Academic journal article Management International Review

Quality Management in Japanese and American Firms Operating in the United States: A Comparative Study of Styles and Motivational Beliefs

Academic journal article Management International Review

Quality Management in Japanese and American Firms Operating in the United States: A Comparative Study of Styles and Motivational Beliefs

Article excerpt


During the past decade, Japanese firms challenged and often dominated the competition in many industries in the developed countries. Scholars believe that a major reason for the Japanese success is their perception of, and approach to, quality management (Buffa 1984, Garvin 1984, Juran 1981, Leonard and Sasser 1983, Riggs and Felix 1983, Takeuchi 1981, Takeuchi and Quelch 1983, Wheelwright and Hayes 1985). Buffa (1984) and Riggs and Felix (1983) state that the improvement of productivity follows the improvement of quality and, if the activities for quality improvement are on a large scale, then the productivity and GNP of the nation will increase, as it did in Japan.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of published work concentrating on the management of quality, specifically the Japanese approach. See the reference section for a partial list. Most of these studies fall into two wide and somewhat overlapping groups. The first group consists of mostly prescriptive reports. Works of Deming (1982, 1986), Drucker (1971), Feigenbaum (1985), Hayes (1981), Juran (1981), Schonberger (1987), and Tregoe (1983) are some examples of this group. Probably the best known is Deming's fourteen points (1982). He contended that following these points leads to higher quality and profit. Deming argued that firms must promote quality control ideas throughout the company by institutionalizing continuous education and training programs while avoiding mass inspection.

The second group comprises studies that primarily describe, compare, and contrast the Japanese and American approaches to quality management. Some examples are Cole (1983), Ebrahimpour (1985), Garvin (1983, 1984, 1986), Howard and Teramoto (1983), Juran (1957, 1964, 1981), Marsland and Beer (1983), and Suzawa (1985). Juran's work (1964, 1981) is typical of this group. He identified three major differences between the Japanese and American approaches to management: a massive training program, an annual program of quality improvement, and an upper management leadership of the quality function. Similarly, Suzawa (1985) argued that the Japanese achieved production of high quality products by using total organizational commitment, increased employee responsibility, and team work. Garvin (1984, 1986) also found a network of mutually reinforcing factors that led the Japanese to achieve their present level of high quality. His findings showed a different framework for thinking about quality: management commitment and workers dedication to quality improvement, an emphasis on process control and production management, and supportive government policies.

Both types of studies of Japanese quality management are often speculative, impressionistic, anecdotal, and often based on the observation of only a single company. They lack systematic measurement, tests of hypotheses, and multi-organization comparisons. The recent work of Garvin (1983, 1984, and 1986) and Reitsperger and Daniel (1990) are notable exceptions. Rather than simply considering one organization, Garvin examined quality management in 11 American and 7 Japanese factories in one industry. Reitsperger and Daniel surveyed the Japanese and American precision electronics industry. They examined top management involvement in manufacturing decision and quality attitudes, as well as quality implementation through management control systems (Daniel and Reitsperger 1992).

This study is of the second type. It compared Japanese and American approaches to quality management. However, unlike previous work, this study focused on four industries, developed systematic measures of quality management style, and tested formal hypotheses. Also differing from much of the earlier research, this study examined Japanese approaches to quality management for firms operating in the United States. The main foci of the project was to clarify some key questions regarding the Japanese and American approaches to quality management and to examine how the Japanese have implemented their quality management programs in the United States. …

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