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Quality Within the HR Function

August 1, 1993
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Total Quality Management, Featured Article
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Human resources professionals have two requirements to fulfill when their companies start chasing quality. They must ensure that:

  1. All human resources subsystems—training, communication and compensation—are aligned with the overall quality effort.
  2. The quality function is using quality principles.

Ken Levine, who's division manager for continuous improvement for Coca-Cola USA in Atlanta, interviewed 30 companies as part of a total-quality benchmark project. In this survey, he wanted to determine the various roles that HR plays in organizationwide quality efforts. Levine was astounded to learn that none of the HR departments surveyed had implemented quality strategies within the HR function. "If HR wants to be a leader in the quality movement, HR professionals have to walk the talk. They have to begin to pursue quality themselves," he explains.

According to Ed Lawler, who's a professor at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California, the quality principles that human resources must follow are:

Quality work the first time: "Scrap and rework on the shop floor," he explains, "has a counterpart in HR management." For example, if a company wants to redesign a bonus system or benefits program because employees can't understand it, this is rework. This takes time, costs money and erodes the credibility of the human resources department. By attempting to produce quality work the first time, HR professionals can begin living up to the standards that they're encouraging employees to meet.

Customer satisfaction:
The HR department exists to serve the organization. It's the function's sole purpose to understand and meet internal customers' needs. Anytime that HR puts its own needs above the needs of line managers or other workers, it has failed to provide customer satisfaction.

A comprehensive approach to improvement:
TQM may require changes in the mission, structure and management practices of the HR function. HR professionals need to be open to changes within their own departments. For example, it may behoove human resources professionals to pursue cross-training for the same reason that workers on the shop floor are being asked to learn each other's jobs. If an employee can't come to your department and get all questions answered by one person, then you aren't providing quality customer service.

Continuous improvement:
One basic tenet of TQM is that continuous improvement must be ingrained as a value in the corporate culture. A company must apply it with equal emphasis in the HR department. Training programs must become more effective as time goes on, for example, and HR specialists must be willing to learn from their mistakes.

Mutual respect and teamwork:
Teamwork is important everywhere in today's quality-driven companies, but it's absolutely necessary for HR professionals. As a staff function, HR, by design, must gather information and respond to the needs of every department in the organization. The only way to learn these needs and respond to them effectively is by working with the people in those different departments.

The HR department at Milpitas, California-based Solectron Corp. embodies the quality principles exhibited elsewhere in the organization. As a 1991 winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, Solectron managers know what it takes to create and sustain quality. For HR, this means reviewing the function's quality rating on a quarterly basis.

Every three months, according to J. William Webb, vice president of human resources, the department rates its achievements numerically in such areas as:

  • Communication
  • Staffing
  • Performance reviews
  • Overtime tracking
  • Absences.

"It isn't enough for us to know how well we're doing. We must stand up in a management meeting and publicly report our results. We have to identify any problems and explain the quality process that we'll undertake to solve those problems," Webb says.

Webb says that Solectron keeps its HR department flexible so that it can respond quickly to organizational changes. "We perform a systematic review of all HR programs to make sure that they're effective, contribute to customer satisfaction and have value-add to the business," he says. "If they don't, we do away with them. "

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

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