Total Quality Management

Creating a culture of quality consciousness.

Total Quality Management (TQM) has been a buzzword in business for quite some time. The TQM concept has been around since the early 1950s but really took off when Japanese business models of the 1980s were adapted by the U.S. military and, later, private American enterprise. The TQM philosophy is to create a culture of “quality consciousness” in all aspects of a business for the purpose of improving methods, lowering costs and increasing customer satisfaction. The three main elements of TQM are Total Employee Involvement, Continuous Process Improvement and Organizational Systems Management.

Once you get all of your employees working toward the betterment of the organization, it is amazing how much change can happen—and how fast that change happens.

Most companies believe that implementing a TQM program is costly and time-consuming. While I agree that it is initially time-consuming, it does not have to be expensive.

Getting Started
AWISCO started the implementation in 1995 with a grant and some technical assistance from a local community college. The grant paid for a consultant who worked with small businesses that had a desire to implement a TQM program. When we were approached, we jumped at the opportunity because we needed a tool for transitioning from my father’s leadership to mine. What developed was a commitment from AWISCO’s senior management to go forward with the implementation of a TQM program. The local community college acted as a facilitator in making it happen.

The first thing we did was create a steering committee. In TQM theory, the steering committee defines the major business processes and is charged with selecting the TQM methods that best suit the organization. Once done, they are responsible for funding the methods, providing positive reinforcement for achieved goals and for mentoring the rest of the participants in the program. This committee was made up of four members of senior management and the consultant. We met weekly for about six months developing the program.

What AWISCO Employees Have to Say About TQM
“The TQM program makes you feel that your opinions and ideas count in the direction that the company is moving.”
– Martin Ruiz, Account Manager, Sales Team
“The TQM program gives every employee, from the warehouse order picker to senior management, a sense of empowerment and inclusion.”
– Vic Fuhrman, CIO/VP Marketing, Steering Committee
“TQM solidified the warehouse staff and made them look at goals from a team standpoint and a company standpoint.”
– Faisal Khan, Warehouse Manager, Warehouse Team Leader
“TQM is a good way to see both your personal and team evaluation, which motivates you to keep doing well and to improve.”
– Dani Epstein, Branch Manager, Long Island Division Team
“It’s great to see our ideas put into action, and also to get extra money for it!”
– Beverley St. Prix-Compton, Billing Clerk, Office Team
“The TQM meetings and bonuses motivate us to improve methods and lower costs.”
– Jason Lopez, Warehouse Staff, Warehouse Team

We started with a management guideline document. This laid out to everyone what was expected from management and held us accountable for making sure that management was on board with the program. This document was shared with all of the employees so that everyone in the organization knew about management’s responsibilities, as well as management’s commitment to making the program work. We also had a series of meetings between senior management and all employees to ensure that everyone would be on board. The next step was determining how the program would work.

Teams Create Success
The team concept was determined to be the most useful way to make the TQM program work. We saw this as the most reasonable manner of getting all employees involved in continuous improvement. AWISCO was divided into departmental teams, with full participation. It was also determined that the teams would meet on company time for one hour per month. The teams included a drivers team, an outside sales team, an office team, a warehouse team, a fill plant team and the steering committee. These teams met with the consultant for the first two or three months. This ensured that the team meetings focused on ways to improve processes and did not turn into monthly gripe sessions.

Team leaders were selected by senior management and usually were those with direct supervision over the department or process the team was responsible for. The leaders were also members of a leader team that met bi-monthly with the steering committee, reporting their activities and getting guidance on implementing ideas.

It is very important that the team meetings be productive and positive. While it is very easy to complain, it is much more difficult to address problems and offer solutions. The success of any TQM program depends greatly on the ability of the teams and the team leaders to keep the meetings focused on the continuous improvement of the organization. At AWISCO, we felt that in order to make the program successful, a rewards program had to be a part of the deal.

TQM success depends on the team’s ability to stay focused on continuous improvement.
TQM success depends on the team’s ability to stay focused on continuous improvement.

A Rewarding Experience
The rewards program has proven to be a major success. Since its inception, the program has paid out over $500,000, with most employees receiving at least $1,500 per year. Twice a year, I determine the amount of funds available for TQM bonus distribution, and the team leaders then evaluate each team and member based on a formula allocating payouts.

The initial start-up cost for the program was about $25,000. For all of this money, AWISCO has clearly benefited. From the start, the number of ideas that came out of the team meetings was amazing. The drivers came up with a better way to load and unload the trucks, saving about $50,000 per year. The office team came up with ways to save money on paper. Once we got all of the employees working toward the betterment of the organization, it was amazing how much change happened—and how fast that change happened.

Today, the program continues to thrive, with 12 teams meeting regularly. The benefits are still tangible. Recently, the warehouse team developed a plan to move the inventory around, making the high-volume items easier to pick. The outside sales team tested a wireless laptop card and agreed to give it to all of the outside salespeople. This has resulted in a 50 percent drop in calls to check price and availability. The results at AWISCO have been amazing.

Since the program began, sales have grown an average of 12 percent per year. This growth would not have happened without the hard work and dedication of all AWISCO employees. They deserve the credit for the success of the TQM program and the results that followed. I firmly believe that having the TQM program in place accelerated AWISCO’s growth and will continue to help us grow in the future.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Lloyd Robinson Meet the Author
Lloyd Robinson is president of AWISCO New York Corp., headquartered in Maspeth, New York, and on the Web at Robinson also serves as chair of GAWDA’s Young Executives.