The Role of Organizational Climate in the Implementation of Total Quality Management

By Emery, Charles R.; Summers, Timothy P. et al. | Journal of Managerial Issues, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview
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The Role of Organizational Climate in the Implementation of Total Quality Management


Emery, Charles R., Summers, Timothy P., Surak, John G., Journal of Managerial Issues


Total Quality Management (TQM) provides a paradigm shift in management philosophy for improving organizational effectiveness (Byrne, 1992; Gagne, 1983; Lowe and Masseo, 1986). TQM focuses the efforts of all members of the organization to continuously improve all organizational processes and increase value to customers, while relying upon a clear vision of the organization's purpose. This depends on the removal of barriers both within the organization and between the organization and its various stakeholders. TQM has been embraced by thousands of organizations (Lawler and Mohrmon, 1992) as an important, new approach to management.

Despite its theoretical promise and the enthusiastic response to TQM, recent evidence suggests that attempts to implement it are often unsuccessful (Erickson, 1992; Fuchsberg, 1992; Kendrick, 1993). Wyatt, the human resources consulting company, surveyed 531 companies that had undergone restructuring in 1992. Only 41% of the 361 companies that started TQM programs as a part of restructuring considered them to have been effective (Fuchsberg, 1993). Similarly, a study by McKinsey & Co. revealed that, of TQM programs in place for more than two years, as many as two-thirds are considered failures by the employees (Doyle, 1992).

Researchers have most commonly attributed the failures of TQM implementation to deficiencies off (1) shared vision, (2) application planning, (3) organizational commitment, (4) training, (5) reward systems, (6) empowerment, or (7) cross-functional integration (Brown et al., 1994; Danjin and Cutcher-Gershenfeld, 1992; Doyle, 1992; Emery and Summers, 1992; Gilbert, 1993). While these factors are, no doubt, crucial to internalizing TQM, a fundamental determinant may underlie them - the need for a conducive organizational climate. Though several studies (Bright and Cooper, 1993; Glover, 1993; Morris, 1994; Westbrook, 1993) have discussed the importance of adopting a TQM-type culture (e.g., one that emphasizes "living for the customer"), none has empirically examined the effects of preimplementation climate factors on TQM implementation. This article explores the effects of several aspects of organizational climate on TQM applications.

Climate and TQM

Organizational climate is understood as an enduring characteristic of organizations that is reflected in the attitudes and descriptions employees make of the policies, practices and conditions that exist in the work environment (Schneider and Snyder, 1975). Further, climate can be considered as a "measure of whether people's expectations about what it should be like to work in an organization are being met" (Schwartz and Davis, 1981: 31). Climate can most accurately be understood as a manifestation of culture (Schein, 1985), although culture is typically defined as a deeper, less consciously held set of meanings (Reichers and Schneider, 1990). Accordingly, measures of climate show whether beliefs and expectations are being fulfilled, and may offer valuable insights to whether and how an organization's culture will accommodate change. Schwartz and Davis (1981) found that a climate incompatible with the intended change can offer a strong level of resistance and even derail the most well planned change process. We believe their findings apply to TQM implementations.

Though we could not locate empirical findings to delineate the effects of climate on TQM implementation, some authors have speculated about them. Harber, Burgess and Barclay (1993) asserted that TQM programs will be more successful if climate is modified and managed to elicit employee commitment and satisfaction consistent with the values of TQM. Smith, Discenza and Piland (1993) argued that cultivating a climate for innovation is a useful TQM strategy. Though these assertions regarding the influences of climate on TQM lack empirical support, there is some evidence that climate is affected by TQM interventions. Harber, Burgess and Barclay (1993) found that TQM improved the climate for change, and had a beneficial effect on a wide range of employee perceptions of aspects of their organizations.

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