Cultural Challenges in TQM Implementation: Some Learning from the Israeli Experience

Article excerpt

The implementation of Total Quality Management (TQM) began in Israeli organizations in the early 1990s. The start up of total quality activity in Israel was cautious, moderate, and gradual. In 1990, only a relatively small number of enterprises showed interest in assimilating the system. These were enterprises whose business activities were linked to other firms in the world that had applied TQM--such as Motorola, IBM, and Intel--or organizations that wanted to use TQM as a tool for attaining the International Standard Certification--ISO 9002. Since the first Israeli firm started TQM six years ago, TQM and its principles have been increasingly recognized and adopted by managers across the private and public sectors.

The Israeli government declared 1994 "The Quality Year in Israeli Industries" and defined quality improvement as a national strategic objective. A National Quality Award, like the Malcolm Baldrige Award in the U.S., will be presented yearly by the Prime Minister to organizations that excel in quality. In 1994, the Israeli Ministry of Commerce and Industries initiated a project for promoting innovative quality management. The purpose of this initiative is to introduce progressive management systems, including TQM. During the last two years, an increased number of TQM workshops and seminars for managers are being offered by the Israeli Management Institute, the Israeli Society for Quality, management consulting firms, and university management schools. Even though there are no official statistics on the scope of TQM applications in Israel, it is estimated that by the end of 1994, 120 organizations were at various stages of TQM implementation. From the limited data published, it is evident that approximately 80 percent of the total number of organizations implementing TQM are industrial plants, half government owned and half privately owned. Twenty percent of the remaining organizations can be found in the service sector, including banks, insurance companies, manpower agencies, and the like. Twenty-five percent of all the organizations have been applying the TQM approach for two years or more, and 75 percent of the implementation efforts are more recent (Caspi, 1993; Sheps, 1994).

The quality revolution over the last few years fostered a cultural revolution (Cole, 1993). The cumulative experience of organizations that are implementing the TQM philosophy suggests that a change of values, norms, and behaviour is an important condition for assimilating the new concepts and their success. The approach of TQM rests on a number of principles and components that capture an alternative organizational-managerial culture. Some of the central values of TQM are the focus on the customer (e.g., Anderson et al., 1994), continuous process improvement (Kano & Lillrank, 1989), team work (Dean & Bowen, 1994), full involvement by managers and workers in quality efforts (Cole et al., 1993), problem solving and decision making based on systematic data gathering (Grant et al., 1994), planned professional training and competency development (Waldman, 1994a, 1994b), and quality integration (Dean & Goodman, 1994).

Yet the TQM picture is far from rosy (Spector & Beer, 1994). Cumulative managerial experiences and recently published studies report on problems and failures in TQM implementation (Krishnan et al., 1993; Mathews & Katel, 1992). Embedded in the challenge are two critical issues: the complexity of fostering cultural transformation and the degree to which quality improvement is a culturally bounded phenomenon (vs. global phenomenon). To begin to answer these questions, we review and analyze the quality improvement phenomenon in the Israeli context. Following an attempt to understand why TQM efforts were initiated in Israel, we explore some of the basic characteristics of the Israeli business context. Next, we briefly describe successful quality improvement efforts in two companies--one in the manufacturing sector and one in the service sector. …