Managing Conflict in the Process of Implementing Total Quality Management and Achieving Accountability in the Organization
Total Quality Management (TQM) is one of the issues that have accompanied contemporary discussions on service quality in both private and public organizations. The underlying premise in TQM is that organizations should pursue a broad combination of common objectives, particularly “continuous improvement in the quality of goods and services, responsiveness and flexibility of internal and supplier processes, and waste and cost elimination” (Kitazawa &Sarkis, 2000, p.232). However, an organization can face several conflict situations in the process of implementing TQM, as well as ensuring accountability.
This paper discusses a proactive (rather than a reactive) conflict management approach that emphasizes people-centered processes when faced with problematic situations in the process of implementing TQM and looking to ensure accountability in the organization. Inother words, this mainly focuses on the human side of organizations, which gives attention to questions of leadership, team building, commitment and motivation, among others. This paper focuses on the role of management in creating an organizational environment that fosters effective TQM (as an aspect of organizational change) and accountability. In this respect, three critical management elements are cited here: leadership and vision, strategic management andstrategic human resource management (HRM).
- Total Quality Management
TQM involves constantly improving the quality of products and services, as well as reliability. In relation to the latter, the goal is to ensure response times are shorter and more reliable throughout the chains of production and sales or the process of service provision. It also entails increasing response flexibility to the requirements of customers and remaining constantly concerned about organizational efficiency by eliminating waste, removing effort duplication and removing the overlap of responsibilities and roles (Baron &Gjerde, 1996; Medori& Steeple, 2000).
Improving service quality can be done in various ways. For example, the government of Uruguay undertook a widespread program of debureacratization in its public offices. This can be done by changing organizational structure. For example, research shows that hierarchical (vertical) structures exhibit high elements of bureaucracy while in horizontal structures, the lines of communication are lax and all-round (Medori& Steeple, 2000).
TQM principles can be applied to any type of organization in whatever context with any minor modification. These principles, thankfully, can also cut across all cultures. This is possible because there are no specific ways by which these principles are applied.
The implication in all this TQM is about change. Essentially, TQM is about making fundamental organizational management philosophies and practices, as well as improving product and service quality and the organization’s performance. However, making such changes is not easy, especially since not everyone in the organization is likely to agree or adjust to the new processes. Many organizations that have tried to implement TQM have failed. For example, while some organizations have been successful enough to produce some notable improvements in the quality of their products and/or services, the programs for quality improvement have collapsed. Such problems have been attributed to a number of reasons: disagreements about the TQM goals and implementation procedures; lack of proper attention from the upper management level (such as top executives turning attention to other priorities); employees becoming increasingly doubtful about the organization’s commitment to the TQM programs; and in some cases, the TQM programs are inconsistent with other strategic initiatives (Baron &Gjerde, 1996).
Essentially, accountability is the means for holding organizations and individuals “responsible for performance measured as objectively as possible” (Waddock, 2007, p.547). In organizations, “accountability involves a range of approaches, mechanisms and practices that organizations use to ensure their activities and outputs meet the intended goals and standards” (Lusher, 2012, p.14). The methods of ensuring accountability naturally vary one organization to another. This depends on, among other factors, the size of the organization. Nonetheless, in organizations of all sizes, accountability is meant to ensure correlation between the various factors of organizational strategy (such as goals and missions, actions and the services that the organization renders to its customers, as well as the effective and efficient utilization of available resources. From the broader organizational level, the most important factor that influences the effectiveness of an organization’s accountability mechanisms is “the extent to which the interests and concerns of clients or concerned stakeholders are incorporated in accountability mechanisms or incentive and control systems” (Ferreyra& Beard, 2007, p.273). From the point of view of individual and group performance, accountability depends on factors such as leadership caliber, organizational or work unit culture, as well as the extent to which the links between authority and responsibility are reasonable.
Indeed, organizational performance depends on a range of relational variables: the relationship between performance and reward; the level to which an organization monopolizes over certain services; the willingness and ability of the customers to exert pressure on the organization for better quality products and services, as well as greater accountability; the ability of some market segments to capture a disproportionate fraction of available goods and services; and information availability, sufficiency, validity and reliability (Waddock, 2007).
In relation to these variables, accountability becomes a process of combination of pressures in both the internal and external environments. These include internal control and coordination processes and external consumer-driven variables (like voice), as well as market-based elements that influence possibilities for exit. Voice, for example,reflects the consumers’ concern over the organization’s performance.
Strategies for increasing organizational accountability (including internal coordination and control) are interactive and reinforcing. TQM, for example, emphasizes changing the values and attitudes of the members of the organization (Lusher, 2012).
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is another issue that has emerged in the contemporary discussions of organizational accountability. It emphasizes the organization’s responsibility to the various stakeholders who one way or another depend on it. These include not only the shareholders and board of directors, but also the people in the immediate communities in which these organizations operate and other interest groups (such as human rights organizations and groups that fight for the protection of the environment), among others. CSR is not good for the stakeholders. It also ensures organizational sustainability (Ferreyra& Beard, 2007).
Ultimately, there are a numberof conflictsituations that can arise in relation to accountability. One of the ethical issues in this case involves the conflict of interests, such as the abuse of professional position for personal gain. There is also the risk of departmental favoritismwithin the organization. In many cases, the organization favors the shareholders over other stakeholders.
There are several strategies for conflict management. Not all of these are applicable ion all cases. The solution strategies to undertake depend on the circumstances, including the problems at hand and the parties involved, as well as organizational environment in relation to conflict resolution. One rule in the reactive response to conflict is to allow dialogues between all the partiesinvolved. This ensures that no party feels sidelined as this can lead to even more conflict. Proactively, there is need for leadership, which emphasizes the overall organizational vision, goals and missions. The leadership also exudes the feeling that each department and individual is important in the pursuit of these goals and objectives. This helps keep focus on what is best for the organization (not the individual and/or unit). Generally, the management should: create a flexible work environment that allows change; establish a change and conflict-of-interest policies; ensure all employees are aware of such policies and that these policies are consistently adhered to, among others (Papamarcos, et al., 2007; Gerhart, 2008).
The elements discussed below are the general elements of management that constitute a proactive conflict management work environment.
- Leadership and Vision
For an organization to produce goods and services of high quality, it needs good leadership(Krishnan, 2012). This applies across all cultures. It is however important to note that although that organizations appreciate good leadership and its results regardless of culture, what constitutes good leadership can vary from one culture to another(Papamarcos, et al., 2007; Gerhart, 2008). One argument that has arisen over the past recent years is that good leadership is transformational. In other words, leadership should have vision and direction for the organization. It should therefore energize and inspire all other members of the organization to part of the pursuit for organizational goals and objectives, which inform the organizational strategy. The organization’s growth stage determines the objectives and strategies to adopt. For example, for an organization that is still growing, a transformation leadership should be able to adopt strategies that will help avoid and/or overcome obstacles, should be concerned with the quality of their goods and services to their customers and inspire the every employee to give these goals importance and work towards achieving them. This is a mission-driven strategy. In this strategy, leadership encourages development and change unlike in rule-bound strategy where leadership insists on control and maintenance of the status quo(Papamarcos, et al., 2007; Gerhart, 2008; Krishnan, 2012).
One example of transformational management can be seen in UNDP’s assistance of Vietnam’s public sector. In this case, particular attention has been given to “strengthening policy-making and leadership capabilities of government decision-makers at the highest levels” (McGaw, 2005, cited in McGaw, 2012, p.33).
Transformational leadership involves creating desirable organizational change. The desired changes should be explicitly communicated and emphasized through the organizational vision and/or mission statements, whichshould be succinct, vivid, easy to understand and memorable and should: reconstitute and/or reconceptualize the familiar (traditional) elements of the organization; make good sense to every member of the organization about what the work environment (in relation to pursuing change) should entail, including expanding their understanding and horizons; challenge the members of the organization to act a certain way and do certain things (such as innovativeness). It is also important to remember that these vision and/or mission statements can only be realized through the contribution of others. Most importantly, the leader must be seen to believe in these statements; he/she must live these visions and missions(Krishan, 2012).
A transformational leader, according to much research over the years, possesses six main traits: “drive, the desire to lead, integrity, self-confidence, intellectual ability, and knowledge of the business” (McGaw, 2005, cited in McGaw, 2012, p.33). A transformational leader must also be willing to take risks. Change is about trying new things that have not been tried before- at least not in the organization- and one is not sure whether they will work despite having maybe worked elsewhere. This certainly involves taking risks. Still, a leader in this respect becomes the light for others to follow.
- Strategic Management
Organizations face major challenges (in both the internal and external environments). Dealing with the elements of these environments (which areinevitable) is what constitutes strategic management. It is about managing the organization in relation to the environment in which it operates. Besides, a successful business in the US, for example, cannot be a success in China if it adopts the very same strategies. Management, in this respect, determines the organizational mission and goals or purposes, draws the principal policies and/or plans towards achieving those goals, as well as the range of activities to undertake in this process. Strategic management recognizes the “interdependence of purposes or goals, policies and strategies, and organized action in the interests of stakeholders” (Cynthia, 2011, p.96). This unity and coherence of elements is what determines the ability of the organization to position itself realistically within context, create strong identity, as well as make use of its strengths. These are critical factors in the performance of organizations.
There are a number of steps to be followed as part of strategic management. The first step involves the generation of strategy based on shared vision and goals, as well as the understanding of the organization’s competitive weaknesses and strengths. The next step involves testing thegenerated strategy “in relation to the general macroeconomic and socio-political environment and against internal resources” (Schuler, 2000, p.243). Thirdly, the results are “synthesized into a coherent, understandable, acceptable, and attainable objectives and strategies” (Schuler, 2000, p.243). The final stage is the actual implementation.
Strategic planning processes either canevolve (almost naturally) or be consciously formulated. When the processes evolve, the manager must be able to make out a pattern of thought and action and provide the vision and direction to leverage these towards building strategic initiatives. Of course, the manager must be able to determine what (of the emerging pattern) is worth keeping or is desirable. The manager must be ready to uproot that which is not desirable. The challenge, however, is that what might not appear worthwhile or desirable at present might be a strategy for success in the future. The manager in deciding what to do, when to do it and how to do it must have a fine sense of judgment. For example, he/she must know when development is good or bad for the organization and therefore encourage or discourage it and when he/she should stamp out quickly a strategy that is emerging. To do this, the manager must also have good interpersonal skills so that the decisions he/she makes do not arouse resentment and therefore inhibit initiative (Cynthia, 2011; Krishnan, 2012).
There are four main approaches to strategic management: bottom-up, top-down, interactive and semi-autonomous approaches. The bottom-up approach is where organizational divisions or departments are used to determine the organization’s plans. Top-down approach is where strategy-making is in the hands of the senior executives. In the interactive approach, strategies are informed by the integration of process both at the top and the lower organizational levels. Finally, semi-autonomous approach allows strategic organizations units (such a departments) to determine their own strategic initiatives although these have to be approved at the organizational level. There can be made little or no modification. Ultimately, whatever approach one takes depends on the environment in which the organization operates, including elements of culture. For example, bottom-up approach requires that the organization strongly trusts the capabilities of the organization(Krishnan, 2012).
Managers have to improve on their strategic management abilities so that they ensure organizational effectiveness and survival, as well as employee wellbeing. In relation to employees, Cynthia (2011) argues that “mission-driven approach that is the essence of strategic management gives employees the freedom to pursue organizational missions using the most effective and efficient methods within their reach (that is innovativeness)” (p.101). However, organizational success is not just the role of management but also that of employees. As such, the employees in mission-driven organizations must also exhibit high levels of commitment. Ultimately, how much an organization is involved in strategic management depends upon a number of factors including organizational level, the size and type of organization, its area of specialization, characteristics of the employees, as well as other aspects of the internal and external operating environments (Kirca, et al., 2012; Pehrsson, 2012).
- Strategic Human Resource Management
Contemporary views on the role of HRM in organizations emphasize is a central and strategic element for ensuring effectiveness and efficiency and ultimately organizational success and survival. Therefore, an organization must manage its human resources in ways that reinforce its objectives and missions, and accompanying strategies.
There are several issue associated with HRM: “organizational structure and culture, personnel selection and placement, training and development, job design and performance appraisal among others” (McGaw, 2012, p.33). Strategic HRM involves four major elements: use of planning; “systematic approach to the development and use of personnel techniques based on an HRM policy and philosophy; strong relationships between corporate strategy and HRM activities” (Kiessling& Harvey, 2005, p.27); and an organizational conviction that the employees constitute a strategic resource by which to achieve competitive advantage.
Although, like strategic management, strategic HRM management is necessary for all companies across regardless of culture, the actual practices that accompany it may vary from one culture to another. According to Schuler(2000), in the 1990s, the most successful strategic HRM practices were found in Japanese companies. They consistently out-performed companies in the same industries in the western countries. One of the biggest strengths of Japanese companies in this respect was their ability to modify their HRM practices and adapt with the prevailing circumstances in the local context. This was the ability to create a vital link between operating environments and HRM strategy. Over the years, Japanese companies have changed their HRM practices. In all this, the lesson is that strategic HRM must take into consideration the time and prevailing circumstances. In other words, organization should focus on adaptation and not imitationwhen adopting new HRM strategies.
In recent years, issue that has dominantly accompanied the debate on HRM is that of organizational culture. Hofstedeand Bond (cited in Schuler, 2000) defines organizational culture as the “collective programming of the mind which disguises the members of one category of people from those of another” (p.21). Today, many scholars and researchers accept the idea that national and organizational cultures significantly impact on the organizational structure and how the organization functions, as well as its performance and problems. This view stems from the establishedmanagement notions of strategy, structure, control and strategy.
In other words, the essence of organizational culture are shared values. When the management articulatesclearly positive values (and which are widely shared within the organization), the organizational culture is “robust, effective, and lasting, and a distinctive psychological atmosphere pervades the whole organization” (Papamarcos, et al., 2007, p.258). Employees exhibit the features that define organizational missions and ethos. As part of the organizational culture, the management can communicate dedication to outstanding service, perseverance when faced with adversity, openness and trust and commitment to innovation, among others.
Many organizations, unfortunately, do not possess these qualities. Most public organizations, for example, are often negative and fragmented in relation to cultures. In other words, positive values are only found in small isolated cliques (such as departments) within the general work environment, which remains uncommitted prone to systemic corruption. Moreover, the lower organizational levels are alienated and lack commitment. These organizations tend to lack effectiveness and in many cases experience performance degeneration.
Conversely, most organizations that perform well have been found tooperate a synergistic culture. This is demonstrated in “organization-wide consensus about positive values and attitudes” (Schuler, 2000, p.242), implying a widespread commitment to organizational missions and functioning. This requires an empowered, effective and transformational leadership. In such cases, the systems in the organization are highly developed and more appropriate. Organizations that display synergistic cultures often exhibit high effectiveness and efficiency, as well as steady cultural and performance regeneration.
However, turning a fragments culture into one that is synergistic is not an easy one. In fact, it is both difficult and time-consuming. For it to be possible, an organization needs not only good leadership, but also resources, integrity and commitment, among other factors. This will involve establishing an organizational culture over a long period. Without the appropriate organizational culture, most of the management issues discussed here will not succeed. Culture in many ways is the basis for organizational reform. It can ensure that organizational reform takes hold and is sustainable or can lead to it withering and dying (.
Indeed, managers and leaders in many organizations face many challenges of great magnitude in relation to organizational culture. However, the managers must remain focused on the ultimate benefits of such a change. Therefore, they should not fear taking such risks because the time and energy invested in it will be repaid.
This paper has examined threecriticalmanagement elementsthat can constitute a proactive management of conflict, in this case in relationto TQM and accountability: leadership and vision; strategic management and strategic human resource management.
As this paper implies, one of the problems related with these elements of management is poor conceptualization. The second problem is the assumption that once an organization takes a strategy then the benefits will be automatic. As it were, most organizations only try to imitate what others have done and enjoyed success. They forget that most- if not all- aspects of management are determined by the operatingcontext. For example, while top quality management is necessary for all organizations, the activities taken must be adapted to fit with the prevailing internal and external environments. Focusing on contextual factors before taking action is an important part of conflict management. Besides, one of the issues that face TQM, for example, is the conflict between the programs and the initiative process already going on in the organization.
Ultimately, achieving success with the managerial elements above is only possible under good leadership. This involves clear articulation of organizational goals and missions throughout the organization. These must be clear and memorable. They must be expressed via mission and/or vision statements. Most importantly, though, a good leader becomes an example for others to follow. For example, a good organizational manager, in leading others towards a particular organizational culture, has to live the culture. He/she must prove to other members of the organization that he/she believes in the philosophy and the organization’sway of doing things.
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