Implementing total quality management: the role of human resource management.
Improving quality has become a company-wide effort as the increasing globalization of business underscores the necessity of continuous improvement. Total quality management (TQM), the preferred approach to achieving this end, is no longer the sole concern of quality engineers, product designers, process engineers and other specialists. Even the human resource management (HRM) function has an important role to play in developing quality across the entire organization. The HRM department can jumpstart the TQM process by serving as a role model through the performance of two vital tasks: providing customer-oriented service and contributing to the running of the business. It is also in a good position to promote TQM by integrating the process into such HR functions as recruitment and selection, training and development, performance evaluation and reward systems.

Total quality management (Methods)
Human resource management (Methods)
Clinton, Roy J.
Williamson, Stan
Bethke, Art L.
Pub Date:
Name: SAM Advanced Management Journal Publisher: Society for the Advancement of Management Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, general Copyright: COPYRIGHT 1994 Society for the Advancement of Management ISSN: 0036-0805
Date: Spring, 1994 Source Volume: v59 Source Issue: n2
Accession Number:
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Globalization in the business theater is driving companies toward a new view of quality as a necessary tool to compete successfully in worldwide markets. A direct outcome of this new emphasis is the philosophy of total quality management (TQM). In essence, TQM is a company-wide perspective that strives for customer satisfaction by seeking zero defects in products and services.

Making quality improvements was once thought to be the sole responsibility of specialists (quality engineers, product designers, and process engineers). Today, developing quality across the entire firm can be an important function of the human resource management (HRM) department. A failure on HRM's part to recognize this opportunity and act on it may result in the loss of TQM implementation responsibilities to other departments with less expertise in training and development. The ultimate consequence of this loss is an ineffective piecemealing of the TQM strategy. Thus, HRM should act as the pivotal change agent necessary for the successful implementation of TQM.

HRM can act as senior management's tool in implementing TQM in two fundamental ways. First, by modeling the TQM philosophy and principles within its departmental operations, the HR department can serve as a beachhead for the TQM process throughout the company. Second, the HR department, with senior management's support, can take the TQM process company-wide by developing and delivering the long-term training and development necessary for the major organizational culture shift required by TQM. The HR department also has major strengths in terms of recruitment, selection, appraisal, and reward system development to institutionalize a quality-first orientation. An appreciation of the capabilities of HRM to model and institutionalize TQM begins with an understanding of the TQM philosophy.

The TQM Philosophy

Implementing a total quality management system has become the preferred approach for improving quality and productivity in organizations. TQM, which has been adopted by leading industrial companies, is a participative system empowering all employees to take responsibility for improving quality within the organization. Instead of using traditional bureaucratic rule enforcement, TQM calls for a change in the corporate culture, where the new work climate has the following characteristics:

(1) An open, problem-solving atmosphere;

(2) Participatory design making;

(3) Trust among all employees (staff, line,

workers, managers);

(4) A sense of ownership and responsibility

for goal achievement and problems

solving; and,

(5) Self-motivation and self-control by all


The TQM approach involves more than simply meeting traditional rejection rate standards. The end result of TQM is the efficient and effective use of all organizational processes in providing consistent quality at a competitive price. The TQM philosophy is a long-term endeavor that links people and processes in a system that alters the corporate culture to become one where quality is the core aspect of business strategy.(12)

In cultivating the TQM philosophy, strategy implementation must involve a focused effort on the part of every employee within the organization. It cannot be applied successfully on a piecemeal basis. TQM requires that management, and eventually every member of the organization, commit to the need for continual improvement in the way work is accomplished. Business plans, strategies, and management actions require continual rethinking in order to develop a culture that reinforces the TQM perspective. The challenge is to develop a robust culture where the idea of quality improvement is not only widely understood across departments, but becomes a fundamental, deep-seated value within each function area as well.

HRM as a Role Model for TQM

HRM can jumpstart the TQM process by becoming a role model. This means that HRM has two specific tasks: "Serving our customers, and making a significant contribution to running the business." This emphasis on customeroriented service means that the HR department must see other departments in the firm as their customer groups for whom making continuing improvements in service becomes a way of life.

In their efforts to achieve total quality management, HRM can demonstrate commitment to TQM principles by soliciting feedback from its internal customer groups on current HR services. HRM should include suggestions from its customers in setting objective performance standards and measures. In other words, there are a number of specific TQM principles that the HR department can model.

Applying TQM Principles in HRM.

The current emphasis on quality as a competitive strategy has produced many views regarding the actions necessary to achieve it. Leaders in the quality movement (Deming, Juran, Crosby, Feigenbaum)(2)(8)(1)(4) have proposed similar approaches which share certain themes. These themes can be summarized as five basic principles:

1. Focus on customers' needs;

2. Focus on problem prevention, not correc-


3. Make continuous improvements: seek to

meet customers' requirements on time, the

first time, every time;

4. Train employees in ways to improve

quality; and,

5. Apply the team approach to problem


To institute total quality management as a philosophy within an organization, all employees must come to realize that satisfying customers is essential to the long-run well-being of the firm and their jobs. No longer is the customer-driven focus exclusive to the marketing department. But customer satisfaction can only be achieved after first defining the customer groups. The new perspective here is that all employees exist to serve their customer groups, some internal and some external to the firm. The human resources department has internal customers to satisfy, which indirectly provides ultimate satisfaction to external customers.

In addition to identifying customer groups, there are other essential TQM customer issues. Clarifying what products and services will provide maximum customer satisfaction, measuring satisfaction, and continually monitoring and improving the level of customer satisfaction are all fundamental to the TQM philosophy. For the HR department, applying these TQM issues would translate into identifying the expectations of senior management -- their principal internal customer -- regarding TQM, and spearheading the TQM program's implementation on the basis of those expectations. TQM in practice for HRM might also mean periodic surveys, both formal and face-to-face, to monitor senior management's levels of satisfaction as the TQM process unfolds.

The TQM approach entails identifying the wants and needs of customer groups and then propelling the entire organization toward fulfilling these needs. A customer's concerns must be taken seriously, and organizations should make certain that its employees are empowered to make decisions that will ensure a high level of customer satisfaction. This can be achieved by promoting an environment of self-initiative and by not creating a quagmire of standard operating procedures and company policies.(7) Flexibility is the key, especially in a business environment that is diverse and constantly changing, as most are today. In modeling these aspects of the TQM process, the HR department would need to identify human resource concerns of other departments and undertake to continually improve its performance, especially in any trouble areas that come to light.

Based on this "customer first" orientation, organizational members are constantly seeking to improve products or services. Employees are encouraged to work together across organizational boundaries. Underlying these cooperative efforts are two crucial ideas. One is that the initial contact with the customer is critical and influences all future association with that customer. The other idea is that it is more costly to acquire new customers than to keep the customers you already have.(7) Exemplifying TQM here would mean that the HR department would need to train itself, focusing on being customer-driven toward other departments.

Quality improvement programs typically involve the directed efforts of quality improvement (QI) teams. Using teams and empowering employees to solve quality-related issues using such tools as statistical process control. (SPC) represent fundamental changes in how many businesses operate. The Focus of SPC, also known as statistical quality control (SQC), is defect prevention as opposed to defect correction. Defect prevention results from continuously monitoring and improving the process. In this context "process" refers to service delivery as well as manufacturing. To ensure that output meets quality specifications, monitoring is performed by periodically inspecting small samples of the product. SPC alone will not ensure quality improvement; rather, it is a tool for monitoring and identifying quality problems.

The effective use of quality improvement teams, and the TQM system as a whole, can be reinforced by applying basic principles of motivation. In particular, the recognition of team accomplishments as opposed to those of individuals, and the effective use of goal setting for group efforts, are important in driving the TQM system. The HR department is in a position to help institutionalize team approaches to TQM by designing appraisal and reward systems that focus on team performance.

For many companies, the philosophy of TQM represents a major culture shift away from a traditional production-driven atmosphere. In the face of such radical operational makeovers, a determined implementation effort is vital to prevent TQM from becoming simply platitudinal and the team approach just another management fad. Senior management must take the lead in overt support of TQM.

Senior Management and TQM

To be successful, a TQM system must be wholeheartedly accepted by top management, who, in turn, must convey their commitment to all organizational members.(9) The policy for implementation and maintenance of the TQM system should be set forth in writing and incorporated into the organization's mission and goals statements. The key elements of senior management's role in implementing TQM are:

* Institutionalizing the TQM structure as established by stated goals and formal policies and procedures; and

* Providing leadership as demonstrated by top management's explicit expectations and behavior in everyday activities.

As previously mentioned, it is essential that top management set organizational priorities and goals of the organization. The process of setting goals and allocating authority, responsibility, and resources must be continued throughout every level in the organization. The intent is to have every employee's work support the organizational priorities and to have each person know what to do, in measurable terms, to accomplish the goals. In addition, progress must be monitored regularly, according to agreed upon checkpoints, and employees must be rewarded for attaining specified goals.(5)

In summary, top management's responsibilities in the TQM implementation process include:

1. Initiating agreement on goals and measures

that cascade throughout the organization;

2. Providing the agreed resources (people,

money, training, machines, etc.);

3. Assigning authority and establish deadlines

to put resources into motion;

4. Monitoring progress in achieving goals,

not to apportion blame, but to aim for

improvement; and,

5. Measuring improvement and reward both

the achievement of goals and the ways they

are achieved.(5)

Beyond modeling TQM, the HR department, with senior management's support, can play a leading role in implementing a quality strategy across the firm.

The Company-Wide Role of HRM in Instituting a TQM Culture

Human resource management can plan a vital role in implementing and maintaining a total quality management process. HR managers are responsible for recruiting high-quality employees, the continual training and development of those employees, and the creation and maintenance of reward systems. Thus, TQM controls processes that are central to achieving the dramatic cultural changes often required for TQM to succeed. Tailoring the TQM cultural development program to the firm's circumstances is essential in overcoming resistance to change and moving beyond simple compliance toward a total commitment to TQM.

Holding a major liaison role between top management and employees, HRM has many opportunities to establish communication channels between top management and other members of the organization. Using these channels, HR personnel can ensure that employees know they are the organization's number one priority in implementing TQM. Building trust through an open exchange of ideas can help allay fears regarding the work-role changes that TQM requires. This can provide the foundation for all employees to be trained to consider their peers in other departments as internal customers. Here again, HRM has the opportunity to emphasize this new outlook by example. By exemplifying a customer-first orientation, HRM can help establish a departmental view of service throughout the entire organization.

Part of HRM's functional expertise is its ability to monitor and survey employee attitudes. This expertise can be particularly important for a TQM program, since getting off to a good start means having information about current performance. Thus, a preparatory step is to administer an employee survey targeting two primary concerns. One involves identifying troublesome areas in current operations, where improvements in quality can have the most impact on company performance. The other focuses on determining existing employee perceptions and attitudes toward quality as a necessary goal, so that the implementation program itself can be fine-tuned for effectiveness.

Obtaining cooperation from other departments in the use of surveys largely depends on their perception of HRM's role in the survey process. The challenge is to establish that HRM is not usurping departmental prerogatives, but is instead a helpful collaborator assisting each department in making their own quality improvements. Emphasizing HRM's collaborator role can be accomplished in the participative spirit of the TQM philosophy by involving other departments in the development of the survey instrument itself. This involvement begins the process of helping each department own the TQM program which will follow. Thus, using a corss-functional TQM survey development team provides an early opportunity for HRM to exemplify the TQM team philosophy and dispel territorial fears about how survey results will be used.

TQM and Training and Development.

In general, HRM is responsible for providing training and development. With their background, HR departments are well-positioned to take the leading role in providing such programs consistent with the TQM philosophy. HR managers have an important opportunity to communicate a history of their organization's TQM program and its champions. Equally important, HRM can tell stories of employees who are currently inspiring the TQM philosophy. As corporate historian, the HR department should be primarily responsible for relaying the TQM culture to members of the organization in employee orientation training.

Beyond communicating the TQM philosophy, the specific training and development needs for making TQM a practical reality must be assessed. Basically HR professionals must decide the following: What knowledge and skills must be taught? How? What performance (behaviors) will be recognized, and how will we reward them? HRM has faced these questions before and can best confront them in the TQM process. Training and development that does not fit within the realm of these questions will more than likely encounter heavy resistance. However, training and development does fall within the realm of these questions probably will be accepted more readily.(3)

In practice, the authors' current experience with TQM suggests that employees require three basic areas of training and development in the TQM process:

(1) Instruction in the philosophy and prin-

ciples of TQM;

(2) Specific skills training such as in the use

of statistical process control (SPC); and,

(3) Interpersonal skills training to improve

team problem-solving abilities.

In developing TQM training programs, efforts should be aimed at an integrated approach to the instruction process. Training objectives should be directed at helping employees reach the goals set forth for their individual jobs and the overall goals of the organization.

In creating a training and development format for any of these areas, employees respond better to training they can relate to and apply immediately in their daily work activites. Thus, whenever feasible, TQM training efforts should deal with specific issues related to the employee's immediate job.

If trainers are selected from outside the organization, they should have a practical knowledge of the organization's operations as well as a theoretical background in TQM. If possible, trainers should come from both outside and inside the organization to provide a good mix of diversity and practicality.

Whether the source of training is internal or external, the HR department needs to be involved early in quality improvement teams. Once trained, these teams focus on productivity-related problems where the issues are complex; for example, identifying and solving bottlenecks in the required time to complete a specific business activity.(12) In many instances, these teams eventually become self-managing.(11) Where this has occurred, the teams exercise great autonomy, scheduling their own work, conducting their own training, and setting and controlling sick leave and vacation policy, for example. In addition, they are often involved in the selection of future team members.

The use of quality improvement teams, whether self-managing or not, means that middle managers accustomed to solving problems and giving directions, must be trained in new roles as coaches who guide and support quality improvement team efforts. This major shift in the way business is conducted requires much training for the long term. To gain maximum benefit from a team approach to quality improvement, the HR department can deliver training in areas such as conflict resolution, negotiations, and interpersonal skills.

The substantial changes in work methods often required with TQM can often cause workers and middle management to resist training efforts. However, top management's personalized endorsement of TQM along with clear rewards tied to TQM implementation can be the HR manager's greatest weapons against such resistance. Therefore, HRM needs senior management's visible endorsement in leading the TQM change. For example, top management's involvement can take the form of senior executives' regular attendance at training sessions to communicate their personal TQM commitment, face-to-face with employees.

HRM, working with departmental managers, can develop reward systems for teams different from traditional individual performance appraisals based on quantity of production. Successful team efforts in improving activity cycle times and reducing product defect rates can be the new measures for rewards administered on a team basis.

Installing TQM and seeing bottom line effects may take years and severely test top management's faith in the process. This means that budgetary commitments from both top management and the HR department for on-going TQM training carry both real and symbolic value. Significant commitments signal that TQM is not a passing management fad.

Developing TQM takes time, and defining the length of training needed for a specific firm is difficult at best. The long jouney toward developing a full-blown TQM program can best be conceived as a series of stages.

TQM Implementation Stages.

The foundation of the entire TQM process is an employee's awareness that quality is vitally necessary and a top organizational priority. Building this foundation begins with extensive "quality awareness" training for all organization members. Sensitivity to quality starts with senior management training followed by the training of middle- and lower-level managers. The development of participatory leadership styles needs to follow in close order. Managers must be taught to feel comfortable with the nontraditional roles of coach and team facilitator, since quality teams now decide what's wrong and how to fix it. Management monitors, instead of directs, team efforts. Authoritarian leadership styles can spell the death knell for a TQM program. Therefore, unlearning of old behaviors may have to take place before new behaviors can be adapted. Management training must dovetail with that of quality teams. The end result is a synergy between the quality team and the manager that produces solutions to quality problems.

After training in quality awareness is completed, the second stage of implementation focuses on training managers and quality teams in the techniques (tools) for achieving quality improvements, such as statistical process control. This training is immediately followed by meetings with customers to define their satisfaction requirements. The overall goal of the initial training sessions is to develop employee understanding of all facets of TQM.

The third implementation stage is the promotion of employee involvement and commitment by establishing employee suggestion systems and quality improvement teams. These actions can stimulate, either through formal or informal channels, a cooperative effort among different functional departments that must work together to produce a product or service. This is the essence of cross-functional teamwork: a collaboration where different functional groups work together toward improving total quality.

This need for participation and cooperation extends beyond company boundaries and provides the basis for a fourth implementation stage. To emphasize a customer-centered focus, many companies have set up customer and supplier councils, which seek to develop better relationships between a firm and its customers and suppliers. For example, a group of employees from both the firm and a key supplier may meet on a regular basis to discuss and solve various problems regarding quality, delivery, pricing, product design, materials specifications, and packaging. The face-to-face feedback and free flow of advice and opinions may solve problems before they occur and also builds trust between the parties. Some organizations have even offered TQM training to their suppliers to assure raw materials that meet the firm's quality specifications. Motorola goes a step further, requiring their suppliers to prove themselves by applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.(12)

TQM and Recruitment and Selection.

HRM's responsibility in implementing TQM should extend beyond the training and development of existing employees. HRM must take the lead in attracting, retaining and motivating a high quality work force.(6) Successful recruitment and selection of employees with the proper knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes compatible with a TQM philosophy can be a driving force supporting continued program effectiveness. In recruiting for all departments and for all organizational levels, the HR department can identify people who will promote the TQM philosophy. Candidate qualities to target in recruiting include a willingness to receive new training and to expand job roles, to try new ideas and problem-solving techniques, to work patiently in teams within and across departments, and to be enough of a team player to be evaluated and rewarded on a team basis.

TQM and Performance Evaluation and Reward Structures.

Another of the fundamental influences HRM can have on the TQM process is in the development of performance evaluation and reward systems that reinforce the TQM team philosophy. These systems can be conceived of and patterned to be consistent with the fundamental tenets of a TQM culture regarding customer satisfaction.

In addition, HRM can have a great deal of influence in developing promotion policies that are consistent with the overall goals of the organization. In so doing, HRM can be instrumental in the promotion of employees who believe in and totally support the TQM philosophy, to positions of influence.

With patient senior management and much training, quality improvement teams frequently move toward self-managed teams. For these mature teams, one type of performance evaluation system that is consistent with TQM philosophy and participatory management approach is team appraisal. Such appraisals, which may include self-evaluations and peer ratings, concentrate on the acquisition of new team skills and on their successful application on the job.

The HR department has the ability to help design the evaluation system so that quality improvement teams conduct performance appraisals of one another, interview and select team members, schedule the team's work, and set performance goals. As a follow-up, peer evaluations by the team members can be reviewed by the team chairperson or an HR specialist so that the evaluations are reliable and contain no unnecessary harsh language.

In rewarding team efforts for quality improvement, HR managers can keep both management and employees informed about TQM achievements and can identify opportunities to feature outstanding accomplishments of team members who deserve recognition and rewards. Many companies publish TQM newsletters that recognize team achievements and feature customer council meetings, future training schedules, and other pertinent information.


The international focus on quality, combined with increasing costs of materials, equipment, labor and training, are driving the implementation of TQM as a competitive strategy in all types of organizations. These forces for change also provide an opportunity for an expanded role of human resource management in making TQM succeed.

Quality can no longer be viewed as the responsibility for one department. It is a company-wide activity that permeates all departments, at all levels. The key element of any quality and productivity improvement program is the employee. Consequently, employee commitment to a TQM program is essential. Because of its fundamental employee orientation, HRM should seek the responsibility for implementing TQM programs rather than risk losing their influence over the key element of TQM -- the employee.

Organizations with a solid reputation for providing high customer satisfaction have a common viewpoint: consistently taking care of the smaller duties is just as important as the larger concerns.(7) Just as they attempt to instill an overall quality philosophy across the company, HRM can emphasize consistent quality in its own operations. The day-to-day delivery of basic HR services can be just as important as developing strategic programs that may have higher visibility and supposedly greater long-term consequences.

As a guardian of such functions as recruitment and selection, training and development, performance evaluation and reward systems, the HRM professional is best able to take charge of these important functions as they relate to a TQM strategy. The full potential of the entire work force must be realized by encouraging commitment, participation, teamwork, and learning. HRM is best suited to accomplishing this by modeling these qualities.

Leading by example, the HR department could then sustain the long-term TQM process company-wide. A by-product of setting a TQM example can be the improved standing of the HR department in the eyes of other, traditionally more influential departments.(10) But, the primary end result can be total quality management as a successful competitive strategy for organizational survival.


(1.)Crosby, P. B. Quality is Free. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

(2.)Deming, W. E. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, MA: Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1986.

(3.)Fairbairns, Jill. "Plugging the Gap in Training Needs Analysis." Personnel Management (February, 1991) p. 43--45.

(4.)Feigenbaum, A. V. Total Quality Control. 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983).

(5.)Giles, Eillen and Williams, Roger. "Can the Personnel Department Survive Quality Management?" Personnel Management (April, 1991) p. 28--33.

(6.)Greene, Robert J. "A '90s Model for Performance Management." HR Magazine (April, 1991) p. 62.

(7.)Jerris, Linda A. "Quality Shines in Small Details." Personnel Journal (January, 1990) pp. 26--30.

(8.)Juran, J. M. Juran's Quality Control Handbook, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988).

(9.)Klekamp, Robert C. "Commitment to Quality Is Not Enough." SAM Advanced Management Journal (Winter, 1989) p. 13--16, 36.

(10.)McCormack, Shaun. "TQM -- Getting It Right the First Time." Training and Development (June, 1992) p. 43--46.

(11.)Norman, Carol A. And Zawacki, Robert A. "Team Appraisals-Team Approach." Personnel Journal (September, 1991) p. 101--104.

(12.)Port, Otis; Carey, John; and Kelley, Kevin. "Quality--Small and Midsize Companies Seize the Challenge." Business Week (November 30, 1992) p. 66--72.
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