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Implementation, problems, success and longevity of quality circle programmes: a study of 95 UK organizations.


Quality circles (QCs) are small (four to 15 members) voluntary groups performing quality control, continuous improvement and mutual self-development activities at a regular series of meetings. They present solutions to management and are involved in implementing and monitoring them[1,2]. Their members are usually involved in other tasks.

QCs are one of many approaches available for continuous improvement. Other approaches besides QCs are suggestion systems, total quality management, time-based systems, customer-driven philosophies, interactive planning, a learning environment and peak performance. Each has advantages and disadvantages[3].

A comparison of the Fortune 1,000 studies done in 1987 and 1990[4] shows that QCs are increasing (66 per cent of organizations used them in 1990) although the fastest growth was in the use of other types of participation groups (86 per cent of the 313 respondent organizations used other types in 1990).

It is important to consider that there is much evidence that is critical of QCs. Cole[5] noticed falling morale in Toyota's QCs, due to increasing physical and mental strains on QC members. The concept of workplace participation, along with methods such as TQM, and with the humanistic concerns of human resource management, have been described as a disguise to cloak the reality of worker exploitation[6]. Griffin[7] described his results in terms of a Hawthorne effect. It is therefore very important to scrutinize QCs sceptically.

Previous studies have tended to concentrate on single plants and to observe all QC staff (usually between 50 and 200) over a period of between one and three years[7-11]. They have emphasized the importance of top and middle management[11], of a long-term, supportive quality programme[11], and of an 18-month "honeymoon effect" of QCs[7,9].

QCs have had mixed results. Questions arise, therefore, about success and failure, and the appropriateness of Japanese management ideas in Western economies. What causes success and failure and how are they measured? What role do QCs play in Japanese success? Should we copy Japanese QC ideas or should Western companies create their own approach to quality and motivation?

Reasons for the failure of QCs have been suggested by Walker[12] and Brennan[13]:

* Not enough resources.

* Focus is only on production.

* Limited definition of improvement.

* Middle managers see QCs as a threat.

The following requirements for successful QCs have been proposed by Walker[12], Gray[14] and Fabi[15]:

* Focus on educating workers about the organization.

* Focus on formulating goals.

* Focus on participation.

* Talk must lead to action.

* Rewards integrated into organizational reward system.

* Top management support.

* Clear goals.

* Power shared.

* Organizational communication system.

* Members' commitment.

* Support of management.

* Training.

* Organizational stability (absence of financial difficulties).

* Briefing non-QC members about work of QCs.


Information about UK organizations known to be operating QCs was obtained from the National Society of Quality Circles, David Hutchins Consultants and The Industrial Society and a postal questionnaire was sent to the 180 organizations known to them. All these organizations were contacted first by telephone before posting, to ensure questionnaires were sent to a named individual within the respondent organization who was personally responsible for the QC programme.

Questionnaires comprised 33 questions. This resulted in 44 variables for statistical analysis (the coding scheme is shown in the Appendix). Out of the 180 questionnaires sent, 112 (62.2 per cent) were returned, but only 95 (52.8 per cent) were used in the analysis. The other 17 had not answered the questionnaire because they had no current QCs (13), were only considering QCs (2), or were too early in their programme (2). Many questionnaires were returned with information just relating to a particular business unit of an organization (especially in large and divisionalized organizations) such as a department or a division. So in what follows, the word "organization" is being used broadly to mean "business unit".

Our survey was answered by the "quality manager", or equivalent, in each organization, so the findings reflect both a management perspective, and a role perspective supportive of QCs (such a manager would presumably have some job or status stake in QCs). Such a perspective would be expected to be biased in favour of QCs.


The size distribution of organizations was strongly skewed towards large organizations - of the organizations giving size information, 47 per cent had over 1,000 employees. The size distribution of organizations surveyed is shown in Figure 1. QCs are generally considered to be more difficult to operate in service industries than in manufacturing industries. Yet as many as 46 (48.4 per cent) of respondents were service-based organizations. Moreover, white-collar QCs were more prevalent than blue-collar QCs (36 per cent were white-collar, 42 per cent mixed, and 22 per cent blue-collar). The survey did not aim to represent all organizations whether or not they had QCs - rather it aimed at covering those organizations which were known to have had QC experience.

One organization, a multinational bank, had 3,000 QCs and 18,000 QC members. The remaining 94 organizations accounted for 2,156 QCs, 13,813 people, and represented an average QC membership of six or seven, a smaller group size than the eight to ten suggested by Collard and Dale[16]. Given that the total number of employees in the 95 organizations surveyed was 405,651, this gives a ratio of QC members to total employees of 1 in 13. This ratio is for UK organizations who had QCs. There is a figure for all employees in Japan of 1 in 8[17]. Yeager's estimate for all Japanese hourly paid workers was 1 in 4[18].


Although much of an anecdotal nature has been written on success and failure of QCs, there is little hard evidence about the factors which explain success and failure and "a working definition of QC success needs to be devised"[11]. Most previous studies have relied on respondents' own evaluations, a method fraught with the difficulties of wishful thinking and positive self-presentation effects. Barrick and Alexander[19] found that implementation decisions are not based on organization evidence about effectiveness using monetary value, but rather on a belief that QCs are "the thing to do". The effects of QCs are generally based on participants' own estimates of worth, and those reports of measurable changes such as cost reductions or quality improvements fail to give detailed data on other changes simultaneous to the QC's suggestions. For example, in one unverifiable report, Hutchins[20] claims that QCs contribute up to 25 per cent of profits. Others suggest a pay-off which is five to eight times (and as high as 15 times) the cost[21] but another study suggests productivity gains of only 5 per cent[22]. Ishikawa[23] has also claimed that QCs lead to more accurate data. In a more quantitative study, Lawler et al.[4] suggested that the main benefits of QCs were quality, customer service, and competitiveness.

Brockner and Hess[8] designated a QC as successful if it had generated at least two solutions to problems that senior management had actually accepted and implemented. This approach was rejected for the present study, which was seeking to evaluate the success of QC programmes, which may contain up to several hundred individual QCs. In addition to asking respondents to assess success in the ways described above, two other attempts were made to measure "objective" success. First (S1), the number of QCs at the start of the QC programme was compared with the number at the time of the survey. A second measure of success (S2) was the proportion of employees engaged in QCs.

Small organizations have a significantly higher proportion of QC members ([[Chi].sup.2] = 17.853, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]). The two objective measures S1 and S2 of success were weakly though not significantly related ([[Chi].sup.2] = 3.598, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]).

Organizations with TQM were more likely to be successful on measure S1 ([[Chi].sup.2] = 7.544, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]). This association was also significant when success was measured by S2 - predictably, because organizations with TQM programmes would be expected to be more supportive of QCs ([[Chi].sup.2] = 4.472, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]). Also, organizations with TQM were significantly more likely to have top or middle management representation on the steering committee which dealt with quality issues ([[Chi].sup.2] = 6.779, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]) - again, a rather predictable result. Also predictable was the result that having a steering committee was a strong predictor of QC success on criterion S2 ([[Chi].sup.2] = 5.147, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]). Also QCs which met often were found in organizations with a higher proportion of QCs ([[Chi].sup.2] = 4.078, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]).

A third, subjective, measure of success (S3) used self-evaluated effectiveness (whether QCs were considered cost effective). On this measure, there was a sharp contrast between the two objective measures of QC success. S2 and S3 were significantly associated ([[Chi].sup.2] = 7.672, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]) whereas S1 and S3 were not ([[Chi].sup.2] = 2.456, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]). This is because S2 - the proportion of all employees who were QC members - measured a cultural attitude favourable to quality programmes, as evidenced by the association of S2 with how often QCs met, with whether a steering committee existed, and with the existence of TQM.


There is a honeymoon period (about two years) of initial momentum, during which QCs are successful, with improved productivity and reduced absenteeism until there is a decline[9-11]. This raises the question of whether evaluation studies have over-estimated the usefulness of QCs and have failed to see their short-lived nature. Bearing in mind the interest in the literature in the longitudinal characteristics of QC success, it will be worthwhile to consider the effect of longevity of the QC programme (itself suggested as an indicator of success with QCs[7,9-11]), and also to consider the way in which relevant variables changed over time.

The evidence about age of QCs is different from that from other sources, which suggests that most QCs do not survive much beyond two years. The fact that the data for the current survey have been collected on an organization basis, however, means that evidence relates to QC programmes, which contain several or even many individual QCs. Three years was the median longevity of QC programmes, with some programmes as much as 12 years old [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2-5 OMITTED]. However, these data apply only to still-active QC programmes - it may be that QC programmes which fail and which are discontinued tend to be younger.

There is some evidence from the present study to suggest that QC programme longevity and QC programme success are related. When success, measured by S1, i.e. whether or not the number of QCs in the organization has grown or declined since the QC programme started, is used as a measure, there is a weak association - older QC programmes are more successful, though this association is not significant ([[Chi].sup.2] = 3.258, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]). Lawler and Mohrman[9], who supplied the original evidence for the QC honeymoon effect, wherein there is an 18-month gain followed by decline, state that as a result of early gains, most organizations add many more groups, and these have to compete for management attention and are subject to declining interest and extra costs. Lawler and Mohrman[9] describe this process as increasingly mechanistic, and Griffin[7] supports this with evidence that QC members felt they had solved all the easy and obvious problems. However, although this may be true for individual QCs, it may not be true for an organization, which brings new QCs to life as others are discontinued. Our data then, which suggest (weakly) that older QC programmes are more successful, do not conflict with (other) data suggesting QCs have a limited life, because organization-level programmes continue when individual QCs die.

Most organizations' experience was concentrated in the early years, with a peak at two to three years where 21 organizations (22.1 per cent) were represented. The sharpest early peak was among the most successful organizations [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. An early peak is observable too where staff development was a perceived benefit; the early peak did not exist for employee involvement [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]. QCs seen as giving employee involvement are significantly older than ones seen as giving staff development ([[Chi].sup.2] = 5.498, df = 1, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]). Staff development is a more demanding expectation than employee involvement, and therefore more easily disappointed, which may explain its sharp decline after two years. Another explanation is that in the long run the survival of a QC programme depends on shopfloor support and this is more likely to be forthcoming if QCs are perceived to give employee involvement and responsibility (a worker expectation), rather than staff development and team building (a management expectation). If this second explanation were correct, then this finding would run against Cole's suggestion[5] that as QCs mature in an organization, they tend to be seen as an instrument of management rather than an instrument of workers.

Expectations are also more sharply peaked for effects of QCs on staff than on quality [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 4 OMITTED]. Again disappointment may explain the early peak in those, considering the QCs' cost effectiveness (the peak was not present for those not considering QCs cost effective) [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 5 OMITTED]. An alternative explanation for Figure 4 is that perceived improvement of people (employee involvement, staff development, job satisfaction) is only short term (people get used to the change and take it for granted), whereas with quality the results are more objective and permanent.

Given that individual QCs generally fade away after about two to three years, what is the reason? Figures 6 and 7 show that white- and blue-collar QCs differ considerably, in that lack of time plays a significant role in the erosion of interest in white-collar QCs, whereas the effect of this problem is more muted for blue-collar QCs. Figure 8 shows that for the method of informing senior management about QCs, the early peak is most associated with the collapse of an internal champion; the rise and decline is less dramatic for external consultants. In Figure 9, the early peak is least visible for QCs led by a facilitator, whereas there is a rapid fall in support for QCs led by supervisors. Again, organizations without TQM show a relatively low but stable QC presence, whereas those organizations with TQM show a dramatic early peak [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 10 OMITTED]. The existence of a TQM programme does nothing to extend the life of QC programmes, despite the fact (see above) that organizations with TQM are more likely to be successful.

Association between success and longevity

Although the association between success and longevity is non-significant, there are other grounds for placing them together within a theoretical explanation. Success, as measured by both S1 and S2, is associated with having a TQM programme [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 11 OMITTED]. Both a QC programme and a TQM programme are long term, institutional structures, and so it is understandable that they reinforce one another, as the literature suggests they should[24-26]. Moreover, there are two other elements which are institutional and long term: having a steering committee, and having top management representation on the steering committee. The significant associations which these two elements have [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 11 OMITTED] again suggest the beneficial effects of longevity of the QC programme.

Human resource management

QCs cannot just be seen in isolation from the rest of the organization. Walker[12] has suggested that one reason for QC failure is a narrow definition of QC mission. Most studies which have elicited requirements for successful QCs have come up with the need for good communications with the rest of the organization, the need for the QC to have some active impact on the organization (action not talk), and the need for management support[12,14,15]. This explains the greatest problem of QCs: the fact that they cannot easily be assimilated into the existing power structure. Instead they require new methods of reward, communication and decision making[13]. Middle managers may see QCs as a threat to their managerial position, and are able to hinder the QC by denying it time, information, people and finance[13]. Without the co-operation of middle managers, the circles cannot select appropriate projects, collect data or implement solutions. With this in mind it is unfortunate that in the UK, QCs are defined out of the context of the organization[1,2]. In Japan, QCs are viewed as an integral part of an organization-wide quality control programme such as total quality management (TQM). There is a great emphasis on organization-wide quality control, on training in and application of statistical methods, quality control audits, and nation-wide quality control promotion. Moreover, peculiarly Japanese cultural features help the effectiveness of QCs: the group and organization-minded and consensus-seeking social psychology; national and organization support for quality control concepts; unique industrial relations and personnel systems; and extensive training programmes[21,23,27,28]. Therefore when properly implemented in the right industrial culture, QCs can help create a competitive drive quite beyond the experience of anyone who has not seen them in operation. However, when badly managed, QCs result in failure, disappointment and cynicism, and distrust of the concept of QCs[20].

Therefore, the more successful QCs are integrated into TQM programmes[14]. Indeed, their origins in Japanese industry suggest that QCs must be seen in their organizational context before arguing for the success of any Japanese transplant[29]. Because of this, TQM stresses difficult to measure or even difficult to observe concepts such as decentralization, upward communication flows, cross-functional information flows, interdependence, trust, long-term communications, group-oriented values, flexible, reciprocal and immediate communications, and the high importance of physical proximity. The intangible nature of QCs means that it is more difficult to get high level managerial backing, because it is difficult or impossible to estimate their benefits to the organization[30]. Because of the difficulty of detaching QCs from their organizational context, it is unsurprising that QCs do particularly well when in a stable organization with no financial difficulties caused by external economic turbulence[15].

Another reason for care in translating Japanese QC success into Western contexts is the evidence of exploitation of Japanese workers[6]. Also trends such as increases in wage differences between large and small organizations, an ageing population, reduced organizational commitment to job security (which will affect nenko or seniority-based promotion) and economic stagnation seem likely in the future to affect Japanese labour relations adversely, particularly company-minded and consensus-oriented values[31].

Human resource management effects of QCs have been suggested[8,20-22] and they include an improvement in attitude and communication, increased involvement, more team building, individual development, self-esteem and task performance. A study of 675 employees from five organizations[32] found that labour turnover was reduced and absenteeism was made stable (compared with rising absenteeism in the group not participating in non-QCs). However, since QCs are for the most part voluntary[33-35], a fact corroborated here (membership of QCs was voluntary in 86 per cent of our cases), the QC members will be more motivated than those who are not members, so that the result may not be due to QCs but to motivational characteristics of members as compared with non-members. In a study of seven large Dutch organizations, de Vries and van der Water[36] identified several elements of workers' quality of life as particularly important effects of QCs. These were task depth, task rotation and reorganization of the production structure. Workers derive greater curiosity-satisfaction to the extent that they can reflect on and understand the significance of what they are doing (task depth). They also derive variety-satisfaction of exchanging roles with colleagues with whom they discuss such exchanges (task rotation). Talk must lead to action, and the less the worker believes that his comments are circumscribed by top management the better is the worker's control-satisfaction (derived from reorganization of the production structure). As 90 per cent of QCs include goal-setting in their operations[37] these goals must lead to proposals which get implemented if worker motivation is not to suffer[38].

What are the human resource management findings from our study? Table I gives some information about self-perceptions of benefits of QCs. There was a contrast between human resource management benefits and economic benefits. However, in terms of importance attached to these two groups of benefits, Table I clearly shows that human resource management benefits outweighed economic ones. This was despite the fact that a majority said that QCs are cost-effective. The intangible and subjective nature of these concepts of benefit is exemplified by the fact that several of those saying that their QCs were not cost effective answered that this was not the point of QCs, and that QCs were still a good thing from the point of view of staff development and training. Also, several respondents mentioned that benefits to quality included merely the knowledge by customers that the organization had QCs.

Yet there was no association between perception of benefits and success or longevity. For example, success and longevity were not related to whether a company perceived benefits to be economic or social-psychological.

Involvement and team building suggest that participation aspects should be relevant in considering QCs. These aspects were the prime motive for beginning a QC programme for half our sample. (This contrasts with US motives - a recent US survey of 531 organizations operating QCs[37] found that 57 per cent reported that continuous improvement was their prime motive.) Yet we found that in no case were any QCs started by shopfloor workers. Moreover, only a quarter of steering committees included shopfloor workers. Despite these objective characteristics, a large majority of respondents (83 per cent) thought that QCs were not elitist, that all members participated in the problem-solving [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE I OMITTED] process (91 per cent), that circles solved their own problems (96 per cent), that members felt their work had an impact on management decision making (92 per cent) and that QCs were supported by consultative machinery (85 per cent). However, it must be remembered that our source was the "quality manager", by definition not a shopfloor worker, who would be expected to put a management gloss on this question. The optimistic percentages probably indicate our source's biased role commitment. Certainly, objective measures such as committee membership are less susceptible to this bias than these subjective estimates, such as perceived degrees of participation. Another problem caused by our respondents being who they were was in the definition of a voluntary QC. Although QCs were nearly always reported to be voluntary, in some organizations managers were under pressure to have at least some QCs running.

It may be that the training associated with QCs has a beneficial human resource management effect. QC members received training in 80 per cent of cases, and QC leaders received training in 92 per cent of cases. Are QCs given enough resources and support? Walker[12] has suggested that too few resources is a major cause of QC failure. We found that most QCs receive training, but do not receive rewards. We also found that 30 per cent of organizations had QCs which met for a half-hour or less per week, and lack of time was the second ranking cause of problems in starting QCs and the first ranking cause of problems in running QCs. Although it has previously been suggested that QCs meet regularly once per week[39], only two-thirds of our respondents' QCs meet regularly, and only two-thirds of QCs meet once per week. About two-thirds of organizations have TQM, and this is associated with both of our indicators of success of the QC programme (as discussed above), but although Griffin[7] has described the role of training as crucial, whether or not training was provided was not related to success or longevity.

Implementation problems

Because of the short duration of many QCs, it is important to investigate problems of starting QCs. Wood et al.[40] have noted that little consideration has been given to QC introduction. However, we found no relationship between the types of problems experienced in either starting up or running QCs and their degree of success or longevity.

Most organizations (87 per cent) did not expect quick results from their QCs. However, there were problems in starting up QCs (see Tables II and III).

Table IV shows problems in running blue-collar QCs. Comparing Tables II and IV gives an idea of the different problems of starting and running QCs. Whereas lack of middle management support, then lack of top management support, and lack of time were, in that order, problems with starting QCs, the order changed to lack of time, lack of middle management support, and lack of enthusiasm, in that order, for running blue-collar QCs. The problem caused by middle management declined (from starting to running QCs), but lack of time rose. The decline in lack of top management support as a problem is neither surprising nor comforting because it indicates that getting QCs started was the main part of top management's role - not an encouraging degree of commitment.

The problems of running white-collar QCs (Table V) were very similar to those for blue-collar QCs. Lack of time was most common, then came lack of enthusiasm, then choosing problems and lack of support from middle management. Both blue- and white-collar QCs were dependent on middle management goodwill, since lack of time probably had roots in lack of support from middle management. Middle managers are therefore crucial players in keeping QCs running well.

The relative importance of factors contributing to QC success or failure, outlined in Tables II, IV and V, contrast sharply with those found by Sheffield et al.[11]. Whereas support from top and middle management were first and second in ranking from their literature review and their empirical survey, in our data senior management features only for problems in starting QCs and then only as third rank (Table II), while middle management ranks top for problems in starting QCs, and second (blue-collar) and third (white-collar) for problems in [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE II OMITTED] [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE III OMITTED] [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE IV OMITTED] running them (Tables IV and V respectively). Moreover, as has already been stated, these problems have no impact on QC success or longevity. It may be that our data suggest that the literature has exaggerated the relative importance of top management[14,15] and middle management[13] support for QCs. However, our study did not investigate companies which had discontinued their QC programme, and such data would be needed for definitive evidence for or against the need for such support.

Qualitative data

Several organizations experienced a deep division between those who supported QCs, and those who were deeply suspicious of them, and wanted nothing to do with them. There was often considerable shopfloor peer group pressure on workers not to join QCs.

The problem of time affected many manufacturing organizations. Some of those which ran continuous production had QCs which met outside the eight-hour shift, with time made up on a one-to-one basis later. This was not popular, especially in summer, when QC members did not want to extend their time commitment beyond the eight-hour day. Another pressure in many [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE V OMITTED] manufacturing organizations has been the growth of multi-skilling, which has resulted in a lot of movement of personnel, which has disrupted QC membership patterns. Other sources of instability have been takeovers and changes from day work to five-day shifts. Several organizations said such pressures had increased noticeably during the 1980s and that this had had a marked effect on time available for QCs, and on the survival prospects of QCs.

In one organization where QC membership had declined dramatically, there had previously been the removal of facilitator support in order to begin a training programme for non-voluntary continuous improvement teams. Other visible signs of organization support for QCs such as steering groups, bulletins and publicity groups had also been removed. The senior management had decided that QCs were of secondary importance to the continuous improvement programme. However, a side product of this policy may have been to erode confidence in voluntary groups and in workers' sense of self-importance as participants. This could then have led on to badly affecting the senior management's efforts to create a team culture.


This study was able to develop two objective measures of QC programme success. One measure (S1) was whether the number of QCs had declined or increased since the start of the QC programme. The second measure (S2) was the proportion of employees belonging to QCs. These two measures were weakly though not significantly related. A third, subjective measure (S3), based on perceived cost effectiveness of QCs, was associated with S2 but not with S1. Another, though unrelated, measure of perceived benefits of QCs showed that human resource management effects of QCs (involvement, morale, communication, staff development) were rated more highly than economic effects (such as cost effective solutions and improved quality).

The other important aspect of QC evaluation is that of longevity. This study has shown that despite evidence that individual QCs and their organizational benefits are relatively short lived, QC programmes have a median age of three years and some have lasted as long as 12 years. Thus the evidence about QC programme longevity suggests that the honeymoon concept has been somewhat exaggerated in the literature[7,9-11]. We found that only 40 per cent of organizations had QC programmes in their first three years of operation. "Older" QC programmes are more successful (although this association was too weak to be significant) and are ones where employee involvement is the objective, rather than staff development. However, our indicators are not complete ones - QCs could be individually effective in raising productivity or in creating solutions, and yet the organization might experience a fall in QC numbers for other reasons (competition from other types of quality or participation programmes, management policies, middle management sabotage, and so on). There is just not enough evidence even to speculate about this based on the present survey.

TQMs indicate an organizational climate favourable over the long term to QCs, and it is this which led to several findings relating the existence of TQM to our success indicators S1 and S2 and to senior and middle management involvement in the steering committee.

The evidence on the introduction of a participatory, team-minded culture was very unconvincing. Although most respondents reported that all QC members participate, that membership is voluntary, that QCs are aimed at increasing employee involvement, and that QCs are managed by steering committees or team briefings, these latter meetings are generally not attended by shopfloor workers. Moreover, shopfloor workers never start QCs, and initiation represents the major part of senior management's commitment to QCs, after which QCs tend to be left to the discretion of middle management. One small hint that participation might have some important role, however, was the finding that QC programmes seen as giving employee involvement (a shopfloor expectation) are significantly more likely to be older than ones seen as giving staff development (a management expectation). Older programmes are more successful. Does this mean that QC programmes where employees feel involved are ones which can survive into the "post-honeymoon" stage? Or are QC programmes in their early years expected by management to "deliver" on staff development, after which management loses interest?

Previous studies have tended to concentrate on longitudinal investigation of a small group of QC members at a single plant. They have found the importance of top and middle management, the importance of a long-term, supportive quality programme, and the existence of an 18-month "honeymoon effect" of QCs. This study covered 95 organizations and over 5,000 QCs, and was able to include longitudinal aspects due to data on age of QC programme. This study found no evidence at the organizational level to support the role of top and middle management in QC success, nor for the existence of a honeymoon effect, despite repeated findings in the literature from studies of individual companies. However, it is possible that a study of organizations which decided to discontinue their QC programmes might discover that these two variables were important muses of failure. This study also found and validated a satisfactory set of measures of success, and reasons for the observed weak association between QC success and longevity were put forward.


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Appendix. Coding scheme

ADDMOR (period of years after which more QCs added) 0 = no more, 1 = 0-1.0, 2 = 1.1-2, 3 = [greater than]2.

ALL_PAR (whether all QC members participate) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

BENEFIT (key benefits of QCs) 0 = none, 1 = improved communication, 2 = job satisfaction/morale/attitude, 3 = employee involvement/responsibility, 4 = staff development/team building, 5 = cost effective solutions, 6 = improved quality.

CHOOSE (whether QCs choose their own problems) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

CONSULT (whether team briefing or consultative machinery exists) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

EFFECTVE (whether QCs are considered cost effective) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

ELITE (whether QCs are considered to be elite groups) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

EXPERTS (whether QC consulted experts) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

EXTERN (whether QC introduced with external help) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

INFORM (how senior management informed of QC objectives) 0 = nothing, 1 = presentation, 2 = external consultant, 3 = internal champion, 4 = TQM programme, 99 = N/A.

LEADER (leader of QC) 0 = supervisor, 1 = circle member, 2 = facilitator, 3 = consultant, 4 = various.

LEV_INI (management level which initiated QC programme) 0 = top management, 1 = middle management, 2 = supervisor, 3 = shopfloor.

LEV_ST (management levels that are on steering committee) 0 = none, 1 = all levels, 2 = top management, 3 = middle management, 4 = supervisors.

MAN_SERV 0 = manufacturing, 1 = services.

NUM_B_C (number of blue-collar QCs) 0 = 0-2, 1 = 3-5, 2 = 6-8, 3 = 9-11, 4 = 12-20, 5 = 21-40, 6 = [greater than]40, 9 = N/A.

NUM_EMP 0 = 0-200, 1 = 201-500, 2 = 501-1,000, 3 = 1,001-10,000, 4 = [greater than] 10,000.

NUM_FAC (number of facilitators) 0 = 0-2, 1 = 3-5, 2 = 6-8, 3 = [greater than]8.

NUM_STA (initial number of QCs) 0 = 0-2, 1 = 3-5, 2 = 6-8, 3 = [greater than]8.

NUM_W_C (number of white-collar QCs) 0 = 0-2, 1 = 3-5, 2 = 6-8, 3 = 9-11, 4 = 12-20, 5 = 21-40, 6 = [greater than]40, 9 = N/A.

OFTEN (hours per week spent in QC meetings) 0 = 0-0.5, 1 = 0.5-1, 2 = 1-1.5, 3 = 1.5-2, 4 = [greater than]2.

PRESENT (whether presentation to management) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

PROB_S (problems starting QC programme) 0 = lack of time, 1 = suspicion, 2 = lack of funds, 3 = lack of middle management support, 4 = lack of top management support, 5 = work pressure, 6 = change of culture needed, 7 = maintaining enthusiasm, 8 = movement of staff, 9 = personnel conflict, 10 = poor attendance, 11 = poor facilitation, 12 = slow results, 13 = non-implementation of solutions, 14 = inadequate training, 15 = no problem.

PROBR_B (problems running blue-collar QCs) 0 = lack of time, 1 = suspicion, 2 = middle management, 3 = choosing problem, 4 = keeping enthusiasm, 5 = no training, 6 = no problems, 99 = N/A.

PROBR_W (problems running white-collar QCs) 0 = lack of time, 1 = suspicion, 2 = middle management, 3 = choosing problem, 4 = keeping enthusiasm, 5 = no training, 6 = no problems, 99 = N/A.

PROP_QC (QC size times number of QCs divided by number of employees in organization) 9 = [greater than]0.1, 8 = 0.1-0.01, 7 = 0.01-0.001, 6 = 0.001-0.0001, 0 = [less than]0.0001.

PRSTART (recode of PROB_S) 0 = 11,14,0,5,8,10,2 of PROB_S = lack of resources, 1 = 1,3,4,6,7,9 of PROB_S = shopfloor-management conflict, 2 = 12,13 of PROB_S = slow results, 3 = 15 of PROB_S = no problem.

QUICK (expected quick results) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

REASON (key reasons for starting QC programme) 0 = employee involvement, 1 = quality awareness, 2 = employee development, 3 = increase presentation skills, 4 = quality of life, 5 = improve quality, 6 = change culture, 7 = improve communications, 8 = part of TQM.

REASON1 (Recode of REASON) 0 = 0,2,3,3,6,7 of REASON = Effect on staff, 1 = 1,5 of REASON = effect on quality, 2 = 8 of REASON = part of TQM.

REGULAR (whether QC meetings same time and frequency) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

REWARDS 0 = none, 1 = yes (non cash), 2 = yes (cash or food).

SIZ_W_C (size of white-collar QCs) 0 = 0-2,1 = 3-5, 2 = 6-8, 3 = 9-11, 4 = 12-20, 5 = 21-40, 6 = [greater than]40, 9 = N/A.

SIZ_B_C (size of blue-collar QCs) 0 = 0-2, 1 = 3-5, 2 = 68, 3 = 9-11, 4 = 12-20, 5 = 21-40, 6 = [greater than]40, 9 = N/A.

STEER (whether organization has QC steering committee) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

SUCCESS (whether number of QCs grew from start to now) 0 = declined, 1 = static to doubled but [less than or equal to] 2 years old, 2 = static to doubled and [greater than or equal to] 3 years old, 3 = more than doubled, 99 = N/A.

SUCC1 (recode of SUCCESS) 1 in SUCCESS redistributed among categories 2 and 3.

TECHNIC (techniques used by QC) 0 = none, 1 = 1-2, 2 = [greater than]2.

TELLTU (whether trade union informed before QC programme) 0 = no, 1 = yes, 2 = no trade union.

TQM (whether QCs part of TQM) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

TRAIN (whether training given) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

VOLUNT (QC roles voluntary) 0 = no, 1 = yes.

WHY_LAC (why lack of top management support) 0 = they had other priorities, 1 = they felt threatened, 2 = lack understanding, 3 = cost, 4 = not convinced of need, 5 = no problem.

WHY_TU (why trade union opposition) 0 = feel threatened, 1 = lack of understanding, 2 = no problem.

YEARS (recode of YRS_EXP) 0 = 0,1,2,3 of YRS_EXP = young, 1 = [greater than or equal to]4 of YRS_EXP = old.

YRS_EXP (years since QC programme started) 0 = 0,1 = 1, etc., 99 = N/A.
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Author:Sillince, J.A.A.; Sykes, G.M.H.; Singh, Deol P.
Publication:International Journal of Operations & Production Management
Date:Apr 1, 1996
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