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Toward higher quality and productivity.

Toward Higher Quality and Productivity

The main difference between organizations with high productivity and those with low productivity - both in the United States and Japan - is the number of people who can and will solve operational problems.

After extensive study of available literature, my experience with clients, and interviews conducted with people knowledgeable in the field, I've identified five causes of American productivity and quality problems and six steps which have proved effective in "changing" problem organizations.

* Taking Care of Number One. The development, over the last 35 years of "extreme emphasis on individuals" has mediated against teamwork and cooperation - traditional American characteristics.

* Scientific Management. Breaking work into small steps that can be "engineered," created deadly-boring work. This drove workers into the arms of organized labor and created an adversarial relationship between managers and the people on whom they depend.

* Return on Investment in the Short Term. This became the main criterion of management. Quality improvement is sacrificed to meet the current quota The judgment that people are expendable has come to permeate American management thinking. The American corporation has become a money machine.

* The Business Computer. They led managers to spend more time with numerical reports than on personal contact and knowledge of production.

* The Good Times That Followed World War II. The huge research and development results of the war allowed coasting on past gains. Almost everything worked. American managers became more focused on short-term results; on serving existing markets rather than creating new ones.

Corrective measures can put us back on top again within a few years by achieving six essential conditions for success. I have never seen an organization with these six conditions that did not have high productivity and quality output, nor have I seen an organization where the six conditions were not present that had a satisfactory, problem-free, productive, high-quality organization. The six conditions are:

* An unshakable, entirely sincere commitment by the organization to improve quality. Hold back and nothing much will happen.

* Provide new problem solving skills to everyone, top to bottom.

* Provide the opportunity and the responsibility to use the skills solving problems. Provide the instruction, time and place and the opportunity to practice as a group. Make it clear that you expect the skills to be used.

* Provide leadership. The supervisor or manager works with his or her people. If others can now deal with the problems in the same manner as the manager, they can act in behalf of the manager and extend that person's effectiveness substantially.

* Reward successful problem-solving. The most important reward is an audience to seriously consider the recommendations and solutions that have been developed. In one year, Toyota received 3,065 suggestions a day and implemented 94 percent of them. An American company that size would expect perhaps a thousand workable ideas a year. Workers, of course, develop far more enthusiasm for their suggestions than for yours.

* The last condition: Ensure the long-term continuation of this program of quality and productivity improvement, continuing leadership and support, and additional problem solving techniques as needed.

Japanese organizations were forced into following these six steps by the disastrous conditions following World War II. American companies, on the other hand, faced unusually good times that rewarded even sloppy management. Organizations willing to take advantage of the experience of the most successful Japanese and American companies can catch up.

The essential ingredient is constantly solving small problems when and where they occur, resulting in relentless improvement of quality and productivity. Many American companies improve quality and productivity until a satisfactory level is reached. Continuous improvement not only constantly hones competitive strength; it keeps employees enthusiasm high.

Toyota's quality-and productivity-improving suggestions were computed by their auditors to have saved many millions of dollars a year. Far more important was the improvement of corporate capability. They simply use their human resources much more intelligently than the United States historically has.

In high-productivity companies, everyone feels responsible for solving problems or breakdowns. This is in contrast to low-productivity organizations where the attitude is: "It's not my job." In a typical American plant, 10-12 percent of the people will be doing the thinking and problem solving for the rest - who are expected to do as directed. In typical Japanese plants, the comparable figure is over 60 percent. Furthermore, the Japanese are better trained. They have invested over 500 days, including on-the-job training, in the first ten years of the employee's service. These six-to-one odds to not auger well for the future.

Companies in the United States need to shift management emphasis and focus more on the development of their human resources. More needs to be done to engender greater employee involvement and arming people with the necessary problem solving skills to help the organization become a more effective and competitive unit. If we embrace this attitude more universally in our industrial economy, we will reverse our economic decline and, once again, join the ranks of leading industrial nations.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
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Title Annotation:Perspective
Author:Davis, Arthur G.
Publication:Industrial Management
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:823
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