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Quality and Total Quality

Building a Culture of Total Quality

Building a Culture of Total Quality

Total Quality management or TQM is a holistic approach in which quality is treated as extremely important by all individual at all levels. But creating a positive climate in which quality is taken seriously across an entire organization takes considerable hard work as well as lots of time and commitment. For an organization to be successful in this effort leadership is not just important but is the most critical factor. The leaders in any effort to introduce TQM or to make it work well therefore have very different roles to perform. Instead of expecting employees to report performance to them, leaders now spend the majority of their time in a support or coaching role where team performance becomes all important and it’s all about pulling together to remove any barriers that prevent the organization from meeting customer needs. In other words, this is a shift of culture, or the way things are generally done or expected to be done across the enterprise.

An organizational culture is typically most significantly shaped by the following elements:

  • The enterprise vision and strategic goals
  • The Organization’s values
  • Cultural Role Models
  • Organizational customs and practices
  • The organizational communication system

A quality culture therefore has to recognize each one of the above elements and feature strongly in all of them. Hence the culture has to be conducive to the establishment a continuous improvement and Total Quality Mind-set. 

Those organizations which can successfully develop and maintain a total quality culture will usually make considerable efforts to ensure that new and positive approaches which support the initiative are taken in all of the following areas:

  • Leadership (which includes not only how leaders behave but also the Vision, Mission and values of the enterprise)
  • Strategic Planning (and the extent to which the pursuit of Total Quality is built into it)
  • Customer Focus (or the extent to which the customer’s voice and quality needs are continually heard and acted upon)
  • Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management (or how effective the organizational metrics are to measure quality)
  • Workforce Focus (mainly focused on individual and team alignment and collaboration to ensure Total Quality is delivered across processes)
  • Operations Focus (concerned essentially with quality of execution and follow through)
  • Results (which concerns itself with measuring tangible gains in quality or better results for customers and the organization).

One way in which many organizations choose to adapt an existing culture to meet the above requirements is to use a total quality management framework or assessment model. There are several now available in different parts of the world. The Baldridge framework, which applies largely to US companies, for example, provides guidance on creating an optimal culture in all seven of the above categories and awards prizes every year to organizations that are most effective in their efforts (see for more information here).

In the final analysis, building a TQM culture cannot be done in a “cookie-cutter” kind of way, and each organization will have to determine how ready it is to undertake this often long and difficult journey and where it therefore best needs to invest its early efforts. However, the culture of the enterprise must be open and willing to undertake the change and this means that a focus on what leaders spend their time talking about is extremely important at the earliest possible stage.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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