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Communicating TQM to Small Groups Improves Understanding

August 1, 1993
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Related Topics: Total Quality Management, Featured Article
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Last year, Conner Peripherals Inc. in San Jose, California, introduced its quality effort with an employee video, newsletter articles and large employee meetings. It was the kind of approach that Tom Varian, vice president of communication for Organizational Dynamics Inc. in Burlington, Massachusetts, calls "hoopla." The message got out to employees that quality and customer service were goals worth pursuing, but none of the communication answered the employees' basic question: "What does this mean to me?"

Ted Cocheu, Conner's director of organizational development, says that the firm learned this through an employee survey that was designed to determine the effectiveness of its communication effort. "We learned that employees understood and supported the new direction the company was taking, but they didn't know how it would impact their individual jobs," Cocheu explains.

Questions like, "What does this mean to me in sales?" "How does this affect the engineering function?" and "What should the marketing department be aware of?" were common. Today, Conner is in the process of redesigning its communication strategy to answer some of those questions.

The first phase of that redesign is an effort to educate managers about their responsibility for translating what quality means to their employees. The second phase will be to encourage those managers to have regular meetings with their employees about what quality means at the department or function level. "Instead of hundreds of employees learning about quality in one large meeting," Cocheu says, "there will be just 20 or 30 employees in smaller meetings." This approach will allow the firm to target its quality messages to the audience. It also will allow workers to get immediate answers to their questions.

The experience at Conner Peripherals reveals the importance of relating quality to the employees' real-life concerns. It also demonstrates that the communication function must embrace the idea of continuous quality improvement, and that communication must travel in two directions. Managers can't just talk to employees about quality-they have to listen.

"If the management team wants to pursue continuous quality improvement, communication must be a closed loop not only with customers, but with employees as well," Cocheu says.

Personnel Journal, August 1993, Vol. 72, No.8, p. 48D.

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