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Quality management in Japanese and American firms operating in the United States: a comparative study of styles and motivational beliefs.


During the past decade, Japanese firms challenged and often dominated the competition in many industries in the developed countries. Scholars believe that a major reason for the Japanese success is their perception of, and approach to, quality management (Buffa 1984, Garvin 1984, Juran 1981, Leonard and Sasser 1983, Riggs and Felix 1983, Takeuchi 1981, Takeuchi and Quelch 1983, Wheelwright and Hayes 1985). Buffa (1984) and Riggs and Felix (1983) state that the improvement of productivity follows the improvement of quality and, if the activities for quality improvement are on a large scale, then the productivity and GNP of the nation will increase, as it did in Japan.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of published work concentrating on the management of quality, specifically the Japanese approach. See the reference section for a partial list. Most of these studies fall into two wide and somewhat overlapping groups. The first group consists of mostly prescriptive reports. Works of Deming (1982, 1986), Drucker (1971), Feigenbaum (1985), Hayes (1981), Juran (1981), Schonberger (1987), and Tregoe (1983) are some examples of this group. Probably the best known is Deming's fourteen points (1982). He contended that following these points leads to higher quality and profit. Deming argued that firms must promote quality control ideas throughout the company by institutionalizing continuous education and training programs while avoiding mass inspection.

The second group comprises studies that primarily describe, compare, and contrast the Japanese and American approaches to quality management. Some examples are Cole (1983), Ebrahimpour (1985), Garvin (1983, 1984, 1986), Howard and Teramoto (1983), Juran (1957, 1964, 1981), Marsland and Beer (1983), and Suzawa (1985). Juran's work (1964, 1981) is typical of this group. He identified three major differences between the Japanese and American approaches to management: a massive training program, an annual program of quality improvement, and an upper management leadership of the quality function. Similarly, Suzawa (1985) argued that the Japanese achieved production of high quality products by using total organizational commitment, increased employee responsibility, and team work. Garvin (1984, 1986) also found a network of mutually reinforcing factors that led the Japanese to achieve their present level of high quality. His findings showed a different framework for thinking about quality: management commitment and workers dedication to quality improvement, an emphasis on process control and production management, and supportive government policies.

Both types of studies of Japanese quality management are often speculative, impressionistic, anecdotal, and often based on the observation of only a single company. They lack systematic measurement, tests of hypotheses, and multi-organization comparisons. The recent work of Garvin (1983, 1984, and 1986) and Reitsperger and Daniel (1990) are notable exceptions. Rather than simply considering one organization, Garvin examined quality management in 11 American and 7 Japanese factories in one industry. Reitsperger and Daniel surveyed the Japanese and American precision electronics industry. They examined top management involvement in manufacturing decision and quality attitudes, as well as quality implementation through management control systems (Daniel and Reitsperger 1992).

This study is of the second type. It compared Japanese and American approaches to quality management. However, unlike previous work, this study focused on four industries, developed systematic measures of quality management style, and tested formal hypotheses. Also differing from much of the earlier research, this study examined Japanese approaches to quality management for firms operating in the United States. The main foci of the project was to clarify some key questions regarding the Japanese and American approaches to quality management and to examine how the Japanese have implemented their quality management programs in the United States. Toward this end, three questions were considered:

1. Are there identifiably different approaches to quality management for firms operating in the United States? If so, then ...

2. Do these approaches differ for Japanese and American firms operating in the United States? That is, do not approaches reflect impressionistic views contrasting Japanese styles of quality management and American styles of quality management? If so, then ...

3. In spite of evidence suggesting a clear link between organizational performance and product quality (e.g., Phillips, Chang, and Buzzell 1983), do Japanese style quality managers believe that more organizational benefits result from quality management than do American style quality managers?

Understanding the consequences and results of managerial beliefs concerning the benefits of quality management is important because managers necessarily make decisions on a combination of objective and subjective information. As Simon (1961) pointed out, managerial decision making is characterized by bounded rationality and, thus, the adoption of different quality management techniques is not based solely on calculations of objective performance and efficiency criteria. Beliefs and perceptions are equally real as objective criteria and are key motivations that affect the decision making process.


One widely discussed issue is the role of the quality control department in the management of quality. Most writers believe the role, responsibilities, and characteristics of the quality control department differ between Japanese and American firms (Deming 1986, Ebrahimpour 1988, Ishikawa 1982, Juran 1957, 1964, Schonberger 1987). The Japanese approach to quality management has the quality control department concentrate on training to promote and facilitate bringing quality control ideas to other employees. The American approach is usually more narrow emphasizing the inspection aspects of quality control. The first hypothesis suggests a test of this argument.

|H.sub.1~: Japanese owned firms and American firms using Japanese approaches to quality management differ from typical American firms in the use of the quality control department.

Specifically, it is expected that American owned firms are less likely to emphasize training and an inclusive approach to quality control and more likely to emphasize input/output inspection.

In the quality management literature, one of the more often noted attributes of Japanese products is their superior quality. In addition, the literature suggests that the major motivation for quality management is the belief in a positive relationship between quality performance and other performance measures, such as increased market share, higher productivity, increased worker participation, and improved product design (Buffa 1984, Deming 1982, Riggs and Felix 1983, Schonberger 1987, Suzawa 1985). Two hypotheses dealt with aspects of this motivational issue. The first hypothesis (#2 overall) addressed, by type of firm, differences in beliefs concerning the link between the management of quality and general organizational performance. The second hypothesis (#3 overall) focused on the relationships of the belief in the benefits of quality management with the adoption of different styles of quality management.

|H.sub.2~: As compared to typical American firms, managers in Japanese owned firms and American firms purposefully engaged in Japanese quality management have a stronger belief in the link between the management of quality and general organizational performance.

|H.sub.3~: The extent of the belief in the link between quality management and overall organizational performance is related to the style of quality management (as reflected in the uses of the quality control department).

Research Methodology

Sample Selection

The population for the study consisted of all manufacturing plants operating in the United States with Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes from 3500 to 3870. These codes represented firms in the following industries: machinery, electrical and electronic (including computer and semiconductors), transportation equipment, and measuring and analyzing devices (including photographic and optical).

To consider the use of Japanese approaches to quality management, data were gathered from both American owned and Japanese owned firms. For American owned firms, a random sample of 674 American manufacturing firms that fell within the SIC codes noted above was selected. For the Japanese owned firms, 100% (n = 323) of the firms operating in the appropriate industries were selected (source: Directory: Affiliates and Offices of Japanese Firms in the U.S.A.). The Japanese subsidiaries were used because these firms drew from the same pool of labor and operated within the same political and socioeconomic climate as did the American firms. Thus, findings were more likely to represent differences in organizational culture and management techniques rather than the national culture of the workers.

Hypotheses #1 and #2 required that we identified a priori the American owned firms using Japanese approaches to quality management. To accomplish thisk, two check questions were included in the questionnaire: 1) Is your plant using total quality control or Dr. Deming's approach? 2) Is a just-in-time (JIT) production system being used in your plant? A positive answer to both or either of these two questions resulted in the company being classified as an American firm emulating Japanese approaches to quality management. Answering no to both questions classified a company as traditional American owned firm. Consequently, the study included three types of firms: Japanese owned firms, American firms likely engaged in at least some aspects of Japanese quality management, and American firms with traditional approaches to quality management.

Two procedures suggested confidence in the validity of the check questions to discriminate among the approaches used by the U.S. firms. First, intensive interviews with quality control managers in a variety of U.S. firms suggested that they are quite familiar with the Deming approach, total quality control, and the just-in-time production philosophy. These interviews suggested further that a positive answer to either question would accurately identify firms adopting Japanese approaches to quality management. Second, given a strong likelihood that Japanese owned firms would adopt Japanese management techniques, we hypothesized that the majority of Japanese firms would respond positively to one or both of our check questions. In fact, in the sample of Japanese owned firms, only two respondents provided negative answers to both questions. Given these findings for the Japanese firms, it seemed reasonable to assume that the check questions would identify the American firms using Japanese approaches to quality management. Thus, these two procedures suggested that the questions provided a valid method to discriminate among Japanese and American approaches to quality management.

Questionnaires were sent directly to the quality control managers at the plant level for all plants identified in the sample selection processes (n = 997). Names of quality managers were obtained from a list provided by the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC). Usable questionnaires were returned by 222 respondents resulting in an overall response rate of 22.3%. Based on the classifications for firm type, 57.9% of the total respondents were identified as American firms actively engaged in Japanese manufacturing techniques followed by traditional American and Japanese firms with 20.0% and 22.1%, respectively.

Statistical tests showed that the distribution of the three types of firms was not significantly different across industries. In addition, firm types did not differ significantly in terms of annual sales for the company nor by number of employees in the plant.

Individual respondents providing data for firms included quality managers (53.8%), higher level management (29%), and others at approximately the same level as quality managers. Tests for response bias revealed significant differences between quality managers and higher level management, but neither group differed from the "other" management category. In general, higher level management perceived greater benefits from quality management and tended to see their companies more involved in promoting quality management throughout their organizations. These results are somewhat surprising since those most closely involved with quality management, quality control managers, seemed less convinced of the benefits of quality management. Because of these findings, we controlled statistically for type of respondent in the analyses reported below.

Questionnaire Development

Respondents were queried concerning a variety of aspects of quality management. The questions were developed in a two stage process. An initial draft of the questionnaire was reviewed by quality management professionals from several plants in a midsize midwestern city in the United States. These managers were from plants representing the industries eventually surveyed. After revision of the initial instrument, ten on-site interviews indicated further the clarity and importance of the questionnaire items. Based on these steps, a revised questionnaire was sent to the entire sample. These interviews were also used to validate the check questions discussed above.


Quality management styles

Derived from on site visits, interviews, and a review of the literature, 15 questions identified styles of quality management as reflected in the role of the quality control department. The attempt was to capture a range of quality management styles associated typically with Japanese approaches and with traditional American approaches. Using a five point Likert scale ranging from "not important at all" to "extremely important," respondents were asked to rate the importance of various quality control procedures in terms of the responsibilities of the company's quality control department. Quality management functions were chosen to represent common characterizations of Japanese quality control such as "training for quality at all levels" and American views such as "inspecting finished products" (Deming 1982, Ebrahimpour 1985, Juran 1964, 1981, Schonberger 1987).

To explore whether the questions referring to quality control procedures distinguished any specific styles of using the quality control department, a factor analysis with varimax rotation was used. Since questions were chosen purposefully to reflect impressionistic characterization of Japanese and American systems, two or more factors representing different styles were expected. The objective of this analysis was to identify the appropriate variables necessary to produce separate scales reflecting different quality management styles.

The factor analysis identified three meaningful factors. The first factor had high loadings on variables such as "promoting quality control ideas throughout the company" and seemed to represent setting up quality policies and objectives and quality training and encouragement at all levels. We labeled this factor Promotion Style. The second factor had high loadings on variables such as "helping the purchasing department in vendor selection." This factor seemed to represent a high degree of involvement of the quality control department with other departments in managing the quality of a plant's input and output processes. We labeled this factor Operations Style.

The first factor to the largest degree, and the second factor to a lesser degree, seemed to represent prevailing views of Japanese styles of quality management. The third factor characterized the more traditional American approach to the role of the quality control department emphasizing questionnaire items focusing on inspection. We labeled this factor the Inspection Style. Appendix A shows all questions asked and their factor loadings.

To examine whether the styles of using the quality control department identified by the factor analysis were related to differences in firm ownership, we created three scales selecting questionnaire items based on the factor loadings. Questionnaire items with the highest loadings on each factor were included in each scale. Both the operations and promotion scales contained six items and the inspection style scale contained three items. Scale reliabilities were assessed using Cronbach's |alpha~. The operations and promotion scales both had reliabilities of |alpha~ = 0.87. The inspection style scale was |alpha~ = 0.75. All these reliabilities are above acceptable levels (Nunnally 1967).

Belief in quality management performance benefits

To assess differences in beliefs regarding the benefits of quality management we asked respondents to indicate the degree to which 12 organizational performance indicators were improved by the implementation of quality management programs. A five point Likert scale ranging from "not improved at all" to "extremely improved" was used. The items ranged from market share to improved inspection time for finished products. These items are reported in Appendix B. Factor analysis showed that these items represented one factor and explained 56.1% of the variance. As such, all twelve items were combined into one scale. This scale had a coefficient |alpha~ = 0.93. We labeled this scale Belief in QM benefits.

Control variables

Because organizational size is often related to many aspects of organizational functioning, two measures of size were used as control variables (Kimberly 1976). Respondents to the questionnaire provided information on the number of employees in the plant under study, and the annual sales of the corporation, a measure of the parent company's scale of operations.

In addition, because the type of respondent to the questionnaire may bias perceptions in a systematic manner, we used a classification of respondent type to control statistically for this possible bias. Based on the response bias test noted above (showing differences between higher managers and quality control managers), this control variable was a dummy variable with 1 = higher management and 0 = quality control management.

Company and industry types

Depending on the type of analysis used, either dummy coded variables or nominal classifications were used to indicate company type (Japanese ownership, traditional American firms, and non-traditional American firms) and industry types.

Analysis Procedures

Three two-way analyses of covariance tested the first hypothesis. The three style scales were the dependent variables and company and industry types were the independent variables. The two size measures and the respondent type measure were covariates. These analyses showed how the three quality management styles varied by the type of firm, controlling for respondent type, industry, and size.

One two-way analysis of covariance tested the second hypothesis. Belief in QM benefits was the dependent variable and, as with the style variables, company and industry types were the independent variables and the two size variables and the respondent type variable were covariates.

Three hierarchical multiple regression equations tested the third hypothesis. Each style variable (Y1 = Operation, Y2 = Promotion, and Y3 = Inspection) was regressed hierarchically on the following variable groups: belief in QM benefits (X1); the two size measures (X2, X3); respondent type (X4); dummy coded variables representing four industries (with a holdout comparison) (X5, X6, X7, X8); interactions between perceived quality performance link and industries. Thus, the following equation was estimated:

|Y.sub.1, 2, 3~ = X1 + X2 + X3 + X4 + X5 + X6 + X7 + X8 +(X1 * X5) + (X1 * X6) + (X1 * X7) + (X1 * X8) + I.

These analyses showed the degree to which each style was predicted by the perceived quality performance link while controlling for industry and size. In addition, the interactions tested whether the relationship between style and perceived QM benefits link varied by industry.


Hypothesis 1 stated that the use of quality control department by typical American firms differs from Japanese companies and American companies using Japanese quality management approaches.

Contrary to expectations, the input/output inspection style of quality management did not differ significantly by type of company (F =0.478, p = 0.621). In addition, this style did not differ significantly by respondent type, industry, annual sales, or plant size. Similarly, for the operations style of quality management, there were no significant differences by company type (F = 2.261, p = 0.108) nor by the control variables. Since the overall explained variances for these ANCOVA's were not significant, no tables are shown.
Table 1. Analysis of Covariance for Promotion Style
Source SS df MS F
Company Type 7.77 2 3.89 5.68(*)
Industry 0.26 3 0.09 0.13
Annual Sales 0.20 1 0.20 0.30
No. of Employees 0.56 1 0.56 0.82
Higher Managers 8.07 1 8.07 11.78(*)
@ 4.58 6 0.76 1.12
Error 94.477 138 0.69
Totals 119.00 152 0.78
* p |is less than~ 0.01.
@ Company Type by Industry Type.

Confirming hypothesis 1, the promotion style of using the quality control department differed significantly by company type. These results are reported in Table 1. Only the control variable of respondent type had a significant effect on promotion style. However, the main effect of company type was significant with or without this control. None of the other controls nor their interactions affected the adoption of the promotion style in the use of the quality control department. Scheffe contrasts show that the only significant differences among the groups were between American owned firms and the other two firms types, Japanese owned firms and American firms engaged in Japanese styles of quality management.

Table 2 shows the test of hypothesis 2 stating that traditional American firms are less likely to believe in the performance benefits of quality management. This table reports the analysis of covariance for belief in QM benefits by type of firm ownership and industry with the two covariates for size and one for respondent type. Similar to the findings for promotion style, only the main effect of company type seemed to affect belief in QM benefits. Scheffe contrasts showed significant differences between Japanese owned firms and the other two types, possibly confirming hypothesis 2.

Table 3 reports the tests of the hypothesis regarding quality management style. The three style variables were regressed on belief in the quality performance linke (belief in QM benefits), the size and industry variables, and the interactions between belief in QM benefits, industry type, and respondent type. Since none of the interactions were significant, they are not reported in the table. The nonsignificant interactions indicated that the effects on styles of the belief in a quality performance linke (belief in QM benefits) were the same regardless of industry location.
Table 2. Analysis of Covariance for Belief in QM Benefits
Source SS df MS F
Company Type 4.42 2 2.21 2.93(*)
Industry 1.16 3 0.39 0.51
Annual Sales 0.54 1 0.54 0.72
No. of Employees 0.06 1 0.06 0.09
Higher Managers 1.65 1 1.65 2.18
@ 6.73 6 1.06 1.40
Error 76.875 102 0.75
Totals 92.053 116 0.79
* p = 0.058.
@ Company Type by Industry Type.


A belief in the link between the management of quality and organizational performance predicted the adoption of all three styles of quality management, at least as reflected in the use of the quality control department, independent of respondent type, size, and industry. However, higher managers answering the questionnaire did see more use of the promotion style than did other types of respondents.

Although all three types of quality management styles seemingly resulted from a belief that quality and organizational performance are linked, the relationship differed across equations. Significance tests comparing the three belief in QM benefits slopes in Table 3 showed significant differences between the belief in QM benefits slope in the inspection style regression and the slopes for belief in QM benefits in the promotion style and operations style regressions (z = 2.80, p |is less than~ 0.01 and z = 3.29, p |is less than~ 0.001, respectively). Thus, accepting the quality performance link seemed more likely to lead to promotion and operations styles than to the inspection style. There was no significant difference between the belief in QM benefits slopes for the promotion and operations equations.


A major objective of this study was to examine some of prevailing assumptions regarding Japanese and American approaches to quality management. The findings both contradicted and supported some assumptions often expressed in the literature on the quality management.

A common belief is that the American approach to quality management (emphasis on inspection rather than on prevention) is used only in American owned firms. However, we found that both Japanese and American owned firms used the inspection and operations styles (emphasis on helping other departments such as purchasing, design, and production to perform better) of quality management.

One possible reason for the Japanese firms using the inspection and operations styles may be that most of the Japanese firms studied are relatively new in the United States and have not yet established the mutually trusting relationships with employees and vendors characteristic of firms in Japan. When adapting their managerial techniques to the situation in the United States, Japanese firms may use traditional American style approaches to quality management while adding more Japanese style approaches.

In fact, the use of a more Japanese style of quality management, the promotion (emphasis on promoting and facilitating quality control ideas throughout the company and making quality everyone's responsibility), was consistent with the general impression in the literature (Deming 1982, Juran 1981, 1964, Suzawa 1985). Firms owned by Japanese were significantly more likely than either type of American firms to use the promotions style. This finding may suggest one key to Japanese success in using their approach to quality management with local workers in the United States. That is, the Japanese encourage and promote additional training and responsibilities for quality in addition to using already familiar inspection and operations systems. Thus, although a combination of approaches may indicate a cultural adaptation by the Japanese, the use of the promotion style also indicates that Japanese quality management styles can be transferred to firms staffed with American workers.

According to the literature, it is commonly believed that American managers do not recognize, at least as well as do the Japanese, the existence of a link between the management of quality and general organizational performance, even when the benefits seem obvious. Garvin (1983, 1984), for example, found that firms with higher profits had higher levels of quality regardless of Japanese or American ownership, but the Japanese firms generally put more emphasis on quality and were more profitable than their American counterparts. Consistent with views of American and Japanese quality management, the findings for this study suggest that, even though all types of firms reported a belief in the link between quality level and overall level of organizational performance, the Japanese owned firms clearly had a stronger belief in this link and in its importance for organizational performance. This result is not surprising since the Japanese have gained notable successes using a strategy of continuously improving quality to bring costs down and to increase profits (Deming 1982, Garvin 1984, Godfrey and Kolesar 1988, Riggs and Felix 1983).

The present study demonstrated that the belief in the link between quality management and general organizational performance was related to the adoption of all styles of quality management (i.e., operations, promotion, and inspection). However, the findings indicated that the managers who believe more strongly in the link between quality management and organizational performance were more likely to adopt operations and promotions styles of quality management, essentially the more Japanese approach. This result suggests that only some managers accept fully the arguments in the literature that companies demonstrating a more total support and commitment to promoting quality activities are generally more successful than other companies (Cole 1983, Feigenbaum 1982, Garvin 1983, 1984, Nishiyama 1982).

Introduction and promotion of new ideas is usually attributed to the managerial level and, thus, the use of promotion style may be an indication of the management's leadership role and their commitment to assign a high priority to quality related activities and to promote quality ideas throughout the company. Such a role for management may explain, in part, why the Japanese are successful in achieving a high level of product quality since they tend to use the promotion style more than U.S. firms including those who emulate Japanese quality management techniques.

Summary and Conclusions

This paper examined various styles of quality management that can be characterized as Japanese and American. The findings showed the existence of major roles and responsibilities of quality control department that can be grouped into three styles: operations, promotion, and inspection. The promotion style seemed to reflect mostly a Japanese approach and the inspection style seemed to reflect mostly a traditional American approach. All firms, regardless of their ownership, industry, and size used all of these styles, although the Japanese owned firms were dominant in the use of the promotion approach. The managers from all three types of firms believed in the link between quality management and general organizational performance. However, managers in firms emphasizing the promotion factors, adopting essentially a Japanese approach to quality, probably believed they had a better chance to improve quality and, therefore, to realize improved general organizational performance. The emphasis on the promotion of quality by Japanese firms coupled with the greater awareness of the link between quality performance and general organizational performance helped the Japanese owned firms, at least in the opinion of the executives, to gain market share, reduce cost, improve productivity, and increase profit.

Although the Japanese firms were owned and managed by Japanese, these companies drew from the same labor force and operated within the same socioeconomic and political environment as their American counterparts. This suggests that the intensive use of the promotion style by Japanese firms is more likely a function of management style and internal organizational rather than a consequence of differences in the national cultures of the workers. Thus, it seems possible that American firms can implement a promotion style of quality management in their organizations and gain the same benefits from high quality goods that now seem to go to the Japanese.

Appendix B. Factor Loadings: Belief in QM Benefits
Item Factor
Market Share 0.72012
Productivity 0.78079
Product Design 0.70988
Vendor Relationship 0.74466
Plant Efficiency 0.79949
Process Design 0.79598
Worker Participation 0.69728
Delivery Schedules 0.83151
Distribution System 0.74419
Worker Skill 0.73778
Inspection Time for Incoming Parts 0.68325
Inspection Time for Finished Products 0.73093


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Maling Ebrahimpour, PhD. Associate Professor, Department of Management Science and Information Systems, College of Business Administration, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, U.S.A.

John B. Cullen, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Management and Systems, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, U.S.A.

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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Strategic Quality Management; includes appendices
Author:Ebrahimpour, Maling; Cullen, John B.
Publication:Management International Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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