HR professionals can use these tools to build continuous improvement by analyzing problems effectively and recommending change.
The advent of total quality management (TQM) in this country foreshadows great and positive change for corporations and for human resource professionals in particular. In the past 10 years, the most forward-thinking corporations in the United States began a cultural shift that will transform the way we work. With the global competitive challenge increasing daily, HR can add should play a key role in this significant change.
You may ask "What does total quality management mean to me?" Your role can be one of several. You may be a passive receiver of "someone else's" TQM effort. You may be involved in a quality-improvement project team. You may sit on one of your firm's Quality Steering Committees. Or you may have spearheaded the total quality effort in your firm and belong to the top Quality Council. Regardless of where you fit in your organization's TQM effort, as an HR professional you will be involved. And for good reason - your expertise in many areas will need to be tapped for the effort to be successful.
For example, your knowledge of variable-pay systems such as incentives, pay-for-knowledge and gain-sharing will be in demand as increased cross training and team rewards come to the forefront.
Teamwork skills and dynamics (e.g., conflict resolution, facilitation) are other needs that the organization will look to HR to fill as employees become more involved in the quality process. Though many of your current skills will support TQM's implementation, certain skills and tools are not commonly understood by HR professionals but are crucial to instilling continuous improvement as a way of organizational life. Before I elaborate on them, let me provide some definitions.
Total quality management is a system; it is a way an organization operates and includes an array of organizational initiatives that range from leadership involvement in setting and broadly communicating the vision and values to the quality assurance and customer satisfaction processes put into practice. Also inherent in the definition are how we train, reward and involve employees; how we plan for quality; and what information we analyze for trends.
The continuous-improvement process is an approach to solving problems that is used by quality-improvement teams to understand their current situation, analyze its causes and results, and recommend/evaluate improvements. It is here that the seven basic quality tools are critical. They are the basic building blocks of effective, continuous-improvement activities and include: 1. Process flow analysis. 2. Cause-effect diagram. 3. Run chart. 4. Control chart. 5. Scattergram. 6. Histogram. 7. Pareto chart.
Let's take a look at how each tool could be used in your HR function.
1. Process flow analysis – A traditional industrial engineering technique, process flow charting has high payoffs for improvement opportunities. Mapping the process often leads to reduced cycle time and cost savings, improving both the service level to the customer and profitability for the firm. The segment identifying the process is usually displayed, step by step, using symbols. For example, in the employment function, a simple flow chart begins when a vacancy request - the input to your process - is received and the internal recruiting process begins. To improve the internal recruiting process you need to see where unessential steps may be occurring. In order to do so, it may be necessary to diagram this process in more depth. For example, there are many substeps in posting the job internally. Taking the diagram to deeper levels of detail will allow more through analysis to be completed.
2. Cause-effect diagram – The cause-and-effect diagram can help resolve problems by helping you pinpoint the root cause and stop treating symptoms. Continuing with the employment example, suppose you have a concern that few internal candidates are being hired through the job-posting process. By diagraming or mapping out the process, many reasons can be found for the lack of internal transfers or promotions. Through this cause-effect identification process, action plans can now be built for changing the effect. For example, internal development plans can begin to be created to prepare employees with the skills needed for broader or different responsibilities.
3. Run chart –The run chart is an effective tool to illustrate trends and results - time is pegged on the "X" axis and frequency is illustrated on the "Y" axis.
4. Control chart - Using statistical process control charts is relatively leading edge as an HR function. Such charts could help determine whether or not your process is stable and predictable, allow you to identify common causes of variation, and clarify when the worker needs to react to an unusual or special cause. As exhibit 4 clearly shows, a special situation occurred in the third quarter of 1990. Maybe a new line of business was begun or newspaper advertising dollars were frozen. Whatever the cause, there was an unusually high number of internal job fills in this quarter. To manage the situation, recruiters probably had to alter their process to handle the increase.
5. Scattergram – Your firm may have made an assumption a long time ago that managers discouraged current employees from bidding on jobs posted. This may or may not be the case. To find out if a correlation exists, you would use the scatter diagram. Let's say you have conducted attitude surveys over the past 10 years and have drawn conclusions from that data. If your conclusions resemble those in Exhibit 5, then the higher number of employees citing management discouragement negatively corresponds to the number of employees bidding on posted jobs. This means that as one variable goes up, the other goes down.
6. Histogram – The histogram represents the distribution from the mean and, if the distribution is normal, will look like a bell curve. If it isn't, it can take many shapes to reflect the variances.
7. Pareto chart - Another tool that is commonly used to determine where time should be spent on improvement efforts is the pareto chart. It shows the categories in order, with the left side highlighting the most important problem. An analysis of completed job requisitions could easily yield this type of information.
Tools for improvement - Depending on your purpose, knowledge of the seven basic quality tools can benefit all human resource professionals. By using the employment-related examples above, I have not only given you a basic content overview but also have shown you how they can be applied in your own function. No matter what area of human resources you work in, the seven tools can be of great benefit. The more continuous improvement becomes a way of life in our country, the more important it is that human resource professionals both understand and use those quality tools.
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