Communication, Commitment and Corporate Culture: The Foundation for TQM and Reengineering

Article excerpt

Since President Reagan signed Public Law 100-107 in 1987, there has been a substantial increase in references in literature to total quality management. That law, often referred to as the National Quality Improvement Act, established the Malcolm Baldrige Award, named for the former Secretary of Commerce. It also got companies to take quality seriously. It forced them, in a sense, to focus on issues of quality and to rethink their own efforts in that quality context. In the process, they began to redefine the quality project.

Four of the salient features of the new belief in quality were outlined by Allen Mendelowitz in a report for the General Accounting Office (GAO):

* The belief that quality is customer-driven. So, organizations need to determine what customers want and must have processes in place to satisfy those needs;

* The belief that top executives must be totally behind the TQM effort if it is to work. So, TQM ideals must be reflected in the words and deeds of the top brass;

* The belief that the corporate culture must reflect the TQM values at all levels of the operation. So, quality concepts need to be clearly articulated, communicated and thoroughly integrated throughout the company; and

* The belief that companies need to be inclusive in their TQM effort. So, companies must focus on systematic and continuous employee involvement, teamwork, and training at all levels of the organization.

These features clearly emphasize the importance of communication, good leadership, teamwork, training and a positive corporate culture as the main attributes for successful implementation of a TQM system. These are the main features in any successful effort at quality. These features are all related to good communication skills and they make up the glue that keeps a quality operation going.

Whether it is the Baldrige Award or other efforts to set standards, the underlying message seems the same throughout the world. Communication can and will make the difference between success and failure in terms of quality. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), for example, through a technical committee representing several technical and business disciplines, developed and published its own ISO 9000 series of quality management and assurance standards in 1987, after several years of exhaustive research and investigation. The ISO 9000 standards provide a framework for showing customers how to train employees to measure success, keep records and other data, correct errors, etc. These standards offer an accounting system of sorts that can help keep the books on quality procedures in a company. In an international market, ISO 9000 helps move companies to universal standards of quality. But here, too, the key is in the communication skills necessary to create and implement the ISO 9000 system. It is not the system as much as the communication framework for that system that will determine the future success of the ISO 9000 project.

Despite all the publicity given to TQM by government publications, popular literature, the Malcolm Baldrige Award, and the other attempts to motivate companies to become more quality oriented and concerned, the results have not been significantly successful because the commitment and communication glue have not been there to support the quality effort. As Jerry Bowles recently put it, "From all the noise that is being made today about quality improvement you'd think American business leaders were eating nothing but Deming flakes for breakfast and Ishikawa on rice for lunch. But the reality is quite different. Twentynine (29) percent of U.S. companies report that senior management evaluates the consequences of the company's quality performance less frequently than once a year. Translating customer expectations into the design of new products or services is a habit at less than one-fourth of U.S. companies. The use of technology in meeting customer expectations is of prime concern to only 22 percent of American companies, and an astounding 88 percent regularly use process improvement. …