In Pursuit of Excellence: A Survey of Irish Manufacturing and Service Organisations

Article excerpt

Introduction

In reviewing the adoption of Total Quality/Business Excellence approach in Irish companies it is worth noting that most traditional definitions of "quality" refer to a static (and presumably achievable) state, for example the American Society of Quality Control and American National Standards Institute define quality as "the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy a given need". Dale (1994: 10) uses the broader definition of TQM from BS.4778: Part 2 (1991) as a "management philosophy embracing all activities through which the needs and expectations of the customer and the community, and the objectives of the organisation are satisfied in the most efficient and cost effective way by maximising the potential of all employees in a continuing drive for improvement". Hence the shift towards defining quality to encompass the "total concept" that is end product/services as well as the provision of a service or product to customers and other employees within the company. The Japanese influence on Total Quality has further emphasized the fluid and on-going quest for continuous improvement (Imai 1986).

These conceptualisations of Total quality are important in examining the understanding, and adoption, of Total Quality/Business Excellence in Irish companies. Internationally, Total Quality has been studied from a micro perspective (in Case Studies of individual companies) through to macro levels (in small to large-scale company surveys). This paper draws upon data collected through two large scale surveys, drawing upon previous research by Taylor ( 1995) in Northern Ireland, Whyte (1993) in Scotland and Whyte and Witcher (1992) in Northern England. When embarking on the study, no nation-wide surveys had been carried out in Ireland, hence this research represents a benchmark against which future studies can be gauged. It also relates to international surveys (for example the work of Zairi, Letza and Oakland 1994; Goh and Ridgway 1994; Davison and Grieves 1996; Sullivan-Taylor and Wilson 1996; Ghosh and Hua 1996) in manufacturing and service industries. The Irish study is one of the few of its kind to integrate the results of manufacturing and service surveys and to compare relative rates of progress towards achieving Total Quality/Business Excellence in those sectors in a national study.

Objectives

The objectives of this research were to investigate the degree to which quality initiatives, including quality standards, have been adopted in Irish manufacturing and services organisations. More specifically, the study examined the:

award and impact of quality certification;

levels of employee feedback;

customer focus;

use of quality improvement techniques and methods;

employee involvement and rewards systems;

relations with suppliers;

adoption of a Total Quality approach;

characteristics of Total Quality companies, according to sector,

size and ownership.

Survey Methodology

The survey was conducted in two stages. The first survey of manufacturing companies throughout the Republic of Ireland was undertaken in 1995. The second phase, in 1996, surveyed Irish public and private sector service organisations. The questionnaires were developed, and piloted, based on an international literature review as well as expertise gained from in-depth Case Study research, still in progress, within a number of "best practice" Irish companies.

Stage 1: Manufacturing Companies

The manufacturing companies were selected from the FORFAS database using stratified random sampling from the 6526 companies listed. Probability sampling was used where each company in the database had a non-zero chance of being included in the sample. Stratified random sampling, by size category and sector, was then used across the eight NACE (Nomenclature Generale des Activites Economiques dans les Communautes Europeennes) industrial sectors. …