Boje, David M & Robert D. Winsor (1993). The resurrection of Taylorism: Total quality management's hidden agenda. Journal of Organizational Change Management. Vol. 6 (4): 57-70.

Note: This is a pre-publication draft - please consult JOCM for the printed version.

Total quality management (TQM) has been universally accepted because of its ability to re-rationalize the need for modernist devices of production while posing as a method for facilitating worker empowerment. TQM has been explicitly positioned as an essential element for the survival of the US' manufacturing sector and implicitly suggested as the only alternative to the exportation of manufacturing and thus the super-exploitation of Third World workers. As a result of these efforts, TQM has become the sole grand narrative within the environment of production. TQM does not exist as a conspiracy to de-humanize the worker but merely as a program where the interests of the workers are subjugated or trivialized in relation to what Lyotard (1984) calls the "performativity" requirements of the firm. TQM seeks to perfect control systems that produce and enforce uniformity within the products, parts, workers, suppliers, and the overall system of production. The problem is that a majority of this control, in line with Taylor's (1911) principles, is directed toward workers' bodies, souls, and spirits.


Total quality management (TQM) has become a "new world order" organizational role model for both manufacturing and service concerns. Yet the extraordinary dominance achieved by the TQM narrative provides, we believe, a conspicuous indication that the recent announcements regarding the "death of the modernist era" (Havel, 1992) of production are blatantly premature. While various authors have studied the TQM "phenomenon" from numerous aspects, it is the goal of this article to examine this issue from a sceptical postmodern perspective (Rosenau, 1992) and to unmask the rhetoric which serves to camouflage what we believe to be the neo-modernist ideas and practices embodied in the Total Quality Management project.

Although postmodernist thought has finally permeated the seemingly impenetrable barrier surrounding organizational studies (Boje, 1993; Clegg, 1990; Cooper and Burrell, 1988), it has yet to make an impact on the orthodoxy of actual business practice (Steingard and Fitzgibbons, 1993). We assume the reason for this failure is that modernist devices such as total quality management have been adeptly shrouded in the new labels and symbolism of the postmodern discourse (see Drucker, 1992, p. 94, for example) while deepening their entrenchment in the oppressive routines of the past. While TQM masquerades under a costume of worker development, involvement, and empowerment, its hidden character is revealed by the patterns of control which are deliberately woven into the fabric of human existence through its process of rational, "concurrent" engineering. These efforts have served to give a new vitality and respectability to the practice of Taylorism by repackaging it in the reformulated lexicon of a national 'progress through quality' movement.

The thesis of this article is that as an economic phenomenon, total quality management has been positioned as a carefully engineered set of technological Process modifications which purport to lead to enhanced levels of product quality or lower costs and thereby provide the ability to achieve and sustain a global competitive advantage. To achieve these spoils, however, TQM directly and covertly alters the values, culture, and mind-sets within an organization (Bailey et al., 1993). As a result, and parallel to these technological modifications, TQM establishes a carefully integrated programme of social and psychological engineering which is critical to the "successful" implementation of TQM and which has a significant impact on the behaviour and consciousness of both managers and workers.

Yet this manipulation of the social environment of business is typically portrayed in a most positive, rational, and even scientific light, as TQM has been promoted under the premiss that it creates an environment which is less rigid and controlling than that which is found within "old world order" production processes. As a result, there exists today the illusion that "progression" toward the goal of total quality management is improving the plight of the worker in addition to providing a mechanism whereby we can overtake the Japanese in the quest for dominance in the "new world order" of global competition. Yet, numerous American firms are now abandoning billions of dollars of investment in TQM, quality circles, and other "Japanese management" efforts because they have proved to be inappropriate (Naj, 1993). While it is often suggested that these failures are the result of improper implementation efforts, we believe that the core cause is TQM's foundation on the same tired manipulation and productivity agendas which fill the diary of modernist business history.

This article represents an effort to correct these common misperceptions by demonstrating that the hidden agenda of total quality management is to create uniformity everywhere, not only in the production system and in the human culture of the organization, but also externally in the behaviour of suppliers, customers, and the educational system which supplies employees and consumers. To do this we will explore several of the key components of the total quality management programme and deconstruct the social and psychological consequences of each.


To gain a proper understanding of the quality movement in Western nations, it is critical to place this movement within the context of accepted conceptualizations of its origins. In searching for the true ancestry of total quality management, four competing chronologies emerge.


Total quality management is the "breakthrough" invention of W. Edwards Deming, who, beginning in 1950, educated Japanese companies in quality control. This transfer of knowledge allowed Japan to rehabilitate its faltering post-war economy and eventually become a model of production techniques for all other countries. Also central to this story are the contributions of Joseph Juran, Genichi Taguchi, and Armand Feigenbaum.


Eiji Toyota journeyed to the United States in 1950 to visit Ford's River Rouge juggernaut of American productive might. Toyota studied the plant for three months, and took the principal concepts of highly integrated production back to Japan where he incorporated these ideas into Toyota, making adaptations for the differences in Japanese culture as necessary (Womack et al, 1990). Two decades prior to this, in 1929, Eiji Toyota's uncle (Kilichiro Toyota) visited Ford plants, taking information back to what was then known as Toyota Automatic Loom Works. The loom works evolved into automobile production during the Korean War effort by obtaining a contract to repair US army trucks and eventually coming to build their own vehicles.


Shotaro Kamiya, in My Life with Toyota (1976), discloses that he worked for General Motors of Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. He brought his knowledge of GM's management practices to the Toyota Automatic Loom Works. Kamiya also patterned Toyota Motor's sales division after GM of Japan's (Suzuki, 1991, p. 279).


As Japan industrialized in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Western capitalism was imported. The new Japanese capitalists were demonstrating that they cared more for profit than for workers. Members of the owner-families studied at Cambridge University and implemented capitalism by pushing love of country, respect for family, and loyalty to Emperor in order to adapt Western capitalism to Japanese culture. Furthermore, immediately following the publication of Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management in the USA in 1911, 1.5 million copies were translated and distributed throughout Japan (Maurice, 1993).

As a result of this adoption of "Victorian Capitalism" (Mead, 1991), Japanese capitalists, fearing a backlash from Marxist, pro-union, and Christian factions, felt the need to construct a system which camouflaged the consequences of their efforts and would thus reduce the danger of unfavourable factory legislation (Hirschmeier and Yui, 1975).

In addition, before lifelong employment, firms in Japan were poaching each other's skilled and reliable workers. Males in particular had 200 per cent turnover rates. Instead of company loyalty, male workers were loyal to their labour bosses. In order to make the firms more profitable and to allay fears of capitalist profiteering, company loyalty had to be cultivated in ways which would wipe out all vestiges of individual rights. The tactics included:

* deposit a portion of worker salary into long-term retirement accounts;

* develop apprenticeship training programmes;

* develop festivals and celebrations;

* change the school programme to promote factory loyalty and to raise the efficiency of workers;

* provide dorm housing, factory stores, and factory medical care;

* begin to educate the workers' children in proper work attitudes, including loyalty to the firm.

These changes, widespread by the 1920s, were purposely designed to invoke the Samurai tradition of constant learning, training and the village tradition of mutual help. The strategy was to internalize the labour market into the firm in order to achieve higher levels of performance. The transaction costs of internalizing labour markets was thus lowered (Suzuki, 1991).

After internalizing the labour market, the next step was to adapt "MUGA", which was "a self-effacing contentment in serving others, becoming a tiny cog in the whole which was the heavenly entity (nation, family), receiving and passing on, and answering to the expectations and playing one's role with a smile" (Hirschmeier and Yui, 1975, p. 206). In other words, "Smiling Robots". According to Hirschmeier and Yui, the Taylor system was introduced along with a campaign to promote mental and spiritual attitudes at work by 1920 (p. 209).

The point of discussing these four stories is to suggest that the heritage of the total quality management crusade is more diverse than is commonly perceived. It appears plausible that Story 1 (which dominates TQM folklore) is simply a myth which has been cultivated in order to conciliate the West's wounded pride as their manufacturing might became eclipsed. Stories 2, 3 and 4 point to the roots of TQM as directly grounded in Japan's need to rationalize their role within the context of Western economic dominance. TQM is probably a melange of these origins, yet has become, under modernism, a rhetorical inversion of Taylor's basic principles and the "Victorian" methods of production which were implemented throughout Japan in the early decades of this century.


In uncovering the hidden agenda of these methods, it is interesting to compare contemporary accounts of total quality management programmes with the original principles of scientific management, which TQM claims to repudiate. According to Frederick Taylor (1911), the four elements of scientific management are:

(1) The proper design of the work tasks such that the absolute maximum amount of work can be extracted from a given labourer (using time and motion studies);

(2) The selection of the proper workers (finding workers what are highly motivated and controllable);

(3) The "inducement" of workers into participating in the system (getting workers to internalize their rationalization for the system); and,

(4) The training and controlling of workers, with the concomitant use of surveillance and subversion to derail the workers' "natural" tendency towards sabotage, conspiracy, and "systematic soldiering" concealing from management the speed at which work can actually be done).


One major device employed under the banner of total quality management is known as continuous process improvement, or Kaizen. Typically, these methods have been praised for their ability to allow workers greater freedom in influencing the conditions under which they work. Toyota's public relations discourse, for example, claims that their methods enable employees to exercise more discretion to plan their tasks and increase control over their own jobs. Japanese production methods have also been characterized as a progressive departure from scientific management systems. The net result of these misrepresentations has been that the general public has been deluded into believing that TQM results in increased employee empowerment and an alternative to rigorously Taylorized work tasks.

Yet, despite these utopian characterizations, it is obvious that the concept of total quality management in no way deprecates the influence of Taylorism or scientific management in production systems (Boje, 1993; Hetrick and Boje, 1992; Winsor, 1993). Because the Kaizen system of "continual improvement" requires a programme of standards which are measurable and reproducible, work tasks become meticulously regulated and enforced in a manner which is indistinguishable from scientific management (see Merkle, 1980). The Kaizen system, in fact, represents a fanatical dedication to the meticulous execution of tasks in exactly the manner prescribed by management. These assembly tasks have been subjected to extensive time and motion studies, and the results are "standardized work sheets" where "transferable work components" are defined and assigned standard "cycle-times" for execution.

Even champions of the TQM approach do not bother to conceal the Tayloristic content of their efforts. One plant using the TQM system is described as implementing "an intensely structured system of continuous improvement", where management is "obsessive" about adherence to standardized work procedures (Adler, 1993, pp. 103-104). Another example is Imai's (1986, pp. 30-31) description of the Nissan Motor Plant:

At the Tochigi plant, efforts in [reducing work time] included employing the work-factor method and standardizing virtually every motion workers made in performing their tasks...At the same time, management tells the workers that the SOP [standard operating procedure] is an absolute standard to which they should strictly conform until it is improved.

According to Imai, the labour savings accomplished by these time-and-motion studies can then be used to increase the number of tasks the worker is responsible for. One example provided (Imai, 1986, p. 111) is a worker seated at a sewing machine. By eliminating "wasted" motions and pauses between each operation, and by forcing the worker to stand, each worker became capable of tending a dozen such machines simultaneously. In the words of Imai, "Such multiple job assignments are possible because management has succeeded in changing workers' behavior." Clearly, TQM is no less a methodology of personal control than Taylorism, but has, incredibly, been extolled for its ability to indoctrinate workers into a rhythm of self-surveillance and self-control under the rubric of "returning control back to the workers".

Although it has been noted that TQM employs methods which are primarily Tayloristic in content (Boje, 1993; Winsor, 1993), some advocates now seem to be applauding this equivalence. TQM devices are even referred to by one supporter as "an innovative form of Taylor's time and motion regimentation on the factory floor not only to create world-class productivity and quality but also to increase worker motivation and satisfaction" (Adler, 1993, p. 97). Another work on quality management methods (Harmon and Peterson, 1990, p. 80) suggests that, despite TQM's numerous "shining examples of achievement in productivity improvement", managers and production engineers should continue scientific management efforts because "many opportunities still abound for improving these areas".


It is a further misconception that total quality management results in the design of tasks by the workers themselves. Often detailed task specifications come directly from management, and, once they are put in place, workers are then encouraged to make suggestions for "improvement" (Parker and Slaughter, 1988). Although many descriptions of TQM suggest that team members themselves hold the stop-watches and time one another's tasks, these behaviours are merely encouraged in an effort to increase the pace of work while fostering the illusion that workers are in control of the process of work design. At the same time, however, the real "rhythm" or pace of work forever remains outside the workers' control (Coriot, 1980).

As should be evident, the Kaizen system of quality improvement exemplifies a new level in the application and refinement of Frederick Taylor's "scientific management" principles. We seem to be preoccupied by proposing new recipes and new control systems in an effort to erase the unfortunate consequences of our previous recipes and control systems (Havel, 1992). Yet these "new" systems are merely repackaged versions of the same old entities. As Hawes (1992, p. 39) has noted, Taylorism has left such an indelible mark on how management is conceptualized that "thinking in any other ways appears to be unthinkable". Joseph Juran, one of the gurus of quality, believes that the Taylor system should be replaced with "self-control, self-inspection, self-supervision" (Brocka and Brocka, 1992, p. 83). Yet this "refinement" of scientific management represents, in actuality, an innovative effort to solicit workers' support in "Taylorizing" their own jobs (Levidow, 1990; Parker and Slaughter, 1990).

The irony of this process is that workers, rather than resisting this new self-imposed form of scientific management, are welcoming it. As one manager at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) candidly observed, "They understood the technique because it had been done to them for years, and they liked the idea because now they had a chance to do it for themselves" (cited from Adler, 1993, p. 104). In this bizarre manner, employees are seduced into Taylorizing their own jobs, with the end result being savings for the company at the expense of workers.


One method by which this self-Taylorization is accomplished is known as the "teamwork" concept. Team assembly has been widely heralded as an advanced method of facilitating both employee participation and worker skill enrichment in contemporary corporations. According to the rubric of TQM, team assembly not only represents a more effective method of manufacturing, but also expedites the implantation of "team spirit" and enthusiasm into workers in order to cultivate corporate loyalty and a shared identity.


Beyond this sanguine portrayal, however, lies the real reason why management finds the team concept so alluring. Simply stated, it has been found that the demands for consensus and conformity among one's peers provide a more compelling method of worker control than coercion from managerial levels. The success of the TQM system, in fact, is highly dependent on a social organization where workers are made to feel a sense of obligation to their co-workers and thus to the enterprise as a whole (Turnbull, 1986). This peer pressure means that surveillance and influence (Foucault, 1979) are executed by one's fellow "team members" rather than by a supervisory or hierarchical control mechanism.


In traditional forms of hierarchical control, each level of authority observes the one below it. The concept of teams revises this format so that members observe others at the same level, thereby creating an environment of hyper-awareness regarding peer behaviour and attitude. This form of panoptic control (Foucault, 1979) is viewed as being far more immune to resistance than hierarchical mechanisms, as it serves to eliminate a focal point of authority (Hetrick and Boje, 1992).

In team assembly, for example, all defects become traceable to their source (Coriot, 1980), a fact which in large part enables the concept of "statistical quality control" to reduce the variation in output from each subassembly. But this fact also functions as a further mechanism of panoptic observation and thus control, as workers' mistakes as well as their rate of work are made evident to other group members and to management.


The panoptic mechanism of team peer-pressure is also facilitated by overt displays of individual worker performance and errors. in Japanese plants, the "andon" board perpetually displays the scheduled production, the actual production, and the worker's actual efficiency rating for all to see (Boje, 1993) This board also uses flashing lights and chimes, buzzers or sirens to alert everyone when an operator encounters difficulty or has trouble working at the rate demanded by the assembly line (Parker and Slaughter, 1990). At other plants employing the TQM approach, records of absences, with corresponding colour codes for vacation, emergency, or unexcused, are displayed prominently on the bulletin board outside each team room (Parker and Slaughter, 1988).


Total quality management has also been lauded for its dedication towards the re-skilling of worker tasks, known alternatively as "job enrichment". Whereas multi-skilling has been championed as a method which leads to employee empowerment, this device in fact only allows greater worker interchangeability on the assembly line. In this way, a system of "co-operative recovery" (Harmon and Peterson, 1990, p. 93) can be employed to balance an assembly line, so that workers who finish their operation before the cycle time has elapsed can help out their slower co-workers. This method overcomes the traditional shortcomings of the regulated pace of the assembly line by eliminating every possible rest period from the workers' programme of tasks (Parker and Slaughter, 1988). These lines are then often deliberately understaffed or accelerated so that team members are forced to work harder and thereby exert pressure upon fellow employees to minimize absenteeism, as any team member's absence creates a very unpleasant environment for the remaining workers, and thus builds resentment towards the absentee (Coriot, 1980; Fucini and Fucini, 1990).

In this way, and in the words of TQM advocates, "operators inclined to do less than their natural ability permits are disciplined by the group. On the other [hand], the team organization fosters a game/sporting spirit that causes operators to routinely enjoy working at a faster-than-normal pace" (Harmon and Peterson, 1990, p. 95). This "empowerment" thus enhances self-regulation, and results in large gains in output per worker (Coriot, 1980). In this manner, TQM "empowerment" methods further cultivate worker inducement and control at a peer level and thus legitimize managerial power under the guise of autonomous teamwork and skill development.

Empowerment rhetoric in TQM promises that workers will be granted control of the work process and that this process control necessitates the acquisition of higher skill levels. But this process of skill enhancement is also carefully designed so as to avoid reconstitution into traditionally recognized "trades" (Coriot, 1980). Because of this, multi-skilling or "job enrichment" in no way represents any revival of "craftsmanship" or the learning of skilled trades. As Braverman (1974, pp. 38-9) notes, the division of labour

has been pursued with such fanaticism that various jobs have been broken into fragments of fragments and can be partially reassembled without injury to the present mode of organizing the work process and at a certain saving of labour costs...

[The reforms being proposed today] are characterized by a studied pretence of worker 'participation' have the illusion of making decisions by choosing among fixed and limited alternatives designed by a management which deliberately leaves insignificant matters open to choice.

The bottom line is that total quality management "empowerment" enlarges the number of trivial work routines while making these routines more scripted by the production control system and without enhancing worker control over macro-level system designs.


As the crowning achievement of the total quality management programme, the orchestration of the employee suggestion system represents a refinement of scientific management which even Frederick Taylor could not have envisaged.

As Taylor himself noted, "if any workman were to find a new and quicker way of doing work, or if he were to develop a new method, you can see at once it becomes to his interest to keep that development to himself" (see Braverman, 1974, p. 117). This sentiment is echoed in the words of one worker in a plant where a TQM programme had been implemented.

Standardized work is a joke as far as I can see. We're supposed to go to management and tell them when we have extra seconds to spare. Why should I do that when all that will happen is that they'll take my spare seconds away and work me even harder than before? (from Adler, 1993, p.100).


Yet, as incomprehensible as it may seem, TQM programmes succeed in generating vast quantities of suggestions from employees, and these suggestions often do, in fact, result in greater workloads for the suggesters[1]. Under a programme of total quality management, workers are pressured to provide a specific quota of suggestions each month, and are chastized and instilled with a sense of shame if they fail to achieve these quotas. Soin (1992, p. 217), for example, suggests the establishment of "department targets" for the number of suggestions desired as well as "constant encouragement" of employees to make suggestions, and then measuring each employee's number of suggestions per year. Coercion to provide suggestions is expedited by using such methods as publicly posting the number of suggestions per worker and by using the number of suggestions as a criterion in reviewing worker performance (Imai, 1986, p. 15).


While most would simply reject any criticism of the suggestion system employed under TQM, or dismiss the system as a harmless frivolity, a more insidious face of such schemes remains hidden. Although many of these suggestions prove valuable in terms of costs savings, management is not always purely interested in the ideas contained in the suggestions themselves, as technicians can often come up with the same improvements (as in Taylor's system). Instead, workers have been found to be far more willing to accommodate substantial increases in workloads and responsibilities if these are the consequence of their own suggestions (Imai, 1986).


This "self-determination" bias is directly related to the notion of "voice". Voice is the ability of an individual to express an opinion or an attempt to change the status quo by registering an input into the decision making process (Hirschman, 1970). Significantly, studies have found that the mere expression of voice tends to enhance an individual's perception of being treated fairly and of having control or input in a decision, even where there is no chance of influencing that decision (Lind et al, 1990). Peters and Waterman (1982) similarly note that employees place great value upon the ability to assert their will, even when they have no control over an outcome. As they explain it, "The fact that we think we have a bit more discretion leads to much greater commitment" (Peters and Waterman, 1982, p. 81).

In this way, suggestion systems cultivate a figural sense of self-determination in employees and thus eliminate their resistance to additional workloads and standardized work tasks which are being imposed from above. As Foucault (1978, p. 95) noted, "where there is power, there is resistance". By eliminating the perceived power of management to impose control from above and by deluding workers into thinking that this power now emanates from their own actions, TQM programmes have succeeded in eliminating the resistance that has long characterized management/labour relations. As one worker in a plant which adopted the TQM approach proudly observed, "the average worker is definitely busier...But it's not like we're just getting squeezed to work harder, because it' the workers who are making the whole thing work--we're the ones that make the standardized work and the Kaizen suggestions" (from Adler, 1993, p. 100).

Suggestion systems as a method of self-Taylorization are thus a further refinement of the notion that "organizational change is best accomplished when persons likely to be affected by the change are brought into the process as soon as possible" (Brocka and Brocka, 1992, p. 132). The suggestion system is simply a method for luring workers into bringing themselves "into the process" at the outset, and often results in more "efficient" task design in their own jobs (by the elimination of all pauses and opportunities for rest). Suggestion systems implemented under TQM programmes also make employees more disposable by incorporating workers' knowledge into the overall "system" of production. According to Soin (1992, p. 283), the loss of any employee "is less severe in a process-oriented organization, in which we capture their experience and best practices into standards at our organization".


TQM, as a new management phenomenon, is the result of an increasing perception that true productivity can only be accomplished by ordering social relations according to a functional reality (Cooper and Burrell, 1988, p. 105). For this reason, a major block in the construction of a total quality management programme entails the development of a positive "corporate culture" of quality. This critical component, which creates the illusion of organizational democracy, is essential to the success of such programmes.


The creation of a corporate-wide "quality culture" forms the cornerstone of the TQM approach, and reinforces the notion that total quality management is primarily an implementation of human control rather than of technological control. As Frobel et al. (1980) note:

It is not sufficient to transform the workers into degraded appendages of machinery. In order to become really useful limbs of the machine system, the workers have to voluntarily accept their subjection, and internalize its dictates. In other words, the moral machinery must also be put in order.

With the advent of the "Excellence" approach and its incorporation into TQM efforts, management is understood to be directly and intentionally involved in determining what employees think, believe, and value (Willmott, 1992). This move, towards embodying "desirable" values within the labour process for the embodying of enhancing the workers' identification with management's goals, constitutes an attempt to dominate the whole worker body, mind, soul, and aspirations (Young, 1990). This identification of employees with the company or its products results in what Willmott (1992, p. 63) calls a "de-differentiation of economy and culture" such that workers become unable or unwilling to discern the division between their own values and beliefs and the productivity and quality objectives of the corporation. In TQM this subjugation or reorientation of personal values to match group values is truly what is meant to be a "team-player".

The TQM acculturation process also works to diffuse union control by creating the illusion of management and labour as being "on the same side". This illusion of common purpose and thus trust is further perpetuated by having both workers and management wear the same uniform and share the same eating a and parking facilities.

Whereas total quality management programmes are ostensibly methods of improving product quality, they typically accomplish this goal through the creation of a corporate culture which facilitates the use of psychological and social control and coercion. These methods are thus fully congruent with Taylor's third principle of scientific management: inducing worker acceptance of the "system". Furthermore, this acculturation process is not typically left to employee initiative. Rather, participation in TQM programmes (such as the suggestion system) have been imposed upon the workers as compulsory conditions for retention, and those who do not enthusiastically involve themselves are deemed to have inappropriate "attitudes". In the words of one total quality advocate (Soin, 1992, p. 206): "in today's competitive environment it is difficult to accept voluntary participation [in quality improvement efforts]. Every employee needs to participate". Likewise, Brocka and Brocka (1992, p. 131) encourage the propagation of inter-worker or inter-plant rivalry for the purposes of advancing these "improvements", and suggest the use of "peer pressure to reinforce changes". In constructing this illusion of employee empowerment through the creation of a quality "culture", TQM methods have replaced the spectre of coercion with the medium of seduction, giving the employees a false sense of pride in their ability to contribute to the "quality" effort.


TQM has been universally accepted because of its ability to re-rationalize the need for modernist devices of production while posing under the postmodern guise of a method for facilitating worker empowerment. In this way, total quality management has been explicitly positioned as an essential element for the survival of America's manufacturing sector and implicitly suggested as the only alternative to the exportation of manufacturing and thus the super-exploitation of third-world workers (Frobel et al, 1980). As a result of these efforts, TQM has succeeded in dominating competing discourses to become the sole grand narrative within the environment of production.

As with most devices of modern production, TQM does not exist as a conspiracy to de-humanize the worker but merely as a programme where the interests of the workers are subjugated or trivialized in relation to the "performativity" requirements (Lyotard, 1984) of the firm. The opportunity for increased control is a core concept of total quality management. TQM seeks to perfect control systems which produce and enforce uniformity within the products, the parts, the workers, the suppliers, and the overall system of production. The problem is that a majority of this control is directed towards workers' bodies, souls, and spirits. This type of organizational change provides a narrative not of emancipation, but of conformity.

In our stampede to rehabilitate our capacity to compete globally, we need to scrutinize these popular blueprints of organizational change for hidden agendas. We have been preaching a gospel of greater levels of surveillance and control, yet even these are proving ineffective. It is clearly time to break away from the inertia of our Victorian, Tayloristic, Fordist, and neo-modernist Japanese roots and analyse the effects of total quality management from the perspective of the environment and the workers themselves, rather than the performativity requirements of the firm or the ambitions of its management.


A post-TQM project would analyse the dysfunctional aspects of TQM. Consulting could consist of efforts to deconstruct the social control roots of TQM from attempts to improve worker control over work life. Post-TQM does not mean looking at this as a problem of poor TQM implementation. Rather, we believe that TQM has deep historical roots in Taylorism and Fordism in ways which lead to dysfunctional results. Instead of consulting to imprison the worker with performativity and surveillance practices, we need consulting strategies that will expose the more hidden agendas of TQM. We also advocate a broader interpretation of TQM which would look beyond just efficiency and quality to the needs of the environment and the needs of all the stakeholders involved with the firm. Ben and Jerry's for example advocates an environmental and a social audit as a part of how they do business. These audits could balance TQM's microprocess tools with a broader definition of productivity. This orientation would result in "caring capitalism", which links the prosperity of the firm to the prosperity of the firm's environment and its workers. The social mission of Ben and Jerry's is "to operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in the structure of society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life of a broad community--local, national, and international".

The problem with a post-TQM project is the same problem postmodernism now experiences. Modernism finds ways to cloak itself in the rhetoric of liberation. In post-TQM we still hear the footsteps of Frederick Taylor.


1. Because of this coercion to engage in these self-Taylorization efforts, TQM has resulted in nearly preposterous quantities of suggestions. One Japanese worker, for example, registered 9310 individual suggestions in one year by working three hours at home every night (Soin, 1992, p. 205), while another set a record by making 16,821 suggestions in a year (Imai, 1986, p.112).

Furthermore, the effectiveness of these suggestion systems is unbelievably profound. Imai (1986, p. 120) notes that a suggestion system implemented a at Canon, Inc. yielded suggestions in 1983 alone worth a total of $100 million. Soin (1992, p. 211) notes that in 1987, about 350 large Japanese companies saved approximately $2 billion from the implementation of employee suggestions. Later (p.223), this author suggests establishing a "reward scheme" for these efforts which provide "a small...token of recognition". He then illustrates this by showing the system used by Hewlett-Packard, where, to receive the maximum reward of $80 (which must be approved by the "functional manager", which is three levels above the worker), employees are required to make a detailed suggestion which must be graded with perfect scores under five criteria and save the company at least $3,000 in the first year alone. Then, in an annual "award ceremony", a "plaque" and a token of appreciation, such as a "designer watch" are awarded to the six best suggestions of the year. In another example, a NUMMI worker's innovative and time-saving suggestion earned him "20 points" in the suggestion programme --equivalent to a bath towel or pair of socks (Chethik, 1987). Overall, suggestion systems typically yield insignificant awards to the suggester (Briggs, 1988), while resulting in immense savings to the company. Obviously there is little in these schemes which is of benefit to the employees, other than the increased workloads which frequently result.


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Note: This is a pre-publication draft - please consult JOCM for the printed version. 


ADDENDUM - 2002 

Boje & Winsor 91993)have an anti-TQM view, not a “control and improvement” view as you state. They were among the first to deconstruct TQM (see also Steingard & Fitzgibbons, 1993; Delbridge, Turnbull, & Wilkinson,  1992;Parker & Slaughter, 1993). Boje & Winsor are said by others to critique TQM as (1) directed toward workers' bodies, souls, and spirits, (2) show unintended as well as the deliberate manipulation of ambiguity to control employees, (3) critique the ethical ambibalance in TQM-performativity, and (4) were among the first to say TQM enhances management's control over labour process (See Jacobs & Loizos Heracleous, 2001; Dostaler,  2001; Knights & McCabe, 1999; Snell, 2000; Zorn, Page & Cheney, 2000). In sum Boje & Winsor reconnect Taylorism with TQM pointing out the hegemonic issues.  


Boje, David M., Grace Ann Rosile, Robert Dennehy & Debra J. Summers. Restorying reengineering (1997). Communication Research. Vol. 24 (6): 631-668.

Delbridge, Rick, Peter Turnbull, and Barry Wilkinson (1992). `Pushing back the frontiers: management control and work intensification under JIT/TQM regimes'. New Technology, Work and Employment 7: 97-106.

DeCock, Christian (1998). "It seems to fill my head with ideas": A few thoughts on postmodernism, TQM, and BPR. Journal of Management Inquiry. Vol. 7, Iss. 2; pg. 144-153.

Dostaler,  Isabelle (2001). Beyond practices: A qualitative inquiry into high performance electronics assembly. Production and Operations Management. Volume: 10, Issue: 4: 478-493

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