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Total Quality Management and the art of motivating people


Here’s a stimulating enquiry from one of our readers, who wants the answer to questions that take me back to 1993, when I interviewed 20 European companies for a book on Total Quality Management. The enquiry goes to the heart of the matter.

  • ‘How is quality management and quality standard linked with motivation? (I will need a logical base for the main points of connection between them)’
  • ‘How will I motivate my staff toward achieving a fantastic quality standard?’

The first answer is to stop thinking about quality management and quality standards. You’re talking about TOTAL management. Your aim is to improve, continuously and forever, every process used in running the organisation and its output. The logical basis is that getting people to think and act within this overriding aim will of itself motivate them – it’s a benevolent as opposed to a vicious circle. The systematic introduction and operation of quality as a way of life will achieve phenomenal improvement.

This isn’t pie-in-the-sky exhortation. In writing the book I found that total quality companies followed these instructions:

1) Select and live by the non-financial performance measures that have the greatest financial leverage.

2) Analyse and simplify all processes – including those of management itself – especially before trying to achieve significant changes.

3) Have many quick-fix, fast-payoff projects going all the time.

4) Commit very fully to a very few long-term improvement programmes that offer very big benefits.

5) Always include quality programmes aimed at improving dependability, speed and cost-effectiveness in the above.

6) Make sure that improvement projects are concentrated where the pay-offs are largest: which almost certainly means indirect, overhead areas.

7) Have high targets but reasonably expectations.

8) Trust, train and educate – all the time.

All these practices are motivational, but especially the last. If you don’t believe that you motivate people strongly by trusting them, training them, and educating them in better ways of performing their jobs – well, then you have been flying (or managing) blind. But it’s not just the lower orders who get the TTE treatment in a TQM company, it’s everybody, right up to the very top.

The 20 companies I studied all believed that they were genuine, whole-hearted Total Quality companies. In reality, all but a handful were kidding themselves, as their results duly demonstrated. The biggest single difference between the winners and the also-rans was the commitment of the top managers, above all the chief executive. And I don’t mean the lip-service which passes for commitment in most organisations I mean starting the work of improving quality at the summit. What’s the point, for example, in working manfully to raise production quality when a low-quality decision-making process condemns the line to working on the wrong products?

On one of my visits, I found that the management committee was identical in membership to the quality committee. That’s true quality in a nutshell – making quality ‘the way we do things round here, and structuring the organisation to support that requirement. You’ll find yourself working along these lines:

1) Leadership which makes quality the number one, non-negotiable priority.

2) Empowering employees to experiment and make mistakes,

3) Building quality into the responsibility of all managers.

4) NOT making quality the job of a specific department.

5) Providing training on a just-in-time basis, developing skills and knowledge as needed.

So there you are for starters, Dear Reader. There is, of course, much more. But whatever else you take in, it won’t move you very far from these brilliant basics.

Robert Heller