example, a vice president of engineering tells T&P: "Engineering is low on the influence totem pole. We could contribute much to the bottom line if we had a chance to set some policy."

And, complains an ME services and QA manager in Georgia: -Sagging engineering morale is due to our difficulty in obtaining approval for capital funding even when the ROI is over 30%. Senior management emphasis is on short-term goals and outdated payback ratios. They manage goals instead of managing the business."

Following through:

Next, employees were asked how well the company follows through on these policy objectives. Lofty goals, yes, but how wen are you actually doing? On the first goal showing customers a quality commitment, of the 55% who said it was very important, only 36% said the company follows through very well in their policy. Similarly, on making quality everyone's priority, the 53% drops to 35%; on competitive products and services, the 53% drops to 36%; and on trusting employee quality decisions, 34% drops to 25%.

The lack of maturity of quality programs is a factor here, the survey acknowledges. At 13% of companies surveyed, quality activities have been in place less than one year, and 46% report programs less than five years old. Clearly, some never mature, lack widespread support, and are seen as one-shot programs that are quickly discredited and dropped. The 29% who reported they were very satisfied with the company's quality-improvement effort were nearly offset by the 25% who are comparatively dissatisfied.

Such as a senior ME for a medium-sized Midwest company who tells T&P: "I give our senior management a poor rating. The `good old boy' attitude is ruining our company. We have gone through Crosby's quality program, quality circles, value analysis, and every imaginable shop-floor scheduling system. Industrial engineering is nothing more than a whipping post for manufacturing. We never know what costs really are because IE is always adding time to route sheets, and employees, through their foremen, are always punching out on the wrong operations so that the hours look good.

"We are doomed! Hopefully, there are some companies remaining in US manufacturing who know how to run a business."

Adds a vice president of engineering for a major auto plant in Indiana: "We have down-sized 25% in the past three years, and we have eliminated training. My budget has been cut 50%. Most of the experienced people took early retirement. We talk a lot about quality, but mostly it's just talk, not action."

Limited participation:

Making people more responsible for the quality of their work is part of the growing participative-management movement. While two of three employees in the ASQC survey say they have been asked to be involved in decisions, only 14% feel empowered to make those decisions. Those who do participate in quality-improvement efforts gain job satisfaction, enjoy better communication with others in the organization, and find work procedures improve--all nonmonetary factors affecting their work environment.

When asked to evaluate four ways to increase their job performance, 33% chose letting me do more to put my ideas into action, 27% chose paying me more, 19% chose giving me more recognition, and 17% said listen to my improvement ideas. In a related question, workers said the two most important ways for the company to make it easier for them to do high-quality work were: 1) Provide more training and 2) Provide more job security. In evaluating other improvement options, monetary issues played a role, but were consistently ranked below other concerns.

A manufacturing engineer looking to change companies tells T&P that he can sympathize with shop employees. "Many times I rely on their ideas and first-hand experience for methods improvement and redesign, but managers, it seems, are always reluctant to accept their ideas. Overall, I definitely think more responsibility and respect ought to be moved to the front-line workers. Only then will companies become truly world class." Warns a senior project engineer in the auto industry: "Our immediate supervisors seem to be more politicians than the knowledgeable managers we need to make technical decisions. They need to get out into the front lines again (if they've ever been there) and find out how new technology is both helping and hurting us."

Other notes:

Other interesting notes from the ASQC survey:

Rating US-made products. Twice as many (47%) employees rated American-made products very highly as did executives (26%) in a prior survey. However, employees are less likely than executives to say the US is gaining on foreign competitors in product quality.

Rating workers and bosses:

When asked to rate workers' contributions to quality improvement versus that of managers and top executives, employees gave more of the top rating to rank-and-file workers (44%) than executives did (29%), and gave correspondingly lower top ratings to executives (39%) than executives did to themselves (61 %).

Sizable benefits: It was found that larger companies and those foreign owned are more likely to have quality-improvement programs in place; yet, where programs exist, the companies that are smaller, service-based, or American owned enjoy higher levels of participation. Quality-improvement participation is also higher among college graduates and those in professional business, and service occupations.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sprow, Eugene E.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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