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The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0954-478X.htm

TQM: an act of balance between
contradictions

TQM: balance
between
contradictions

Roland Harnesk
Division of Quality and Environmental Management and Department of Health ˚
˚
Science, Lulea University of Technology, Lulea, Sweden, and

531

Lena Abrahamsson
˚
Department of Human Work Sciences, Lulea University of Technology, ˚
Lulea, Sweden
Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the discussion of organisation and management by uncovering some embedded contradictions in total quality management (TQM). Design/methodology/approach – Based on discussions of leadership, TQM and the demands of modern working life, three examples of embedded contradictions that organisations can be confronted with have been discussed: collectivism versus individualism, manipulation versus empowerment and standardization versus innovative learning.

Findings – One conclusion from this paper is that organisations, in a matter of complex navigation, need to find balance between these contradictions, something that can be a significant problem for many leaders and often seems to be handled in an instrumental manner. Originality/value – Although these contradictions are a growing concern in TQM research, they are seldom discussed in management literature, and therefore need to be addressed. Keywords Total quality management, Leadership, Quality management techniques Paper type Conceptual paper

Introduction
During the 1990s and 2000s many companies and organisations in the Nordic countries have worked with extensive organisational changes towards lean production, process organisation, customer focus and quality. This has given changed, and often contradicting, demands and expectations on leadership. Some of the contradicting demands come from the set of problems arising in the meeting between function and ¨

process (Ellstrom and Kock, 2003). Of course such tensions can also be found in “traditional organisations”, but are more accentuated in the lean process-oriented and team-based modern organisations. Moreover, some parts of the problems come from the modern management models themselves used by the companies and organisations in order to improve their performance. The models can have “hidden” contradictions in form of ambiguous strategies and discourses. The organisations and leaders therefore need to prioritise, balance and navigate to keep their business running. This paper discusses three examples of such contradictions embedded within the total quality management (TQM) concept: “collectivism versus individualism”, “manipulation versus empowerment” and “standardization versus innovative learning”. These contradictions are rarely discussed in popular management literature and often overseen in organisational praxis, perhaps due to a sometimes uncritical use of modern management models. This complex picture is however of growing concern in TQM research and related research fields. The purpose of this conceptual paper is to

The TQM Magazine
Vol. 19 No. 6, 2007
pp. 531-540
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0954-478X
DOI 10.1108/09544780710828395

TQM
19,6

contribute to a further discussion on the use of TQM in organizations and its implications for leaders. The discussion of three examples of embedded contradictions in TQM does not only concern TQM, it could also provide for fruitful debate of other management concepts and models as well.

532

Management concepts and models
TQM is one of the numerous forms of management models or concepts that emerged and took form during the 1980s and 1990s, maybe even the most commonly used concept during this period. Røvik (2000) argues that a management concept is not only a toolkit for “trouble shooting” and improving organisation efficiency, but can also be seen as a symbol giving the organisations higher credibility. He describes the...
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