The University Record, October 30, 1995

Gaucher: Successful organizations must avoid 'death spiral'

By Jared Blank

 "Is TQM (Total Quality Management) dead? I think people have been saying that since its beginning," said Ellen J. Gaucher, senior associate director of U-M Hospitals, at the opening of the M-Quality Expo '95. Gaucher debunked a USA Today article that portended the impending death of TQM in American businesses.

Gaucher's talk focused on how to use quality principles to keep a positive momentum going in a successful organization.

"Organizations can be trapped by success," she said, citing several ways this can occur. "You begin to see complacency, contentment with performance, an internal focus, low creativity and increased bureaucracy."

Even worse, she noted, was the "death spiral" that will eventually lead to poor performance and customer relations. Gaucher said that after an organization has a successful period, they believe that they have reached the pinnacle of customer-focused service. But surveys show that customers often find companies to be cold and arrogant after they have been successful. The spiral occurs, she said, when companies deny that they have lost their focus and continue to treat customers poorly. Performance in the marketplace will drop and the company will be forced to regroup.

Gaucher suggested that empowering staff is the first step to creating a quality culture in an organization. "Empowerment is freeing your employees to fulfill customer needs," she said. "To become a better organization, shouldn't we rely on our staff's personal judgment? Studies show that companies with high employee involvement perform better over the long run," and, she adds, staff morale is improved when employees are more involved in decision-making.

But, she says, empowering staff is only one step in changing a company's organizational culture---the degree to which members of an organization share common thinking, behaviors, valued beliefs and norms and expectations.

"Members of an organization need to ask themselves what they really want to see when they come to work. They need to ask what behaviors are expected and rewarded, what does it take to fit in with the culture?"

Gaucher noted that principle-centered leaders work best to create a positive culture. "They created a common vision and a set of principles, and they work on decreasing restraining forces," she added. "They then set up teams around a small number of key processes to work to change them."

She listed "guidelines that humanize" to help managers create an environment conducive to quality improvement:

 Involve people in problems and programs affecting them.

 Refrain from blame.

 Make sure your mission, vision, objectives and tasks are clear to all.

 Focus on near- and long-term goals.

 Don't rush to judgment.

But, she cautioned, even if her advice is followed, a group cannot expect change to occur overnight. It takes a long time for an organization to fulfill its goals. Leaders, she said, need to "emphasize sustained cultural change, celebrate successes, but don't close the book afterward."