Business Management Articles
/ Quality Management


by Rene T. Domingo

Two things determine the success of any productivity or quality improvement program:

1. application of the right tools and techniques

2. formation of correct values and attitudes

In this paper, I will not dwell on the first item for numerous seminars, courses, books, and materials have treated it in painstaking detail. In fact, many of them have overplayed the importance of tools and techniques that they have misled companies and individuals into thinking that possession and mastery of this know-how are a guarantee of success and concrete results. Many productivity/quality improvement programs have failed or have never taken off because management and workers have not developed the proper attitudes and values to support and sustain these programs. Programs that have failed are usually short-lived or have brought or been bringing superficial results. Techniques give direction to the program; but values are needed to carry them out properly and continuously.

From hereon, I shall refer to all productivity/quality improvement programs as "productivity programs".


There are two basic values one must inculcate to carry out a productivity program: responsibility and teamwork.

"Do it right the first time!" is the main battle cry of productivity programs. This brief but powerful motto is not a matter of technology but a matter of responsibility - and carrying it out. In my rough estimate, if everybody does what they are supposed to do the first time every time - nothing more, nothing less - productivity will at least double immediately. A responsible worker will and should feel ashamed of himself if he does not do his work right the first time or anytime; similarly, he should feel proud and fulfilled if he executes it properly. An irresponsible worker could not care less if he does it wrong the first time, or any other time. He usually has a stock of flimsy reasons for feeling so:

1. "There is always a 'next time' to correct it." (This may never come, and even if he corrects it the second time, he has already done damage in the first mistake.)

2. "There is an inspector that is responsible and paid to catch my mistake or defect at the end of the line."

3. "My salary will not be affected by the amount of defects I produce."

4. "If others are making mistakes (maybe even more), why should I be different?"

Now, we are not talking lack of techniques and technology here. Most inefficiencies and defects arise from preventable first-time mistakes due to human negligence or error in spite of adequate standards and proper equipment. This negligence or carelessness come from the lack of sense of responsibility, the lack of fear of shame for one's failure, and the lack of sense of pride in one's work.

The value "shame" is present in many cultures. This can be kindled and transformed into that important sense of responsibility for one's work. Management can develop a system whereby a worker who fails in his job because of negligence is brought to shame in front of his co-workers, while one who does a job well done is exalted in front of the same group. Pride and shame are two sides of the same coin. If employed properly, they can be more powerful motivators than money.

To give you an example of how shame can operate in the work environment, recall the JAL crash of 1985 where hundreds of Japanese passengers perished in that fateful flight from Tokyo to Osaka. The entire top management of JAL resigned as a result of the incident, claiming responsibility - though they have nothing to do directly with nor knowledge about the faulty repair on the aircraft which caused the crash. Later, the JAL inspector, who certified the adequacy of the repair work done by the aircraft manufacturer Boeing, committed suicide out of shame, and in admission of responsibility, even though Boeing has already admitted that it was their repairmen who were negligent. Though this example may sound extreme to us, this behavior and attitude are not unique to JAL nor in JAPAN. But JAL did not stop here. To regain the trust of the riding public, JAL made it a policy that each aircraft shall have a permanent repair and maintenance crew assigned to it and that this crew, whose names are etched on the aircraft, will join the first flight every after major repair of its assigned aircraft.

In most Japanese companies, a worker whose machine or equipment breaks down would not go home until it is repaired; he considers this equipment his weapon, his life and would not want to inconvenience others with his problem the following day. Seminars or memos about preventive maintenance are not absolutely necessary; Japanese workers would take care of their machine out of their strong sense of responsibility and commitment to do a good job. This powerful sense of shame (and pride) is probably one major reason why Japanese workers are very productive and quality-conscious. Based on my Japan experience, I estimate that the level of sense of responsibility of a typical Japanese rank-and-file worker is as high as, if not higher, than that of a manager in many other countries.

A high sense of responsibility leads to other favorable traits in the worker. A responsible worker becomes more productive, more punctual, more diligent, and more creative. He would think of ways and means to improve his work and volunteer information and his own time to increase productivity or reduce cost. This attitude, that can only come from a responsible worker, is one of the foundations of the all productivity and quality programs. He also becomes much less motivated by salary and by fear of punishment by his superiors. He is not moved by either the carrot or the stick. His pride is his prime motivator. Like a dedicated craftsman, he is proud of his work, whatever it is, whether it is making part, a whole, a piece of clerical job; and always makes sure that nothing goes wrong with it since his name is attached to that piece of work. A responsible worker finds meaning and challenge in his everyday work. For an irresponsible one, work is just a paid and boring 8:00-5:00 routine.


To successfully implement productivity programs, we need responsible employees. Responsibility, and not rights, directly enhances productivity. But unfortunately, it is easier to demand rights than responsibility. One reason is that our legal system has a bias towards rights, but not on the other. For example, it is required by law that companies should not pay below stipulated wages; but it is silent on what quality and amount of responsible work the company can demand from an employee that is entitled to such a compensation.

Today, it seems that everybody is concerned and preoccupied with rights: the right to strike, the right to shut down a factory, the right to sue and counter-sue, even the right to be wrong, etc. But nobody is talking about the responsibilities that go with these rights. This situation is due to the strong influence of Western culture on us, and on the way we conduct our lives and business. It seems that many people tend to think that a right is a privilege or an entitlement, and that responsibility means work and commitment, so it is better not to talk about or clamor for it. Protection of rights are important in both society and business in that it prevent abuses of any party. But absence of abuses does not mean immediate prosperity and productivity, especially in the work environment. Respect for the worker's and management's rights is just the minimum condition for increasing productivity, but not its guarantee. It may bring about a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere, but without a strong sense of responsibility and dedication to work on the part of labor and management, a company may remain mediocre, unproductive, and stagnant, and uncompetitive.


The second most important value to develop is teamwork. The results of any business, namely, profits, sales, productivity, quality products, etc., come from concerted group effort. It is management's job to organize and motivate the staff, employees, and workers so that they may work synergistically towards achieving the same goal and obtaining the business results mentioned above. There is a limit, however, to the productivity that can be achieved as a group by workers who feel responsible only to their respective jobs. The Western concept of job description that we follow here may be useful in that it makes clear what the individual worker should and should not do. But it stifles that sense of teamwork and cooperation that are essential in nurturing productivity programs. Teamwork or group consciousness does not imply that a worker will encroach upon the job of another or simply do it for him. It means the willingness to share experience, knowledge, problems, and information with each other so that the group productivity will be enhanced. This act of sharing is another foundation of productivity programs.


Most productivity and quality improvement programs are voluntary on the part of the workers. Management does not have the legal right to demand workers to improve productivity and quality, as long as they are doing their jobs. It can only appeal to their sense of shame or team spirit. Of course, management can apply either the carrot-or-stick approach to improve worker's productivity; but the results of this favor-or-fear solution would be short-lived. Everything would simply stop when the company has run out of carrots or sticks. Accordingly, productivity programs that are sustained by either carrots or sticks, or both, are bound to fail.

Workers must be driven by their own personal values and philosophy and work ethics to participate in productivity programs, if these are to be called authentic. If their participation is imposed or directed by management, or motivated by something external to them like money and prizes or penalties, then they cannot feel that sense of responsibility, commitment, and dedication to what they are doing. One famous general of the 19th century once said that the general can only give overall direction to his army, but where the separate parts needed guidance, then the military spirit in each soldier take command. Similarly, each worker must be imbued with the work spirit to guide him in his work; management can only give him overall guidance. It is therefore important for management to reinforce this spirit of shame and teamwork in each and every worker, so that these values could take over in guiding each individual in his work even though management is not around to help and advise him.


Another way to promote productivity and quality consciousness is by using the power of examples. Managers should manage by and show examples if they want the employees and workers to be efficient and productive. More specifically, we tend to aggravate bad examples and just imitate good ones. If the boss is late by 15 minutes, his subordinates will be late by 20. If he arrives on time, everybody else will try to be on time, but not earlier. If the boss is unproductive, inefficient, wasteful, or dishonest, his employees will try to surpass him in his wrongdoings. If he is quality conscious, then they would try to be quality conscious. Managers should appreciate the power of good and bad examples over their people. If managers want to encourage productivity and quality consciousness, then they should make sure first they practice what they preach before facing their men. A slight insincerity or hypocrisy on the part of management is immediately felt by employees and all productivity programs go down the drain. Workers will not take them seriously if they see that they bosses pay only lip service to the programs. To ensure success, management should therefore lead only by good examples, and always assume that their employees are always watching them on camera.

Quality is not free. Productivity is not free. Let us not deceive ourselves. These are the results of continuous hard work, value-formation, patience, and persistence; they do not materialize from simple application of techniques. Devotion to quality and productivity must be a company-wide philosophy that must be disseminated by management through all its actions, pronouncements, decisions, and activities - major or minor. An effective management should be able to infect all employees with its genuine quality-consciousness without forcing the issue, until it becomes a permanent, internalized life style of all employees. Being quality conscious and productive should become everybody's habit, that is naturally carried out. It should not be construed as work imposed by some external force be it management, fear of punishment, or desire for awards. Such desirable work attitude should only come from his personal values of pride and teamwork. If all employees feel personal satisfaction for a job well-done the first time, every time, then the program has succeeded. Moreover, if they feel a natural desire to improve their jobs and work, then the program has prospered.

Quality comes basically and primarily from people, not from techniques, equipment, or processes. People and their values and work attitudes should be the central focus of all quality and productivity programs. Another way of putting it is "Quality Products come from Quality People."


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