Quality development in various aspects of an organization is today a significant part of organizational management. Total quality management (TQM) is an approach to business operations which began in the United States in the 1970s, and has increasingly grown in significance, especially over the past twenty years. “It began as a fusion of concepts of three American management gurus, Deming, Juran, and Crosby with ideas from traditional Japanese culture” (Webley & Cartwright, 1996: 483). TQM is based on a philosophy of working for continual improvement in organizational functions, and has been adopted in the United Kingdom and other countries as well. It is a general organisational philosophy and a way of thinking as well as related management procedures, processes and rules built into the firm’s operations.
Soltani et al (2008: 461) have found that the success of TQM depends on the extent of commitment of top management towards the concept. They exert control over the employees to implement the appropriate methods of quality control and total quality management. The workers in an organization are considered to be liberated by the adoption of TQM methods, which supposedly helps them to improve their efficiency and quality of worklife.
The purpose of this paper is to determine whether total quality management (TQM) liberates or exploits workers in an organization.
There are various dimensions of quality management practiced by organisations. These depend on the workers’ increased levels of output in both quantity and quality. Some of the factors are related to excellence in performance and manufacturing and meeting the requirements of specifications and standards. Total Quality Management (TQM) is defined as an approach that ensures mutual cooperation of all members of an organization and associated business processes to produce products and services that meet or exceed the needs and expectations of customers (Dale, 2003). To assure quality, an organization is required to coordinate its activities through a quality management system which encompasses organizational structure, responsibilities, procedures, processes and resources for implementing quality management (Pergamon, 2005).
TQM is based on a concept of teamwork, planning, control and improvement, to ensure that every aspect of the organization is regulated, monitored and directed towards the attainment of corporate aims. This philosophy known as kaizen encompasses a range of practices including customer orientation, total quality control, quality circles, cooperative labor – management relations, and the concept of making products with zero defects. Quality improvement helps in increasing organizational efficiency, production, and customer satisfaction, all of which impact profits and progress of the company. Western organizations have adopted TQM as a solution to their management problems. Markets are now demand-led, instead of being supply driven, and companies are more shop-floor oriented rather than being management centered (Webley & Cartwright, 1996).
How TQM is Perceived to Liberate Workers
Implementing TQM successfully requires the commitment of top management to lead the process. Market research and product development are key components of the system, because TQM is focused on customer needs. Processes are reviewed to eliminate wasted time as well as materials that either do not contribute to or are obstacles to producing the end product. Teamwork is an essential function in an TQM environment, all members involved in the product or service: “from front-line workers to suppliers and sales managers must work together to solve problems for customers” (Bogardus, 2007: 202). This team work is considered to be beneficial to the workers as well as for the organisation, since problems can be more easily resolved through brainstorming as a group. Further, mutual reliance and cooperation helps workers to have an enhanced working environment, personal pride in the outcome, and identification of self with the organisation. Elimination of wasted time and unrequired material, is believed to help workers operate more efficiently and quickly, in accomplishing their tasks. Thus, workers are considered to be more liberated by implementing TQM procedures.
Research on Impact of Organisational TQM Implementation on Employees
The three main aims of TQM are: customer focus, continuous improvement and team work. All these aspects, according to Morrow (1997) are essential for the sustainability of the company’s operations. However, it is clear that there is little allowance for the employees’ professional growth, convenience in the working environment, or his/ her quality of working life. The orientation is completely customer-focused, and the benefits of TQM are reaped by the company and the customer, at the cost of the employees’ time and increased efforts. The author undertook research to study employee attitudes and perceptions to TQM.
The work-related outcomes of TQM practices in an organisation, selected for inclusion in the study conducted by Morrow (1997) were job satisfaction, communication and perceptions of the work environment. Well-established management concepts, as discussed in the first part of the paper, support the importance of TQM for the organisation. Job design principles focus on customer satisfaction, establishing client relationship and feedback, and are associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and more favourable reactions to the work environment by the employees (Griffin, 1982). Similarly, continuous improvement can be linked to goal setting and its well-documented consequences for job satisfaction (Locke & Latham, 1984). Teamwork facilitates the meeting of mutual needs and from one aspect, is considered to improve job satisfaction (Wall et al, 1986) and organisational commitment (Cordery et al, 1991).
Employees’ enhanced perceptions of job satisfaction, communication and the work environment are brought about by changes in organisational philosophy and structure. Those organisations that adopt TQM are frequently flatter, more decentralized, more information oriented, and create more responsive work groups (Stahl, 1995). These changes allow for more individual empowerment and voice, that is, more satisfaction with work and supervision, more accurate and faster communication, which means better information quality and quantity, and the potential for warmer, more supportive work situations, which is more satisfaction with co-workers and a better environment (Blackburn & Rosen, 1993).
These outcomes though relevant in themselves, have also been shown to determine managerially important behaviours and outcomes. According to Scott & Taylor (1985), job satisfaction is inversely related to absenteeism and turnover, though the latter is also impacted by economic conditions. Further, satisfied workers engage in more job-related pro-social behaviours and have higher levels of life-satisfaction. Job satisfaction was shown to increase with the TQM program (Harber et al, 1991).
Communication impacts information quality as well as quantity, which in turn affects the decision that is made. Information quality is frequently evaluated in terms of accuracy and objectivity, while information quantity is frequently evaluated in relation to the extent to which it is withheld or is overwhelming, or causes information overload. Perceptions of the work environment were included in the study because they indicate the degree to which the work situation is believed to be personally beneficial, or detrimental to the individual. Perceptions of the work environment have also been linked to intention to quit, and willingness to participate in training and development programs (Maurer & Tarulli, 1994).
Are Workers Truly Empowered
Research conducted by Hill (2008: 541), investigates how companies have sought to develop employee participation in the quest for business improvement, from the quality circle (QC) fad of the early and middle 1980s to total quality management (TQM) at the end of the decade. Thirteen companies provide evidence of the strategies adopted and support previous findings that circles collapsed as the result of inadequate organizational design which encouraged managerial recalcitrance. Moreover, TQM departs from traditional “cycles of control” and appears likely to institutionalize participation on a permanent basis; and managerial employees as well as office and shop-floor staff now have more opportunity to participate in decisions. The researcher states that TQM is not another passing fashion, because it can meet the interests of employees while providing top management with an effective way of organizing in the new times.
The implications of implementing TQM as a system are that, since TQM is a dynamic system, continuous efforts have to be sustained, for improving quality. The onus for this falls on all the employees, whose teamwork is crucial for achieving the desired outcomes. Further, the implementation of TQM consumes a long time. Since it is an open system, the organisation which implements TQM has to interact with the environment and respond to its changes. Identifying requirements and customer’s needs are central to TQM. This also means that orientation towards consideration of employee issues is not the priority (Hassan, 2001).
Direct control on the employees’ work processes and output is applied by methods such as statistical process control, for the purpose of total quality management. In this method, an intelligent application of the philosophy of statistical process control (SPC) helps in achieving steady improvement in the quality of a product, even while dealing with the day-to-day crises which form an unavoidable part of a competitive business environment. The core three steps of statistical process control are: flowcharting of the production process, random sampling and measurement at regular time intervals, at numerous stages of the production process, the use of glitches discovered in this sampling to backtrack and identify their causes in order to remove them. Thus, a step-wise optimization of the production process is implemented, and research has found this method to be effective, and equally applicable to production, service and management processes. (Thompson & Koronacki, 2002).
Similarly, the Six Sigma Model of implementing total quality management, puts considerable pressure on the employees to perform to high standards. The increasing pressure to improve quality and production volumes, while decreasing costs and using fewer resources has resulted in the adoption of the Six Sigma approach. This is directly related to the company’s profits and the needs of customers. “Continuous improvement in customer satisfaction and profit that goes beyond defect reduction, and emphasizes business process improvement in general” is the goal (Breyfogle, 2003: 3).
The methodology is applied to all functions within the organization. Sigma quality level offers an indication of how often defects are likely to occur, a higher sigma quality level indicates a process that is less likely to create defects. A six sigma quality level is considered equal to 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO). The strategy involves the measurement of how well business processes meet their organizational goal, and offers methods to make the required improvements. Six sigma directly attacks the cost of poor quality (COPQ): not performing work correctly or not meeting customer’s expectations. A defect in COPQ is that large issues may be hidden from view, which the organization needs to identify. With a proper need, vision and plan, the six sigma technique is used to resolve many of the issues that affect overall cost in the organization (Breyfogle, 2003).
There is an ongoing process of striving to attain world class manufacturing status by most companies, with an intensified search for best practices. Based on a solid foundation of research evidence, best practice helps to improve performance and productivity, and are specific to context. They depend on the type of industry, the infrastructure of supporting practices, and other factors such as the maturity of the company in term of improvement activities. Thus, it is crucial that the context of why a practice is successful in particular situations should be investigated to determine its applicability to other industries, companies and situations (Davies & Kochhar, 2002). The companies ideologies in adapting best practices in its daily operations can exert a great deal of control over the employees’ mode of working and implementation of duties.
Further, best practices should be evaluated based on their ability to improve overall performance, rather than the improvement of one specific area. Practices may have an impact on other related areas of performance, which may be a positive or negative effect. Thus the holistic benefits should be the priority when evaluating best practices. This will also reduce the pressure that is placed on the workers to perform at high levels in a sustained manner. Future research should be based on improving specific areas of performance, in addition to “analysing the detrimental effects on other areas of performance, and the methods to overcome these effects” (Davies & Kochhar, 2002: 289).
In recent years, TQM has been unsuccessful across various organizational contexts. Various authors on TQM implementation and the complexity of organizational reforms (Maguad, 2006; Caldart & Ricart, 2004) have indicated that it is not an easy task as it requires a total change in organizational culture, shifting of responsibility to management, and continous participation of all employees in the quality improvement process. According to the EFQM (2003), speed, flexibility and adaptation have become crucial to TQM. The concept of quality should be defined clearly so that it is easily understood, implemented and measured by all the members of an organization. Over-formalized approaches may prove to be expensive as well as unappealing to implement, hence enough allowance should be given for people to use their imagination and initiative (Pergamon, 2005). By focusing on outcomes in order to achieve customer-oriented excellence, it is possible that the process is not taken into consideration, causing increased pressure on employees to perform, irrespective of the additional strain that is exerted on them.
Total quality management emerged out of the human relatios assumption that to attend the psychological and emotional needs of the worker, would also have the twin effect of improving organisational efficiency and quality whilst, concurrently, enhancing worker well-being, satisfaction and motivation. However, this does not mean that there is a shift in power between employees and managers. The central concern of capitalist organisations is control; and in most countries, capitalism survived the Great Depression, the two world wars and various threats from communism to grow in strength through the 1980s and 1990s (WorkersWithHearts, 2008).
Thus, inspite of the concept of empowerment, quality and trust, many theorists have argued that the idea of unitarist harmony is misleading in two ways: on examining actual implementation of TQM, HRM (human resource management) and QWL (quality of working life), it was found that these change programmes were actually associated with redundanciesk, work intensification, increased insecurity and stress. These are common findings with TQM and HRM programmes, that their hard and soft versions began to be differentiated by researchers. Further, there is considerable evidence that while worker empowerment and devolution of control are spoken about, these are rarely found in practice. Also, they are effective means of improving control over the workforce. There is no motivation by means of money, and instruction on what to do. On the other hand, TQM is cultural control, to get workers to police themselves in several ways: by establishing norms, team working, empowerment, flexibility and architecture of the workplace to ensure that continous work is put in by employees (WorkersWithHearts, 2008).
The hope of worker emancipation and autonomy that was hoped for in the early days of Human Relations has been shown as an empty promise. Capitalist organisations absorb such movements and convert them into mechanisms for control. Management’s prerogative has, if anything, been enhanced by harnessing the workers’ hearts as well as their hands. However, resistance is not necessarily futile. Workers restrict their output based on their own perception of what a “fair day’s work” consisted of. Similar forms of resistance have been witnessed in both HRM and TQM programs were employees use humour, trade unions or other ways to avoid the management attempts to control them (WorkersWithHearts, 2008).
While there is evidence that working practices in some industries have changed to incorporate some of the initiatives prompted by the Human Relations methodology and its followers in TQM, “it is clear that most of these programs are geared around improving efficiency rather than worker well-being” (WorkersWithHearts, 2008: 5). Unfortunately for workers, these new forms of control are often harder to resist because, instead of fighting back against management, the individuals often finds themselves letting their own team down, or being labelled inflexible, uncreative or backwards if they do not accept the changes. Thus, new areas of Human Resources such as total quality management has proved to be a tool of exploiting workers, through demands for better work whilst at the same time, reducing the grounds for employee resistance.
This paper has highlighted Total Quality Management (TQM), and has discussed whether TQM liberates or exploits workers in an organisation. The three main principles of TQM are: customer focus, continuous improvement and teamwork (Morrow, 1997). From the arguments supporting the benefits of TQM for liberating the workers, and also the arguments stating that TQM exploits workers, it is found that TQM exploits workers in spite of its many benefits.
It is evident that the environment in which companies are working is becoming increasingly competitive, requiring immediate responses to customer demands, changing markets and global competition. Responses to these challenges is through a combination of increased motivation, flexibility and cost-cutting, all of which have important implications for the role and impact of human resource management. Drawing on the knowledge, skills and abilities of employees in order to improve quality and productivity is also advocated increasingly. However, this area has been found to be lacking in focus and success (Gallagher & Shapiro, 2001).
Achieving employee involvement and commitment in practice appears to be a complex area, which is further complicated by concurrent changes in demographics, social trends and organisation’s need for flexibility, innovation and agility to remain competitive. The ways in which organisations are responding to competitive challenges is having a great impact on the quality of working life of employees. Increased flexibility, productivity and involvement are being demanded of them. Whilst the new management philosophies and approaches to the workplace do appear to offer opportunities for increased skill development, employability and job enrichment, which is the high road of innovation, it is found that exploitation of workers is being undertaken under the guise of offering them liberation through total quality managment (Gallagher & Shapiro, 2001).
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