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Lou Tice, Total Quality Management. TQM may mean the difference between slow death and success. Why is it, then, that some companies that have implemented Total Quality programs are experiencing dramatic improvements in performance, while others are throwing up their hands after several years of effort because the results they expected just aren’t there?
TQM can and does work, but only under certain conditions. It’s been my experience that many leaders and managers believe that those conditions are entirely quantifiable and externally imposed.
They think that they can remake an organization from the top down, develop new systems and standards, make sure that everyone is fully informed, tell their people that they are now “empowered” to act in certain ways, and then sit back and watch Total Quality happen.
But it doesn’t happen, because they are missing something crucial. It is people who make or break a quality program, and all too often the human, or behavioral, side of TQM is either ignored altogether or given cursory attention. Unfortunately, up until now TQM theory has not been much help, as it has offered little guidance on the behavioral principles that must be understood and put to use in a systematic way if Total Quality is to happen.
The first absolutely essential behavioral principle, then, is that all meaningful and lasting change starts first on the inside, and then works its way out. You simply can’t impose change from the outside in and expect it to be welcomed or, even more important, to last. And when our internal picture doesn’t match current reality, we consciously or unconsciously correct for the mistake.
The same is true of organizations within which a Total Quality program has been implemented. TQM means new ways of doing things, new standards, new systems, new responsibilities. It means change, with a capital “C.” And whenever change is imposed from the outside, resistance and a tremendous desire to get things to somehow change back are to be expected. When a TQM program is implemented, people who think they are already doing the best they can hear the message “not good enough” carried on the winds of change.
They’re not looking at the fact that they have virtually unlimited potential for doing and being more than they presently are. Instead, they’re feeling the pressure and stress that inevitably comes from someone else telling you that you had better change, had better do things differently, if you want to measure up.
An ideal TQM implementation would change the workers’ internal picture before, or at the same time as, the external standards change. But is this possible? Can we really “get inside the heads” of the people who carry out the day-to-day operations at our organizations and cause them to think differently? The answer is yes, and no.
No, we can’t work some kind of magic on people. We can’t simply zap empowerment into them so that suddenly, as the result of some directive from on high, they begin to behave differently. But yes, we can give people the education, the tools, the knowledge and skills that will enable them to empower themselves. We can give them the information that allows them to change and we can give them the opportunity to change — willingly and whole-heartedly — their own picture of what’s good enough for them. To many managers’ surprise, most people, when given this opportunity and information, do choose to make that change. In fact, they often set higher standards for themselves than the managers would have set for them. What’s more, they not only achieve their goals, but often surpass them.
Of course, it is expected that organizational systems as well as people will have to change if we are to truly achieve Total Quality. Too many of us know from firsthand experience that a chaotic or overly authoritarian system can erode, even destroy, our self-confidence and self-efficacy. There is plenty of information out there on how to make these systemic changes. But changing the system alone is not sufficient.
Perceived self-efficacy (our appraisal of our own ability to cause or bring about a desired end result) is a critical factor in performance. Not talking about actual ability, but rather our belief in our ability. Time and time again that what we think about our ability is as important our ability to think, and, in some cases, far more important.
Pointing out that we don’t generally take on tasks that we don’t believe we can accomplish. We don’t let ourselves want what we don’t think we can have. We back up our desires, goals and ambitions to fit our perceptions of what we can do, what we deserve, what is “good enough” for us. In other words, we adjust our goals to fit our inner picture, our internal standards.
So how do we get the people who work within an organization to change their internal standards?
How do we help them to see themselves differently — in a way that raises their perceived self-efficacy and allows them to reach for goals that are continually being raised? How do we create a work force of people who believe that they can grow to meet the challenge of Total Quality, Zero Defects, Continuous Improvement?
How do we develop the people we employ so that they self-regulate to very high internal standards, rather than requiring constant external pressure to maintain on-the-job performance at peak levels?
We begin by accepting the premise that human beings cannot be neatly compartment-alized. There is simply no way to separate one’s so-called personal life from one’s professional life, nor would we wish to do so if we could. What happens at work affects what happens at home, and vice-versa.
We are whole persons, and any behavioral change we seek will inevitably affect the broadest and deepest aspects of human behavior. Speaking of a change in self-image and self-efficacy, which can only be brought about be a change in thought processes.
When people are systematically educated about their own thought processes — when they understand how they have been conditioned to see themselves as they do — when they grasp the fact that they have developed blind spots and negative ideation that has led to a limited, and often rather negative, self-image, they are invariably fascinated. Moreover, they again and again report experiences of delighted self-discovery. Lights begin to go on in their minds — and they stay on.
Through this systematic education, they begin to see themselves differently, and they begin to realize that, not only are they intrinsically valuable human beings, but they have the capacity to take charge of their thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and habits. They can substitute, through imagery and affirmation, a much more positive belief system for the old, limited one. They try it, and find that it works. If they assimilate the new behavior, many things change. Their performance at work improves. The quality of their relationships improves. They set higher goals for themselves because they know they can grow into them and discover the “how-to” as they go, and they take accountability for results. They also take more risks and become more creative, innovative and open-minded. They want to share the information with spouses, family members, co-workers. And they understand that their growth as individuals is a continuous, never-ending process.
For people who have gained this understanding, Total Quality becomes a personal, fully internalized standard of excellence, not just something “the boss says” they have to achieve. They feel accountable for their own behavior. They understand the importance of having a clear vision of the desired outcome, a specific goal to work toward, and they have learned from experience that their belief in their ability to accomplish a goal or solve a problem is more than half the battle. They become infused with an indomitable spirit and take on bigger and bigger challenges.
While some will say to all of this that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, I say, and have always said, it depends on the trick, the teacher, and most of all, the dog. This kind of education has nothing to do with one-shot, high-powered motivational programs. It requires a carefully thought-out, solidly-grounded program, and it requires a certain investment of time and resources. The progressive organizations I have worked with know this, and have enjoyed great success as a result.
If TQM is to be achieved, we must look at the behavioral side of quality and begin to integrate effective educational and support programs for our people into the technical programs upon which so much of our attention has, up until now, been focused.