Total quality management as cultural issue

I have returned from Malawi where I was facilitating the Chartered Institute of Customer Management seminar on Strategic Contact Centre and Customer Relations Management. The seminar drew delegates from some of Malawi’s leading corporate organisations, both private and state-owned enterprises.

People management issues with Robert Mandeya

Most important was the exploration of customer relation management as a business strategy which organisations should adopt in order to manage and retain customers in the ever-increasing competitive business environment. It was clear that a customer-centric business strategy will not only develop customer loyalty, but will also grow revenue and profitability.

Operational efficiency

The right combination of people, process, knowledge, data and technology come together to enhance the productivity and value of the business operation, while driving down the costs to the desired level. It speaks to the popular mantra of “doing more with less . . . while, of course, not compromising on quality”. However, the origin and development of the quality management strategy as a practice-oriented approach to management has provided a challenge for business leaders and corporate executives. The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 9000 family of quality standards and quality award criteria have led to the practical development and diffusion of the discipline, and currently they provide the most comprehensive definition for total quality management (TQM).

TQM as culture

The multiple levels of TQM are identified and analysed based on Schein’s framework for organisational culture. The focus is on the most comprehensive level, the analysis of basic assumptions underlying the more visible levels of quality management. They include an organisation’s mission and relationship to external environment, the nature of human nature and relationships, and the nature of reality and nature of time.

An integrated set of mutually compatible basic assumptions forms quality culture, which is considered to be the theoretical foundation of quality management. In practice, the implementation of a successful quality management programme requires a change in organisational culture to be compatible with quality culture.

Practical experiences

It is not an overstatement to say every one of us has had experiences of poor quality when dealing with business organisations. These experiences might involve an airline that has lost a passenger’s luggage, a dry cleaner that has left clothes wrinkled or stained, poor course offerings and scheduling at your college, a purchased product that is damaged or broken, or a pizza delivery service that is often late or delivers the wrong order.

The experience of poor quality is exacerbated when employees of the company either are not empowered to correct quality inadequacies or do not seem willing to do so. We have all encountered service employees who do not seem to care.

Demarcation

Successful companies understand the powerful impact customer-defined quality can have on business. For this reason many competitive firms continually increase their quality standards.

For example, both the Ford Motor Company and the Honda Motor Company have recently announced that they are making customer satisfaction their number one priority.

The slow economy of 2003 impacted sales in the auto industry. Both firms believe that the way to rebound is through improvements in quality, and each has outlined specific changes to their operations. Ford is focusing on tightening already strict standards in their production process and implementing a quality programme called Six-Sigma.

Honda, on the other hand, is focussed on improving customer-driven product design. Although both firms have been leaders in implementing high quality standards, they believe that customer satisfaction is still what matters most.

Prioritising quality

Making quality a priority means putting customer needs first. It means meeting and exceeding customer expectations by involving everyone in the organisation through an integrated effort. TQM is an integrated organisational effort designed to improve quality at every level.

Adopting the philosophy of TQM, will certainly impact positively on organisational success, and will certainly impact on customer retention. TQM is about meeting quality. Expectations are defined by the customer; this is called customer-defined quality.

Customer-defined quality

The reputation enjoyed by many successful organisations is anchored in the quality, reliability, delivery and price of its goods or services. Oakland (1993:19) observes that quality is the most important competitive weapon available to an organisation.

Total quality management is a process that should be applied across all the functions and levels of an organisation.

All members of an organisation must strive to collaborate on company-wide quality improvement in order to meet the expectations of customers consistently.

Skills for TQM

It is critical for total quality managers to possess the requisite skills for designing and maintaining quality standards.

Also, your friends may have different opinions regarding which athletic shoes are of highest quality. Today, there is no single universal definition of quality. Some people view quality as “performance to standards”. Others view it as “meeting the customer’s needs” or “satisfying the customer”.

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.