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Why Deming gave up on TQM

In the last few years of his life, W. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management, refused to use the acronym TQM or the phrase Total Quality Management.

He said he could count on the fingers of one hand the companies that get it and do it right. And that had nothing to do with the thousands of companies claiming they were doing it.

Deming said the problem was that language had replaced action; new words and procedures had been laid down like wallpaper over existing attitudes and ways of doing things, giving an illusion of change but the same underlying reality.

Littering your annual report, your training and your procedural manuals with ‘customer focus’ and ‘TQM’ won’t get you anywhere. It’s the transformation of the prevailing system of management you need.

Peter Senge (see below), knew Deming and was a student of his. He says this gap between what organizations say and what they actually do is prevalent and astonishing. It’s the “Your call is important to us” recorded message that denies the reality that the system is structured to make you wait, because that’s cheaper for the supplier.

The real test of integrity over illusion is if an organization says the same thing in its business plan, in its Board meetings and to its shareholders and investors as it does to its customers. But, in 90% of cases, there are two versions of reality here; one driving the business and one the veneer presented to customers: in the former, the agenda is to achieve maximum ‘share of wallet’, in other words, to take as much of the customer’s money as possible on as regular a basis as possible. The latter is the rhetoric of ‘customer first’ and customer service as lip service.

But, of course you wouldn’t do that to your customers…would you?


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