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January 2001
Volume 8 • Number 1

Contents

An Empirical Study of the Posturing-Implementation Gap in Quality Management

Existing studies show that top management commitment to quality is a major factor in determining the success of a company’s quality management program. Many of these studies measure the commitment and success of a company’s quality management programs using information from the company’s own managers. This raises an important research question: Do managers make accurate statements about their commitment to quality and the organization’s emphasis on quality? If not, then the conclusions drawn from existing studies that relied on these statements will be inaccurate. The aim of this study is to answer that research question using the textual data in annual reports and external measures of organizational emphasis on quality.

Annual reports are a key communication vehicle used by senior managers to articulate important matters of the firm, such as their commitment to quality and to its stakeholders. In this study, the textual content of 100 randomly selected annual reports of firms listed in Fortune’s 1988 list of “America’s Most Admired Corporations” was analyzed to measure their emphasis on quality. This measure was then compared against external measures of each organization’s emphasis on quality. The strong positive relationship between senior management’s annual report emphasis on quality and external measures indicates that senior management’s assertions about organizational commitment to quality appear accurate.

Key words: annual reports, commitment to quality, content analysis, emphasis on quality, implementation of quality programs

by Michael D. Michalisin, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Gregory P. White, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

INTRODUCTION

Senior management teams, comprising managers with titles of vice president or higher, are responsible for formulating and implementing the firm’s strategies, including those related to quality (Hitt, Ireland, and Hoskisson 1999; Homburg, Krohmer, and Workman 1999). The power to control the direction and performance of the firm probably makes senior management teams the most important and influential ones in the firm (Smith et al. 1994), and is a key reason why senior management teams’ commitment to quality is considered critical to the success of quality management programs (Powell 1995).

Anecdotal evidence (for example, Juran 1974), case studies (Leonard and Sasser 1982), and survey research (for example, Flynn, Schroeder, and Sakakibara 1995) tend to support the importance of senior management teams’ commitment to quality. The problem is that the data used to draw this conclusion come from each sample firm’s own senior management teams. In other words, the researchers asked senior management teams both if the firm was committed to quality and if the firm’s quality management program was successful. Clearly, firm managers may be either biased or misinformed, and thus could make statements about the organization’s commitment to quality and its quality performance that are more positive than real. Kolesar (1995) provides compelling anecdotal evidence from high-profile companies within the TQM movement to show this problem does, in fact, exist, which he labels the “posturing-implementation gap” (p. 199).

These allegations should raise serious concern among researchers and practitioners. For researchers, the bulk of the quality management research relies on data from company managers. If managers are not knowledgeable about the firm’s quality programs or if they feel compelled to present an image about the firm’s quality that is more positive than real, then the research conclusions drawn from those data will be inaccurate. Practitioners relying on these inaccurate statements to design their own quality management programs or to replicate (what they believe to be) best industry practices will be misled in their efforts.

The purpose of this study is to empirically test the posturing-implementation gap, abbreviated as the PI gap. The authors content-analyzed the annual report text (letter to the shareholders, company report, and management discussion analysis sections) of 100 firms randomly selected from among those Fortune 500 and Service 500 firms that were listed in Fortune’s 1988 list of “America’s Most Admired Corporations.” There are three reasons why annual report text was used to measure a senior management team’s “posturing” about the firm’s commitment to quality. First, annual reports are a key public communication vehicle between a firm’s senior management team and its stakeholders. Second, CEOs are ultimately responsible for what is said in annual reports and thus have final say as to their contents (D’Aveni and MacMillan 1990). Third, annual report text information is outside the scope of the independent auditors’ main responsibilities (Konrath 1999; Whittington and Pany 1998), which gives senior management teams significant freedom in making assertions about the firm’s commitment to quality. In sum, given (1) the high public visibility of annual report text, (2) its use as a public communication vehicle, and (3) senior management teams’ freedom to determine annual report text content, annual report text is a useful data source for examining senior management teams’ posturing about the company’s commitment to quality. Then, the results of the posturing analysis were regressed against well-known external measures of the company’s emphasis on quality to determine the direction and significance of the PI relationship, in the presence of potent control variables. The next section discusses the theory and empirical findings of the importance of top management commitment to quality management program success, as a prelude to why the PI gap may exist.