Quality Management Journal Executive Briefs - April 2001 - ASQ

Quality Management Journal Executive Briefs - April 2001


The Impact of a Performance Management Intervention on Work Processes and Operational Indicators

Marla E. Hacker, Oregon State University, Tygh J. Newton, Performance Center, and Akinyinka Akinyele, U.S. Postal Service

Often it is difficult to determine whether changes initiated by management in the name of performance improvement, actually do contribute to improvements in performance. It is difficult to objectively assess what has changed following an improvement intervention.

In this paper, Hacker, Newton, and Akinyele discuss an actual field study undertaken to improve performance through the design and installation of a performance management intervention. Using quasi-experimentation methods, they evaluate the impact of an intervention on management work processes and operational performance indicators, while concurrently demonstrating a more systematic method for analyzing management interventions.

An exploratory study was conducted to determine if elements of the management work processes could be identified that changed following an intervention that impacted performance. Several management elements were found to change, including the following:

  • Active feedback
  • Facilitative leadership
  • Orientation toward quality

These findings provide initial empirical evidence of the management work processes–namely, active feedback and leadership facilitation–that may be critically linked with performance improvement. The study finds support for these often discussed, albeit anecdotally, critical management processes.

Empowerment in Total Quality: Designing and Implementing Effective Employee Decision-Making Strategies

Zoe S. Dimitriades, University of Piraeus

With the dramatic changes in work organization that have taken place in the past decade, traditional hierarchies and functional structures are being reduced. Downsizing and delayering are common practice. At the same time, increasing emphasis is being placed on enhanced employee involvement, team decision making, and various partnership arrangements. Behind these changes is the enormous challenge of new competition arising from globalization, deregulation, and technological advances, which is forcing business organizations to be more responsive to customers' needs.

This barrage of change has resulted in a trend toward the empowerment of employees. This development means that employees, usually working in teams, are now given the responsibility and authority to make quality improvement decisions that can enhance the satisfaction of internal and external customers. This extension of traditional job roles necessitates a clear understanding of what employee empowerment actually is, and how it can be managed effectively.

In this paper Dimitriades provides a conceptual definition of empowerment and offers an implementation strategy for TQM managers. She defines empowerment as a philosophy, not a technique, whose fundamental orientation is toward organizational goal accomplishment, requiring a deliberate and phased transformation in how organizations are designed and managed. This change entails the following:

  • A clear definition of desired organizational outcomes, integrating input from key stakeholders
  • A process for building skill and capability, both on the part of employees as well as managers, for changing roles and behaviors
  • Increased organizational support in terms of appropriate cultural values and comprehensive communication strategies, adequate leadership styles and effective reward systems, ensuring enhanced levels of employee awareness of and commitment to continuous quality improvement

Dimitriades also offers recommendations for future research, including the following:

  • A valid and reliable measure of employee empowerment in a TQM environment must be developed, with sound psychometric properties.
  • Longitudinal, quantitative case studies are required to assess the level of empowerment before and after TQM implementation.
  • Predictors and outcomes of empowerment need to be established, employing multiple quantitative assessment criteria.
  • Case study evidence must be used for hypothesis generation–tested via survey research designs–in order to yield research findings generalizable to larger populations.

    Beyond Design: Implementing Effective Production Work Teams

    Joy M. Field, Boston College

Manufacturers are introducing production work teams to advance worker participation and realize quality performance gains through the generation and implementation of process and product improvement ideas. The connection between worker participation and performance is formed through the design and management of the work team implementation process. Moreover, the success of a work team is measured not only by initial quality performance gains, but also by the sustainability of these gains over time.

The two key design features that promote sustainability of quality performance improvements are substantive participation and institutionalization of work teams. Substantive, rather than consultative, participation ensures that improvement ideas are implemented and accrue to the process or product. Institutionalization promotes continuity of the work team and an increase in performance gains over time. Mandatory team membership and management involvement and support advance institutionalization by securing the role of work teams in operations and providing the resources for teams to succeed. Visible management involvement and support is especially important during the start-up period for institutionalization to take hold. However, recognizing that institutionalization occurs over time, management involvement and support is also necessary on an ongoing basis.

Design decisions create the conditions for sustainable quality gains, but the work team implementation process must be managed to reinforce substantive participation and aid institutionalization of teams. Efforts to reduce conflict and resistance to teams and promote positive team processes enables substantive participation by focusing the team on the performance improvement task. Once the team is focused on the performance improvement task, improving team effectiveness further strengthens substantive participation and institutionalization.

The actual quality performance trajectory for each team is affected by the particular characteristics of the team and its production environment. These characteristics can often be influenced by the design and management of the work team implementation process, and addressed to improve performance outcomes. For example, training in team problem solving provided skills in identifying and implementing improvement ideas for greater performance gains.

At the least, understanding how the characteristics of a work team and its production environment can either promote or inhibit sustainable performance gains helps to manage expectations about quality performance outcomes following work team implementation. But by taking a proactive approach, much can be done to design and manage the work team implementation process to obtain the potential benefits of worker participation and achieve better and faster results.

Field illustrates her propositions with a longitudinal study of four production work teams in a unionized plant. The study demonstrates how management of the work team implementation process and differences among the teams affect quality performance outcomes. The teams were followed for nearly three years, with a follow-up one year later, to observe their long-term impact.

Quality Management Training in Small to Midsized Manufacturing Firms

Chuck Ryan, The University of Southern Mississippi, Richard H. Deane, Georgia State University, and Ned P. Ellington, Georgia Institute of Technology

Family-owned businesses are crucial to the success of the U.S. economy. It is estimated that family enterprises account for some 40 percent to 60 percent of domestic gross national product, and approximately 15 percent to 59 percent of the work force. Additionally, research suggests that most of the growth in employment is generated by smaller and/or family business, and that this trend should continue.

While family businesses are strategically important in today's economy, their failure rates are remarkably high. According to research, more than 50 percent of new family-owned firms fail within their first five years, and fewer than 15 percent survive through the third generation. Most of the literature dealing with this phenomenon centers on financial or successor planning, and relatively little work has been undertaken in the area of quality management practices and performance within family-owned firms. This, despite the importance of family-owned businesses to the economy and the recent emphasis on quality management, one of the keys of which is training.

Thus, the purpose of this paper is to investigate quality management training practices in small- to medium-sized manufacturing firms. The research specifically seeks to establish whether there is a difference in the relationship between training and performance, based on ownership type (nonfamily-owned versus family-owned). This research attempts to answer several questions.

  • Do key components or factors of a quality training program exist?
  • Does training impact firm profitability?
  • Are training approaches used by family-owned businesses different from those of nonfamily-owned firms?

Overall, this study shows that quality management training in the form of three critical factors (employee technical skills and relations training; management/supervisor quality culture and tools training and management/supervisor leadership and communications training) has a significant impact on performance for small- and medium-sized firms. The higher the level of training in the three critical areas, the better the financial performance. This result suggests that businesses with lower levels of quality management training face a serious long-term competitive disadvantage relative to their counterparts with higher training levels.

Furthermore, family-owned organizations in this study generally conduct lower levels of quality management training than their family-owned counterparts. These family-owned businesses are simply not making the same investment in quality training as nonfamily-owned firms. This lower level of quality management training impedes their ability to compete with nonfamily-owned companies and, over time, may help explain why the failure rate of family-owned businesses is so high.

Comparing Quality Management Practices in the Manufacturing and Service Industries: Learning Opportunities

Hongyi Sun, City University of Hong Kong

This article records empirical research regarding the ways in which quality management practices differ between manufacturing and service industries. It also identifies the ways in which these two industries can learn from each other. The research is based on a survey conducted in Norway. The main findings are as follows:

  • Manufacturing industries exceed service industries in many aspects of quality management.
  • Service industries exceed manufacturing industries in customer consideration and satisfaction.
  • Manufacturing companies that focus solely on process and product quality should include service quality as a concern, learning service quality management and customer satisfaction techniques from leading service companies.
  • Service companies should maintain a balance between external customer satisfaction and internal productivity and profitability, learning quality assurance, management, and methods from leading manufacturing companies.
  • Manufacturing companies are more advanced in citizenship, information and analysis, and quality assurance.

This research not only reveals the differences in quality management practices defined by TQM, but also the differences in ISO 9000 certificates, the contribution of TQM to business performance, the contribution of ISO 9000 certificates to business performance, and the relationship between ISO 9000 and TQM. These findings bear useful implications for manufacturing companies, service companies, and future research.


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