As man slowly evolved from a subsistence economy to an industrial one, so the concept of singular craftsmanship was abandoned in favour of production of large identical batches. Where initially a single person ran a business, now we see the continuing specialisation of each function within that business, with functional responsibility attributed to an individual, the Supervisor or Manager.

The increasing sophistication in industry saw the creation of the inspector’s role, whose primary function in those early days was to stop rejectable product from being dispatched from the factory.
As industry grew – and with the exceptional demand that the two World Wars cast upon industry – the inspector’s role grew also, finally transcending into a fully fledged Quality Control Department, with its own Manager.

Today when we consider Quality we immediately think of the Japanese. They are considered to be the essence in the production of quality products. But it wasn’t always so. Japan’s industrial base was destroyed by the end of World War 2. The country was occupied, its consumers were penniless and out of work. Japan had nowhere to go but up. It actually employed a recovery strategy that typifies most growing nations, and there are clear transition points. In the 1950’s Japan focused on low-cost, labour intensive, low technology industries such as textiles. Meanwhile U.S. quality gurus’ Deming and Juran were teaching them lessons on process control and management, things their own countrymen felt were unimportant and time wasting. When the Japanese eventually re-entered the car manufacturing industry they applied these processes and began supplying Europe with motor cars fitted with clocks and radio’s as standard – something unheard of in mass car manufacturing in Europe at that time. And they were reliable. They also applied the continuous improvement edicts to their processes and began to produce car body parts from thinner gauge metal than their European counterparts; in itself a major achievement. Unfortunately they had not contended with one important European factor – the weather. Most of Northern Europe has a nine-month winter with snow and ice playing a major role in their weather. Roads there are salted to melt the ice, with the end result being that motorcar tyres are spraying salt water onto the underbody of the motorcar. Anyone living down by the coast will know exactly what happened next! This of course had an enormously damaging effect on the thin gauge Japanese vehicles – hence the pseudonym “Jap Scrap.” Once this had been addressed of course – and it was addressed quickly – the Japanese car market took the Europeans by storm – and were meanwhile moving in on America. The U.S. had been forewarned but did not heed the warning.
As early as 1950, Edward Deming had this to say to Japanese industrialists at a key seminar.

“Listen to me, and in five years you will be competing with the West. Keep listening, and soon the West will be demanding protection from you.”

Today – Thursday 13th November 2003 – World Quality Day – who amongst us would question that Japanese products are synonymous with quality and reliability.

So how, in South Africa today, can we begin to emulate the gigantic strides made by Japan in the last half century?

Let’s begin with a few comparisons

1. Japan has no natural resources – it has to buy all of its raw materials and have them transported to their factories in Japan. South Africa on the other hand is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of mineral content.

Round one to South Africa.

2. After the Second World War Japan was ostracised by much of the Free World because of the atrocities committed by them during the war. South Africa on the other hand has been warmly welcomed into the world community since the fall of apartheid.

Round two to South Africa.

3. Four fifths of available landmass in Japan is either mountainous terrain or under water; severely limiting the building of cities, towns, factories. South Africa has an almost limitless landmass on which to expand.

Round three to South Africa.

Yet South Africa can sell its raw materials to Japan, who can convert them into products, ship them all the way back to South Africa and – as often as not – sell them here cheaper than we can make them. How do they do that?

Simple.

They have a culture of producing a quality product as optimally as is humanly possible. In the Western world and in South Africa quality was not and is still not managed properly. The emphasis has always been on cure rather than prevention and improvement. The effect of this tendency is low productivity due to the amount of time and effort devoted to inspection testing and reworking substandard product. And why is this? Because management in the South African industrial sector simply do not place the correct emphasis on quality – they do not lead from the front but rather push from the rear. We must recognise that the organisation’s leaders – management – have the power to change the entire system by making quality improvement a cultural attribute. How can we expect our shop floor employees to adopt a cultural approach to quality if this is not driven from the top. Leadership holds the key to the door of continuous improvement. If the door is not unlocked the organisation has no chance of becoming a quality leader. None. Zero. Nux.

Oh, it may achieve ISO certification for the documentation of its processes. It may even win an award from customers. But without clear and consistent leadership, the organisation will never be a quality leader. Its management system will never be sound and efficient, and any improvement efforts will eventually be replaced by some intriguing new management fad.

Quality pioneer J.M. Juran once said:
“To my knowledge no company has attained world class quality without upper management leadership.”

I am sure many of you here have heard this anecdote before, but for those of you who haven’t there is a lesson here:

There is a belief among some scientists that Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden because of the tsetse fly. These insects carried “sleeping sickness”, and because humans were easier to bite than thick-skinned animals, Adam and Eve were thus driven from paradise. Only one animal eluded the fly’s bite – the Zebra. The fly’s eyes cannot accept the black and white pattern of the Zebra’s skin. To the tsetse, the Zebra does not exist.
South African business leaders and managers face a similar problem today. In responding to intense competition in a huge, unrelenting, unforgiving and rapidly changing world, they have been compelled to look for ways to become more competitive. Like the tsetse fly, they have eaten the easy meals first; they retrench workers, sell businesses, and demand – through fear – more from those who remain. Only when these sources run dry do they turn their attention inwardly to their organizations and the systems they lead and manage by. They begin to notice the “spoors” or trails, of inefficiencies, mistakes, customer dissatisfaction, high costs affecting customers and so forth, but they cannot detect the sources of the problems. In other words, like the tsetse fly, they cannot see the Zebras.

Workers have similar problems, having been trampled by one or more Zebras, such as recurring problems, repeated failures, and so on.

What has hit South African leaders so hard is global competition, making many of their old style leadership attributes obsolete. We have to learn the new ways and soon. One of America’s leading management experts Peter Drucker, once inspired by major turnarounds in certain American organisations wrote:

“ To start this turnaround thus requires a willingness to re-think and re-examine the company’s business theory. It requires stopping saying “we know” and instead saying “let’s ask.” And there are two sets of questions to be asked. First “who are the customers and who are the non-customers? What is value to them? What do they pay for?”
Second: “what do successful companies do that we do not? What do they not do that we know is essential? What do they assume that we know to be wrong?”

In order to pursue Drucker’s questions, we need to identify what are known as “Models of Excellence.” I have chosen a former Baldridge Quality Award Winning Organisation called Marlow Industries as it fits well into what we in South Africa call SMME’s.

We know that our Government places great emphasis on the establishment and growth of this sector of industry. Marlow Industries at this stage employed 250 people and had annual sales of approximately $24 million. In leading Marlow Industries through the transition phase, CEO Ray Marlow followed four important steps:

1. Commit to Quality – This first vital step for any CEO is to commit himself to the process of change to Systems Management.

2. Know your Company’s Systems and values – As leader you will be expe4cted to know and understand the new Management System, because you will be looked to as the driver for continuous quality improvement.

3. Participate in your Company’s Quality Process – Active participation is vital. Lead from the front. Good leaders know that customer focus is all important. Marlow Industries has a standing rule: every customer who visits Marlow meets with Ray Marlow or his Chief Operating Officer. They spend time discussing customer requirements and quality with employees, customers, distributors and anyone else that affects or is affected by Marlow Industries.

4. Integrate Quality into the Company’s Management Model – Once the CEO is committed to management by quality, understands its meanings and personally involves himself in the transition, the final step is to integrate the Quality Management System into the organization’s Business Management System. Marlow Industries did this to such an extent that their quality agenda is now the way they conduct their business. This induced them to change the name of their total Quality Management Council to Total Quality Culture Council, to reflect this broad scope. They built their quality improvement processes on clear and precise quality values. Their quality policy states: “For every product or service we provide, we will meet or exceed our customers’ expectations, without exception. Our standard performance is: “Do it right today, better tomorrow.”

Marlow’s quality pledge is each employee’s personal commitment to quality as well. It says:

“I pledge to make a constant, conscious effort to do my job right today, better tomorrow, recognising that my individual contribution is crucial to the success of Marlow Industries.”

The policy and pledge are further defined by their quality values:

• Senior executives must be the leaders

• Employees have the authority to make decisions and take actions on their own

• Honesty with customers, employees and suppliers

• Meeting customer requirements

• Quality comes from prevention

• Anticipate problems and take appropriate action before the problem happens

• Do it right the first time

• Continuous improvements towards customer satisfaction

Nothing new here is there? Most organisations have similar values. So what is the difference? The difference is that Marlow Industries LIVE BY THEM!! The company’s Management allows nothing less.

So, what is the way forward for South Africa?

In order for us to effectively move forward we have to have a strategic shift in thinking at Management level. If we are to create a shift in our culture towards quality it HAS to begin with Management. Senior Management in America, as in South Africa, resisted a systems view of their organisations. The model of excellence I used earlier as an example – Marlow Industries – recognized this in their systems model.
It is not necessarily something you can FIT INTO the way your organisation currently operates, nor is it something you can do IN ADDITION to your normal operations. It is a new and different way of leading and managing, and it must change the way you view your organisation – and your “system” – and your role in improving that system. Despite evidence that these new models work, you are going to be confronted with an enormous task of changing the culture – and people resist change. Our current way of managing is often a comfort blanket. We know it’s not effective, we know it’s not efficient, we know it does not embrace change – but we know the management style. It does not require effort on our part; it does not require us to drive it or the employees who operate within it; in other words it is easier for us to just keep doing what we’ve always done – and watch as time goes by. What is required of us as Senior Management is to become an advocate of daily continuous improvement. It requires us to communicate tirelessly on the need for change and what change can do for our organisation. It requires us to lead the quality improvement process. It requires us to understand customer’s needs and expectations; to empower everyone in our organisation to meet these needs. It requires us to gather the facts, study and analyse them. It requires us to promote process improvement; to manage productivity and quality levels of the products we produce. It requires us to keep our organisation focused by using the data collected to process our strategic thinking; to establish goals and objectives and then translate them into actions. It requires us to demand continuous improvement from our organisation and its employees. A business exists to meet customer requirements and to improve its operational performance to meet those requirements as effectively and efficiently as humanly possible (remember I said that earlier about our friends the Japanese?). We need to set ambitious goals for our organisations, we must challenge people to change, to channel their energies, knowledge and determination towards a shared vision. Until South African organisations recognise and respond to this culture change we will continue to play second best in this global world; we will not encourage the investment we so desperately need for job creation; we will never become a major industrial player outside of the African continent. The time has come for us to embrace the new thinking with a will; to break with the outdated way of doing things; to throw out the old culture and change the course of our own future; to create a new culture that is enshrined within a working quality management system.

Thank you for your time today!

Acknowledgments:

Total Quality Management 2nd Edition by

Stephen George & Arnold Weimerskitch

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