Quality Now: Moving Human Services Organizations toward a Consumer Orientation to Service Quality

By Moore, Stephen T.; Kelly, Michael J. | Social Work, January 1996 | Go to article overview

Quality Now: Moving Human Services Organizations toward a Consumer Orientation to Service Quality


Moore, Stephen T., Kelly, Michael J., Social Work


Total quality management (TQM) has been hailed as the new managerial wave of the 1990s (Martin, 1993), and quality-focused service management is currently gaining international acceptance in the delivery of social services (Hjern & Blomquist, 1991; Lehtinen, 1991). Although reasonable people may disagree about the compatibility of orthodox TQM with the social services and public service sector (Carr & Littman, 1990; Swiss, 1992), the movement toward quality-focused management need not wait for the resolution of every incompatibility between TQM and social services organizations. Even the most cautious analysts agree that TQM is a useful tool despite the fact that social and public services organizations are not prepared to implement it in its most orthodox form (Martin, 1993; Swiss, 1992).

The history of TQM is both complex and fascinating. Its roots are in the collaboration of American management experts and Japanese manufacturers during and following the American occupation of japan at the end of World War II (Dobyns & Crawford-Mason, 1991). A simplistic interpretation of this period is that American consultants (such as W. Edward Deming) were listened to by the japanese while largely ignored at home. However, American consultants cannot be credited with creating the cultural climate that allowed TQM to blossom in Japan. The success of japanese manufacturing is a result of the synthesis of management and industrial technology and organizational culture (Fallows, 1989). In short, American consultants taught the Japanese the importance of quality-focused management, and, in turn, the Japanese taught Americans the importance of a quality-focused way of life.

Quality has been a consistent theme in the popular and academic management literatures. Crosby (1979), Drucker (1989), and others (Dobyns & Crawford-Mason, 1991; Walton, 1990) have permeated the popular press with books promoting the use of Deming-inspired quality management techniques. Robert Reich (1990, 1991), at Harvard University, is one of many academicians who advocate the study of Japanese approaches to quality management. Recently, attention has turned to the problems and opportunities associated with the implementation of TQM (or aspects of TQM) in the delivery of social services (Schonberger, 1992).

Public and not-for-profit organizations face strategic challenges that are different from those of for-profit organizations (Nutt & Backoff, 1993). These differences arise from the fact that public and not-for-profit organizations must respond to more complex environmental demands and are mandated to pursue a wider set of goals than their for-profit counterparts. However, this does not translate to the notion that these organizations cannot implement quality management practices. It simply means that the employment of quality management principles must be conducted with sensitivity to the complexities faced by organizations in the public and not-for-profit sectors.

Nature of Services

A discussion of quality management of social services should be grounded in a basic understanding of the nature of production of services. Quality management has its roots in the production of tangible products (Schonberger, 1992) and is now being used to address the issue of producing services. Service production systems are different from product production systems. Edwardson and Gustavsson (1991) asserted that in contrast to the production of goods, the production of services tends to have the following characteristics:

* The system of production is less easily controlled.

* The customer is more often involved in the production process.

* The ability to interact with customers is required.

* Consumption and production more often take place at the same time.

* Evaluation and consumption more often take place at the same time.

Masterson (1991) argued that services provide individuals with two types of opportunities. …

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