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THE TOTAL QUALITY CEO

by Rene T. Domingo

The vast majority of companies that started Total Quality Management (TQM) have failed because they have wrongly assumed that quality starts with the workers and rank-and-file employees. Being ill-advised and armed with little knowledge of TQM, the management inaugurates the program with a few speeches. It then attempts to change the employees' behaviour, attitude, and culture by directing them to form quality control (QC) circles, now fashionably called "self-managing teams." The net effect is superficial participation and results; the TQ movement is aborted within a couple of years or lingers on for a decade and dies a slow death.

Let us examine this world-wide frustration with TQM programs by tracing the movement back to its origins -- Japan, where it is known as Total Quality Control or TQC. When the Japanese started dominating world markets with quality products in the 70's, the West, eager to find an explanation for this threat to their industries and economies, studied Japanese management practices and swiftly concluded that the reason for their success was the QC circles. Made up of empowered employees giving suggestions on how improve the quality of their work, the circles were the most conspicuous, spectacular, and unique Japanese phenomenon to the Western analysts. Employees of Western companies were never empowered, but were ordered and controlled by management -- so this difference must account for the Japanese success according to this line of thinking. Thus the finding that quality starts from the bottom - from the employees - was codified and published in Western books that became the first Total Quality guidebooks or "misguide" books in English. Asian countries, too lazy to study Japan first hand, and too dependent on Western analysts and analysis to explain any management phenomenon, used these Western publications, seminars, and consultants to launch their TQ programs. The rest is history.

What the Westerners saw in the 70's was the second phase of TQC -- the bottom-up stage in which empowered employees voluntarily give suggestions to management for approval and implementation. What they did not see was the first phase - the top-down stage in which top management modelled the way to quality through their personal behaviour and leadership, tough management decisions, and enlightened policies. This phase occurred in the 50's and 60's when Deming, ironically an American quality guru who was discredited in his own country then, preached and scolded the Japanese CEO's in his seminars that "80% of quality problems come from management, and 20% from workers." During those formative decades, the CEO's were personally transforming, redesigning, and honing their organizations into lean and mean quality companies in line with Deming's 14 principles and his PDCA (plan, do, check, action) cycle. Nowadays, in the 90's, some enterprising Western authors, have labelled and advocated this corporate transformation or top-down stage of TQM as "re-engineering", as if it were a new phenomenon or management practice.

Where do we go from here? Companies deciding to adopt TQM cannot copy the Japanese companies that are all now in the second or bottom-up stage of TQM. We should start with the first or top-down stage, and do what the Japanese have done in the 50's and 60's. We should start TQM with management, in particular, top management - in particular, with the CEO, or whoever is in charge of running the company, be he called GM, President, or EVP.

Most failures in TQM implementation could be traced to the CEO, who fails to actively lead the movement or worse, personally and actively opposes the program, especially if it was initiated by middle management. The CEO's failure to participate properly in the TQM movement which leads to its untimely demise comes in many forms:

1. indifference - typified by ministerial presence in quality activities, and making unactionable and unemotional speeches on quality. During the TQM training seminar for his entire management staff, he is one who gives the opening remarks for 5 minutes and then disappears. He comes back three days later to give the closing remarks for 30 minutes to wrap up what has happened during the seminar, and asks everybody to start practicing quality.

2. ignorance - typified by the CEO who thinks that by setting aside a budget for the quality program, appointing a total quality manager and committee, and delegating all quality tasks to his staff, quality will happen. Misinformed by equally misinformed literature and consultants, he thinks that his personal involvement is unnecessary. He would rather play golf. As the saying "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" goes, the CEO with little knowledge of TQM is the most dangerous person in the company. Being the most powerful, he could make the most and biggest mistakes due to inadequate or wrong information.

3. fear - typified by the CEO who can talk about quality and say the right phrases, but would not dare change company policies that restrict quality for fear of backlash from political groups inside the company, or loss of his own power and clout. To this CEO, quality is OK as long as no one changes the status quo or rocks the boat.

4. aloofness - typified by the CEO who monitors quality only through reports in his executive suite. Going down to the factory, mixing with the rank-and-file, and verifying the reports are beneath his dignity.

5. lack of leadership - typified by the CEO who lacks charisma, and is uninspiring to employees who could not find a model in him. This CEO, the "I have made it" or " I have done my time" type, has practically retired on the job. To cap his 15 year service, he initiates TQM as his last hurrah, thinking that it requires little effort and energy. TQM, being such a radical change, requires an almost evangelist type of leader, preaching and practicing quality up to his last breath or hour with the company.

The CEO is such an important person that he is indeed the key to Total Quality success....or failure.


 

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