In the early 1980s, a new concept entered managerial discourse: Total Quality Management (TQM). TQM was heralded by governments, major corporations and the business media as the most effective and elegant way out of the economic crisis and into the global market.
TQM claimed not to be a set of techniques but a philosophy of management (Sashkin and Kiser, 1993). Some commentators have argued that TQM is little more than an attempt to enhance management's control over labour (Delbridge et al., 1992; Sewell and Wilkinson, 1992; Parker and Slaughter, 1993; Boje and Winsor, 1993; McArdle et al., 1995).
Thus, on one hand we have the 'gurus' who argued that TQM is an effective method for improving organizational performance and on the other hand, we have its 'critics' consisting of academics who spend time questioning current and emerging management theories.
TQM also earned its share of detractors who accused it of being merely a fad. Several authors pointed out that while total quality approaches have met with considerable success, their failures, though less publicized, have been even greater (Achire, 1996; Dreyfuss, 1988; Hammonds, 1991; Krishnan et al., 1993; Roberts and Corcoran-Nantes, 1995; Schaffer, 1993; Sherwood and Hoylman, 1993; Spitzer, 1993). Others questioned TQM's conceptual soundness, its applicability and its ideological basis (Schaffer and Thomson, 1992; Dean and Bowen, 1994; Hill, 1995; Tuckman, 1995; Wilkinson et al., 1991).
Several authors have also described the confusion created by the existence of distinct definitions of, and perspectives on, quality management (Chatterjee and Yilmaz, 1993; Dean and Bowen, 1994; Wilkinson and Willmott, 1995). For example, Dean and Bowen
concluded, "Despite thousands of articles in the business and trade press, total quality remains a hazy, ambiguous concept. The difference among frameworks proposed by writers such as Deming, Juran and Crosby have no doubt contributed to this confusion" (1994: 394). However, the confusion is not only to differences in approach, but also to the lack of interest shown by academics. The attempts at differentiating schools of thought in the literature are limited to a distinction between "hard" and "soft" approaches. The former are associated with the systematic control of work using statistical tools, while the latter emphasize qualitative and human aspects (Hill, 1995; McArdle et al., 1995).
Furthermore, critics argue that practitioners fail to implement "full" or "proper" TQM, instead it is adopted in a partial fashion (Hill, 1995). Thus, does TQM work? Is TQM scientifically sound? Does TQM lie? Here there are no easy answers. Unlike the "gurus", we cannot pretend to provide a ready solution to such problematic and intractable issues.
The precise origins of TQM are difficult to pin down satisfactorily. Discussing the origins of TQM, Wilkinson and his co-authors (1998) observe that Peters and Waterman (1982) should be acknowledge as offering an early statement on the importance of quality. Others, however, would be more inclined to trace the origins of TQM back to the work of Shewhart who, in the 1940's, mentored Deming- now a recognized quality 'guru'- while they were both employed to service the US Defense Department's need for reliable statistical analysis (Halberstam, 1987). These works of Peters' and Waterman's, and Shewhart aside, there are generally acknowledged to be seven, or eight, quality 'gurus'.
However, there are different frameworks for analysis. This framework attempts to analyze the extent to which the work of each 'guru' might be considered to be either 'hard' (focused mainly upon statistical measures of performance and conformance), or 'soft' in orientation (focused more upon methods and systems of persuasion designed to encouraged managers and employers to 'commit' to new ways of working). This framework, suggested in the work of Storey (1991) for the analysis of human...
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