Humanistic approaches to TQM

Humanistic approaches regard the key challenge of TQM to be the creation of a quality culture in which staff use their own initiative and judgement to deliver a quality product, rather than adhering slavishly to predetermined quality specifications. For example, the leading TQM exponent Edward Deming (1986) proposes the movement is founded on three principles, two of which relate to staff rather than systems:

• Empowered employees
• Continuous improvement
• Quality improvement teams.

Humanistic approaches put greater emphasis on mechanisms which involve staff in the determination of quality specifications and continuous improvement. They therefore advocate methods such as employee suggestion schemes, quality circles, staff meetings, management by walking about and the devolution of authority to customer-facing staff. Less importance is placed on the monitoring of staff performance; indeed, Deming argues that staff that are subject to formal monitoring will not perform as well as those who feel that they are trusted to fulfill their duties without close supervision. Similarly, inter-functional coordination is still of prime importance, but this is achieved through communication, job rotation and the creation of cross-functional teams rather than formal devices such as the specification of service level agreements.

It should be stressed here that the humanistic and mechanistic approaches are not mutually exclusive; Deming’s work, for example, includes elements of both. However, certain elements of the respective approaches do conflict. The organization’s approach to the monitoring of employee performance is one such element. The mechanistic approach demands that performance standards are carefully defined and monitored by senior management, whilst the humanistic approach delegates this responsibility to the staff on the ground. It is worth noting here that the subjective nature of service quality means that service products lend themselves more easily to the humanistic approach to quality management.