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THE RIGHT STEPS TO QUALITY

by Rene T. Domingo

Good intentions and sheer determination are not a guarantee of success in implementing total quality (TQ) in the company. TQ is a managed upheaval and its success cannot just come from raw enthusiasm of the participants - management and workers. As the definition of quality goes - Do it right the first time - , the first thing management should do right the first time is implementing total quality itself. Failure to do so almost always means the program can never be restarted or resumed again; employee demoralization and loss of face of its initiators amount to the end of all endeavours towards quality - present and future.

To ensure a high success rate in implementing TQ, I suggest 7 steps or phases. Do not proceed to the next step until the preceding one is completed, otherwise, you fall into a trap many companies have fallen into.

1. Embrace a single quality philosophy.

Management and employees should first understand and be 100% convinced why the company has to achieve total quality, i.e., to assure continuous corporate survival and competitiveness. Everybody should have the same definition of quality, defect, service, disservice, customer, and other TQ terms. The corporate-wide orientation should set the same standards of customer service for everybody and let everybody realize the disastrous effect of lost customers due to bad quality or service. Everybody should appreciate the sacrifices and difficulties in the TQ journey at this early stage.

2. Management should lead and show quality leadership.

In accordance with the TQ philosophy and goals set and agreed upon in step one, top management, especially the CEO, should take the first initiative in displaying unwavering leadership in quality. He should model the way by showing personal examples in thought, word, and deed, reflective of the new quality philosophy. He should think and act quality in all his decisions and actuations -- entertaining anybody anytime who has something, no matter how small, to contribute to improving quality or service. Deming, the American quality guru who first taught quality to the Japanese in the 50's, said that quality begins at the top, more specifically, in the boardroom. He insisted that his first quality seminar in Japan be attended only by the presidents of Japan's big corporations - no substitutes were allowed. The CEO's reluctantly came, Deming converted them all to quality, and the rest is history.

3. Change or modify all systems and structures to suit total quality objectives.

After showing consistent and continuous quality leadership to all employees, management should begin reviewing all systems, policies, and procedures in the company and check their consistency and conduciveness to quality. These include organizational structures, manufacturing policy, quality control procedures, HRD policies, incentive systems, etc. No stone is left unturned. All existing systems or structures are defended or discarded immediately in accordance with the new quality goals. New ones are added, or existing ones modified as needed. Nothing is sacred except in so far as it contributes to total quality. Deming estimated that 80% of quality problems come from management and just 20% from workers. Management is responsible for setting up the right systems and policies that make it easy for workers to do a quality job. In spite of good intentions to do their work right everyday, workers make the same mistakes primarily because of anti-quality systems set by management knowingly or unknowingly.

4. Train and empower all employees.

Given a conducive working environment established in the preceding step, employees, including all managers, are now ready for training on the fundamental quality skills of problem identification, problem analysis, problem solving, and problem prevention. Training is the preparatory step to empowerment in which employees are given trust, responsibility, and authority to voluntarily organize themselves into self-managing teams, e.g. QC circles, solve problems, and improve processes and operations in their workplace. Very often, in TQ companies, these improvements are implemented without seeking approval from higher authority; supervisors' approval are often enough, and in some cases not even necessary for very capable work teams.

The last three phases are not action steps by themselves, but more of events and consequences of the first four steps.

5. Employees' behavior will change.

After all systems are in place, leadership are without question, the trained and empowered employees will gradually show quality behavior, and start to develop good working habits. They will stop hiding problems and attend to customers and their complaints more promptly. But good behaviors are not necessarily internalized and long lasting at this stage; the environment will simply not allow them to behave otherwise. Just as motorists prefer the green to the red light, they nevertheless have to stop at the red light because of the clear and visible consequences of beating it.

6. Employees' develop total quality attitudes.

As behaviors are repeated and reinforced over time through management leadership, systems improvement, and continuous employee training, they become internalized as personal attitudes and values. Employees start to understand and appreciate why they always have to do their jobs right the first time, why it is good not only for them but for the company. As in the motorist's case, he stops at the red light not because of the policeman at the other side of the street, but because of his genuine concern for his own safety and that of others.

7. A total quality corporate culture develops.

Behaviorial change occurs corporate wide in step 5 - nonconformists are exposed and disciplined by the system. But attitude change in step 6 is more individual and slower in pace. The quality system can not check or enforce attitudes. But as TQ attitudes develop over time and spread to more and more employees and finally to all employees, this change becomes a change in corporate culture. At this point which may come after several years of TQ implementation , we say that the company has arrived.

Expect the following, if TQ is genuinely achieved:

1. Employees will become loyal to company and equate corporate success with personal success. Quality work is done with or without incentives - monetary or otherwise.

2. Employees will perform quality work because they believe in quality. The company will rely less on structures to enforce quality behavior; employees do quality work according to personal values. Companies could start dismantling some structures originally set up to elicit right behavior, because employees do not need these. Examples are inspection procedures, audits, performance checks, and some layers of lower management (supervisory).

3. Employees will organize themselves voluntarily to do process improvement, without management intervention, pressure, or allurements. They will give and volunteer numerous cost-saving and waste-reducing suggestions to management without expecting awards or compensation.

4. New employees, regardless of initial background and orientation, will easily adapt to the strong TQ corporate culture. Employees turnover, absenteeism, and strikes will be greatly diminished if not eliminated.

TQ is not just a destination to be reached; it is, more importantly, a position or status to be maintained and sustained by repeating steps one to four - continuous review and preaching of the TQ philosophy, unwavering top management quality leadership, non-stop process and systems improvement, and continuous employee training, skills upgrade, and empowerment.

Here are some common pitfalls in starting TQ, by violating the steps above.

1. Management starts TQ by organizing QC circles, thinking it is the easiest and most fashionable way to show (and deceive) the public and the competition that it believes in quality. Circle formation is jumping to empowerment (step 4). 100% of the time, this approach results in total failure or pseudo-TQ for obvious reasons, among which are:

a. Nobody understands why the company suddenly embarks on this very new and radical program (skipping step 1).

b. The managers, especially the top brass CEO, do not understand TQ and know how to show TQ leadership (skipping step 2). Top management thinks that TQ is something that can be delegated, ordered, or budgeted. Not surprisingly, many managers will even question and oppose circle activities, and consider it an interference in their subordinates day-to-day work.

c. Anti-quality systems and policies block circle activities (skipping step 3). For instance, there are the quota system, piece-rate system, and performance evaluation system which all reward quantity performance rather than quality output.

d. The circles lack the quality skills to come out with quality programs, process improvements, and lasting solutions. Empowerment without training is meaningless.

QC circles, contrary to popular belief, is not necessary in achieving TQ. If they are nevertheless present, they should be a voluntary consequence of genuine dedication or commitment of employees to quality, and not a management directive.

Other pitfalls in TQ implementation include training employees on quality skills (jumping to step 4), trying to teach them values to change behavior and attitudes (jumping to steps 5 and 6), and worse, getting a consultant to change corporate culture (jumping to step 7). In all the examples above, causes failure will be similar - lack of correct quality philosophy to guide management, no leadership, existence of anti-quality policies, and working environment not conducive to quality.

In conclusion, TQ must be implemented right the first time. There is no short cut.


 

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