How to Get Your Tqm Training on Track

How to Get Your Tqm Training on Track

For small and midsize businesses, just figuring out how to learn the skills of quality management can be a daunting task.

Of the 20 million small businesses in the U.S., only a handful are practicing true Total Quality Management. A few more are somewhere on the steep learning curve that gets companies to the point that they're ready for TQM. For the rest, it's business as usual. The pioneers have discovered that it takes training, training, and more training to be a quality company. Not just formal training in a classroom, but a whole range of learning experiences, from reading books to inventing new work processes as a team.

A common belief among companies just starting to pursue quality is that it can be learned quickly. The basic principles—focus on the customer, and continuously improve your product or service—seem simple enough. Until, that is, you start trying to apply them.

"You read about the need to be patient, and after a year of trying, I can say it's true," acknowledges Charles Jett Jr., of Premix Industries, a maker of just-addwater bagged concrete. The company, based in Chesapeake, Va., has 165 employees. "Quality takes a long time to learn, and I wish we had accepted that earlier," Jett says. "It would have saved us a lot of anxiety and frustration. TQM turned out to be a much more encompassing philosophy than we thought. We thought we'd read a Deming book [management consultant W. Edwards Deming is a TQM pioneer] and maybe a book on teamwork and be done."

Lengthy preparation for the real action is common in small and midsize companies. People spend what seem like huge amounts of time reading about quality or going to training courses, only to realize they don't know much and their company hasn't really started quality management. "The TQM journey has a lot of surprises in it," says Pat Lancaster, president of Lantech, a manufacturing company of 330 employees in Louisville, Ky. Lantech makes machines that wrap large items in plastic.

"One of the surprises is the length of time it takes to actually begin," he says. "In our case it took two years." Elaine Biech, a partner in "ebb associates" of Portage, Wis., has been a TQM consultant and trainer for several yean. "The biggest problem we have is to put reins on people," she says. "They want to train everybody at once because training has been touted as the answer to all their quality problems." But the critical first step, she says, is to train the managers and supervisors thoroughly, "so that when the rest of the staff comes out of  training they won't get shut down for practicing their new skills."

Building a friendly environment for TQM—what quality consultants call a culture—is some of the hardest work they've ever done, say people who've been through it.

"I was surprised at the degree of organizational shock we had to go through," Pat Lancaster recalls. The top managers in his family-owned business had to make a commitment to change some of their deeply held views about how to run things. Wrenching as that was, it was only the first step.

"An organization that has a belief in TQM and a commitment to it is only about 10 percent of the way there," Lancaster warns. "The key is to change behaviors and overcome resistance to those changes."

But what kind of training is most likely to bring about such change? You can choose among hundreds of versions of TQM. Whether sold by a single consultant or by a large training organization, each program reflects the values and beliefs of its invontiin.

Most TQM training should cover some or all of a basic sot of skills, says Richard Wellins, senior vice president of Design Dimensions International, of Pittsburgh. DDI is one of the biggest TQM vendors, with annual sales of $60 million. Those skills, he says, fall into three areas: Leadership skills. These skills must be acquired by managers and supervisors. They must change their leadership behavior to become more receptive to ideas from others, to be coaches rather than controllers of people, and to facilitate things rather than mandate them.

Teamwork skills. TQM often involves working in teams. "Most people won't necessarily have the skills to work in teams as leaders* or participants," Wellins says. Technical skills. Sometimes called quality tools, these include dozens of methods for studying a problem and displaying the results of analysis.

"A big mistake that companies can make about TQM training is to put people into classes without first figuring out what skills they need," warns Richard Chang, of Richard Chang and Associates, Inc., a consulting firm in Irvine, Calif. "Not everyone will need the same skills. It will depend on what business processes they work on, and who their customers are."

Many people in search of a TQM consultant or training program feel that they are about to swim in shark-infested waters. After several years of seeking help, Pat Lancaster warns: "There is bad information out there and a fair number of consultants who don't have the backbone to belly up to the client's table and get straight."

Premix Industries' Charlie Jett started by looking in the Yellow Pages under "Consultants." He says, "We interviewed  them all and didn't like any of them." The local chamber of commerce directed him to the Total Quality Institute in Portsmouth, Va. It provided the course in group facilitation that Jett wanted. Jim Zawacki, owner and president of Grand Rapids Spring & Wire Products, in Grand Rapids, Mich., with 160 employees, put his early money and training effort into "getting people to understand why we're in business" and into building "trust, relationships, integrity, and communications."

He had no formal guide or mentor for this, only his own beliefs about quality management. "I really believe that TQM starts with culture," he says, "and culture is the responsibility of management. It's taken years, but today we share financial statements with our people. They know that when we talk about improving an operation from a quality standpoint, we're not trying to eliminate jobs."

Zawacki says he also spent "a lot of money" on formal technical training, starting with statistical process control (SPC). Before these courses could begin, some employees needed to learn basic math skills. Zawacki taught those skills himself. For the SPC courses, he hired community college teachers.

A high level of care for employees and a big investment in training paid off for Grand Rapids Spring & Wire, Zawacki believes. In the past five years, on-time delivery has gone from 60 percent to over 96 percent. Inventory has gone down  percent, and sales have doubled. Lantech, the stretch-wrap machine manufacturer, bought mainly big-brandname consulting and training for its TQM effort. Like Zawacki, Lantech's president, Pat Lancaster, spent a lot of time—a year, in his case—building commitment to the idea of TQM before buying training. To do this, teams of employees, including Lancaster, held many discussions about the human values in the company's vision and strategy.

Lancaster says he got his ideas about how to proceed "from the TQM salad bar" of books and theories. Then he hired a business consulting firm to assess the levels of quality awareness of Lantech's top managers, middle managers, and people on the shop floor.

"They gave us a rather grim report," he recalls. "We hired them to help us along, and we started some projects that were probably too large and grandiose." A year later, Lantech hired a second consulting firm to assess its position again. "They reported we were pretty close to where we were the first time," Lancaster admits. At that point, Lantech decided to do some in-house training because, he says, "we couldn't find training about quality that was consistent with our values."

From the president of another company Lancaster learned about the training firm Design Dimensions International. "We had a value alignment with DDI," he says. "They believed, as we did, that self-esteem boosts productivity, and that it's leadership's job to enhance selfesteem. We made an enormous investment in training, thousands of hours of training for over 300 employees."

Lantech now works with another large consulting company, Time-Based Management. Lancaster describes it as "a sort of graduate school for us." Time-Based Management provides technical training and has helped Lantech's engineering and manufacturing operations pick up their pace by encouraging employee teams to focus less on how they made decisions and more on how they carried them out.

After five years of effort and a major investment in training, TQM seems to be working at Lantech. In a typical change, a process-improvement team, made up of floor workers, managers, and engineers, redesigned the process for building semiautomatic stretch-wrapping machines. Instead of building 10 machines at a time, as before, they now produce machines as customers order them.

Very few small companies can afford to buy TQM training directly from big-name vendors, as Lantech did; they must be more inventive in seeking help with TQM. But the motivation behind their search should be the same as the motivation behind Pat Lancaster's: to seek out the avenue to TQM that best tits their companies' values and eircumstances.

The small company that approaches TQM in that spirit will find that it has plenty of options, even when its training budget is lean. Among them: Hire small or midsize consulting firms. With lower overhead than the giants, they often can offer more-attractive deals. Buy off-the-shelf training programs. Such training programs cost less than programs designed for specific customers. A middle-range option is to buy a packaged program from a supplier who can adapt it for your company, for a fee.

Form partnerships with local educational institutions. One way to enjoy the expertise of big-company consultants at small-company prices is to search out community colleges and vocational schools that will form training partnerships with small businesses. The schools license training from major training suppliers to avoid the costly and timeconsuming task of developing training programs themselves. Zenger-Miller, an international training and consulting firm based in San Jose, Calif., has been taking part in such partnerships since 1983 and now serves schools in 23 states.

In any case, what is absolutely critical is not choosing a particular path to TQM, but making the unqualified commitment to find the path that is right for you. Lantech, for example, was able to keep pressing toward TQM, despite all its false starts and disappointments, because its owners and managers knew what they wanted to achieve. "We didn't have the Japanese coming over the ocean and cleaning our clock,"

Pat Lancaster says. "No customer or competitor was pushing us. But there was something out of sync about our internal focus. The big cultural shift for us was to recognize that we are really here only to satisfy the customer."

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