When "Good Enough" Isn't Good Enough,
Core Ideas of Total Quality

© by Ends of the Earth Learning Group 1998

Linda Turner and Ron Turner

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven References and Copying Rights

1. Do all decisions get decided by consensus? Is Total Quality a democracy in which everyone's voice is heard?

Nope. In a democracy, leaders are elected by the voters. In Total Quality organizations, leaders continue to be elected the same as in the past, usually by a Board of Directors (or Trustees), not by the workers.

While many decisions will be delegated to teams, not all nor even most will be delegated.

Ideally every constituency's voice will be heard and vigorous debate will start taking place where traditionally people were expected to simply toe the "party line."

There are four decision modes commonly used:

2. How important is top management commitment?

It is critical. Without top management commitment, you can only institute a partial version of Total Quality. This approach will have limited effectiveness. That doesn't mean you can't do anything without top management commitment. As system's theorist Les Ackoff put it, "Something is better than nothing." But the effectiveness of middle managers in implementing Total Quality is very limited. If those efforts raise false hopes, they can actually backfire and make things worse.

For top management that hopes to delegate implementation to a Vice-President of Total Quality, this is a simple "warning": "That is not true top management commitment!"

3. What is the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award?

The Baldrige Award examines organizations to determine how well they have implemented eleven core values and concepts across the organization: (1) Customer-Driven Quality, (2) Leadership, (3) Continuous Improvement and Learning, (4) Employee Participation and Development, (5) Fast Response, (6) Design Quality and Prevention, (7) Long-range View of the Future, (8) Management by Fact, (9) Partnership Development, (10) Corporate Responsibility and Citizenship, and (11) Results Focus.

In order to win the Baldrige, an organization must demonstrate a systematic approach that is fact-based and continuously improving. Results must be excellent and improving. Very few organizations ever win the Baldrige. Those who apply do so for the insights they gain into their organizations both by the self-assessment required and for the feedback they get from Baldrige examiners.

Over forty states in 1997 had "baby Baldriges" in order to encourage adoption of a Total Quality approach. In over thirty states, there were also local Quality Awards. Many of these states have differing levels of awards that range from those in an early "commitment" phase to those who are demonstrating benchmarking leadership for a region. In 1996, for the first time, all Baldrige winners had previously won state awards.

Interest has grown steadily over the years. In 1991, there were 217 applicants for state and national quality awards. By 1996, that number had grown to 833. The e-mail address for the Baldrige Award is pqp@nist.gov It lists winners and describes the award process. An application can also be downloaded or a request can be made to have an application mailed.

4. Haven't there been some famous TQM disaster stories? For instance, didn't one of the Baldrige Award winners go bankrupt?

Total Quality advocates have never claimed that they could guarantee success. In fact, once variation is truly understood, then the role of luck in organizational success will become explicitly recognized. That means that sometimes you can do everything wrong, but still get lucky, and sometimes you can do everything right, but still be unlucky.

Instead of viewing business as being a game of chess in which luck plays no factor, TQM views business as being a game of poker. TQM gives you three hands to play at the table instead of one so your odds of winning go up, but there are no guarantees. Total Quality approaches simply improve your odds of winning. That means that over time some TQM companies are bound to fail, and some non-TQM companies are bound to do well.

In stock market studies of TQM businesses, they did much better over time than did their non-TQM counterparts. This is what would be expected on average.

5. How long does it take to implement a Total Quality approach?

In some ways, putting a timeline on implementing TQM doesn't make sense. Instead the approach should be viewed as a journey that will never end. Baldrige winners and winners of Japan's Deming Prize will all attest to the fact that in spite of the excellence they have achieved, they will continue on their journeys of continuous improvement forever.

There are, however, basic cultural changes that indicate true change. These changes take time. For instance, everyone in the organization will adopt new roles, group processes will shift from ones in which compromise is sought to ones in which consensus is pursued, and new decision making and statistical tools will be taught and brought into use.

People won't instantly give up seeing the world in "good enough/not good enough" terms simply because they have been exposed to the concept of continuous improvement. Old habits die hard.

Trust is not something that is earned simply by saying, "Forget the past, I'm a new person." Bit by bit, as win-win solutions are negotiated, the old culture of fear and control will be replaced by one of hope and learning.

W. Edwards Deming warned that it would take five to ten years before the basic cultural and structural changes could take hold. He gave that warning because he didn't want to encourage people who are looking for quick fixes.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven References and Copying Rights