Management Articles


How Total is Your Quality Management?

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz, once observed "When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done". Despite all the talk -- passionate speeches, glossy brochures, clever ads, high tech videos, convincing sales pitches, snappy slogans, strategic plans, and solemn annual reports -- the service and quality action delivered by most organizations is mediocre at best.

Many well intentioned "Total Quality Management" improvement efforts aren't working. In their international study of Total Quality Management practices, the Conference Board of Canada found one study which showed that "seven out of ten North American companies fail in their attempt to execute a total quality strategy". But before you conclude that TQM was just another passing fad -- a "flavour of the month" -- take a closer look. Only a minuscule number of organizations in North America have truly tried Total Quality Management. Most have talked about TQM while implementing PQM -- Partial Quality Management.

Moving from Partial Quality Management to true Total Quality Management is exceptionally tough. Here are a few of the keys:

Senior Management Involvement -- permission, lip service -- even passionate lip service -- isn't enough. Managers and supervisors adopt the visible priorities of their boss. Too often service and quality improvement is what the top delegates to the middle to do to the bottom. At Vancouver based Finning Ltd (the world's largest Caterpillar dealer), CEO Jim Shepard and his executives are not only first in line for all the service and quality training being given to everyone else, they are also the trainers delivering sessions to their people.

Focusing and Supporting Teams -- while departmental, work group, branch, project, or process improvement teams are clearly at the centre of today's high performing organizations, managers often get too many teams going before their time. Many medium to large-sized organizations aren't ready to support more than a few pilot teams in year one or two of their implementation. In a poorly prepared organization, improvement teams smack into "old guard" supervisors and managers who think a coach belongs in a hockey rink or fostering innovation means "if I want any of your bright ideas I'll give them to you". Team suggestions to realign inhibiting systems and cross-functional processes are given a lukewarm, and sometimes hostile, reception by those very managers and specialists who installed and now "snoopervise" them.

Planning and Reporting -- service and quality improvement must be approached with the same discipline and rigor as good business planning. The manager who throws staff, dollars, or training at improvement activities in the whimsical belief some of it is bound to stick deserves the whimsical service and quality he or she gets. Effective organizations often spend months involving management, unions, work teams, board members, and possibly key suppliers and customers in strategic quality planning. Their service and quality measurement and reporting systems are every bit as rigorous as their financial statements.

Broad and Balanced Approach -- a sure sign of Partial Quality Management is an overreliance on a few improvement tools and techniques. Effective implementations pull together the best techniques from the fields of customer service -- understanding and increasing perceived value, quality improvement -- improving processes at all levels through gathering, analyzing, and monitoring critical performance data (Xerox calls this "fact-based management"), and organization development -- building leadership skills and changing the organization's culture.

Building Skills as Well as Knowledge -- three slide trays, a bunch of videos, and five pounds of books and manuals all delivered by a dynamic presenter may teach team members or leaders about group dynamics or process management. But often this "spray and pray" approach doesn't help participants figure out how to keep meetings focused or resolve conflicts. In improving physical fitness we all know that understanding common sense ideas is one thing, putting common sense into common practice is something else. The technology used in most training programs doesn't work. It may leave participants excited, enlightened, and aware, but is rarely leaves them more competent.

True Total Quality Management produces dramatic results. But moving from PQM to TQM requires as much discipline, consistency, and new habit formation as moving from endless dieting or new year's fitness resolutions to long-term, permanent lifestyle change.

© Copyright 2000 The CLEMMER Group

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