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Achieving a Competitive Advantage through Quality Training

Jaideep G. Motwani, Mary L. Frahm and Yunus Kathawala Introduction
Probably one of the biggest failings in US industry today is a lack of training[1]. We need to realize that, if you train people properly, you reduce the cost of operating your organization, you enhance productivity, creativity, and innovation. You position yourself to become more competitive. And that is what we need to be doing[1]. There is a direct correlation between how much you invest in your people and how the quality of the products or services you produce is viewed. There also exists a direct correlation between training, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction. Today, employers deliver learning to more people than does the entire US higher education system[2]. It is costing American businesses about $25 billion a year to bring people up to the level where they can be trained for the work that companies need them to do[3]. It is the piece of education that American business should not do. There is a real split between what schools are producing and what businesses need. In Japan, 90 to 95 per cent of the workforce comes prepared to work[3]. Education and training are critical not only to individual opportunity, but also to the productivity and competitive advantage of companies and the whole nation. Learning in school and learning on the job are by far the most important factors behind US economic growth and productivity in this century, and will determine the nations economic prospects in the next[2]. In fact, both formal education and learning on the job have consistently been more important than machine capital in expanding the nations productive capacity throughout this century. Employers are increasingly depending on the skills of all their employees for improvements in efficiency, quality, and customer service, and for the development of new applications for existing products and services. In addition, the USA may be facing a growing human-capital deficit that threatens our competitiveness, our ability to provide work for every able-bodied citizen, and the nations security[2]. Workforce training must become a corporate obsession. It is on this variable that the outcome of the overall competitive struggle may most strongly depend[4]. The objective of this article is to emphasize the importance of quality training and suggest the keys to implementing a quality training programme. It will discuss why quality training is necessary and the skills that employees need if they are to succeed in their problem-solving and process improvement activities. A case study of how a large manufacturing organization, located in the Midwest region of the USA, provides training to its employees is also included.

Review of the Literature

Several authors have commented on the areas surrounding quality training. Following is a summary of the opinions regarding the need for quality training, skills that are necessary, requirements of a successful training programme,

Training for Quality, Vol. 2 No. 1, 1994, pp. 35-40 MCB University Press, 0968-4875



models of integrating the quality strategy through training, and the failure patterns.

recognizing non-technical skills as the foundation for quality improvement. There are four primary interpersonal and analytical skill areas that are critical to success: (1) leadership skills; (2) work process skills; (3) teamwork skills; (4) customer partnership skills[9]. With regard to leadership skills, managers have a pivotal role in communicating the quality message to their employees. Managers need to hone their skills of focusing employees on quality objectives, obtaining their commitment, and sustaining the momentum. By sharpening these leadership skills, they can make the quality message more urgent and personal to everyone[9]. Leadership can and must occur at every stage within the quality improvement effort[5]. The author believes that all employees can benefit from this type of training. By increasing work process skills, all employees can make better use of their individual expertise and become actively committed to the quality improvement process[9]. Through a close analysis of work processes and systems, managers can always uncover ways to be more responsive to the needs of their customers and to produce products and services that result in more satisfied customers. Front-line employees, too, can uncover areas for improvement where complexity and waste can be eliminated and value added to make sure that customer expectations are met and even exceeded[9].

Why Is Quality Training Needed? Review of the literature has shown that improving customer satisfaction is the overwhelming reason for quality training. Consumers are constantly demanding more. Customers are demanding different levels of reliability and quality each year, and the demands are changing at an extraordinary rate[3]. According to Kaeter[5], training influences the process that can help to improve quality. Quality products and services depend on a quality workforce. Training can be a powerful building-block for a foundation of understanding and skills that will help the organization to reach business goals[6]. Training represents one of the best communication vehicles that any company has[3]. In addition, according to Spiess[1], quality training means learning to think differently. It means thinking about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what is the outcome.

Training can actually become an enabler to upward mobility and recognition

Training can actually become an enabler to upward mobility and recognition, because the better trained an employee is, the more he or she can embody corporate principles and the more recognition and rewards he/she can receive. As the challenge of improving product quality and customer service becomes more important for all organizations, so does the challenge to the training and development profession. For it is these professionals who must give people the knowledge and skills they need, when they need them, to improve quality[4]. Training is a major factor in creating a competitive advantage[7]. The simple truth is that we cannot have a world-class economy without a world-class workforce.

Employees should learn the skills of uncovering the expectations of customers

Through sharpening their teamwork skills, managers are better able to focus their teams on the quality initiative[9]. Teamwork is necessary to provide consistent meaning and clear benefits to employees. Finally, customer partnership skills help employees to learn how to create partnerships with internal and external customers, and then how to devise a plan that meets their needs, without compromising or over-promising[9]. Employees should learn the skills of uncovering the expectations of their customers and

Skills that Are Needed Employees who are empowered to solve problems and improve processes and activities need to be given the skills necessary to be successful in their efforts[8]. Quality managers are increasingly



responsiveness to customer grievances. By better serving their customers, quality is enhanced. Requirements of a Quality Training Programme Quality training should not be a separate piece of training[3]. Quality training should integrate the strategy of the company, the direction of the company, the vision of the company, and the skills and behaviour that people need in order to get the job done[4]. In addition, to derive the full benefits of quality training, everyone must be trained[10]. It is critical that training is provided to all levels, to open channels so that people begin to incorporate the new thinking into their everyday work[1]. Commitment of top management is a prerequisite to quality training[1]. A quality initiative should be led by senior executives and training should occur from the top down. Top leaders should be trained to deliver parts of the training to the next level of managers. Involving top management in training is the lever that will result in commitment to the quality process throughout the organization. If the top team is dedicating calendar dates to personally delivering quality training, it sends a powerful message about the companys commitment to quality improvement[1]. Without the support of top management, expectations that are created cannot be fulfilled. Further, senior managers should lead by example[11]. Senior managers behaviour speaks louder than a behavioural skills training programme. Members of an organization will mimic the behaviours of their leaders. Managers who teach one set of behaviours and display another will only make a mockery of the training investment[11].

training programmes. First, the programme must give individuals the opportunity to practise behaviours which they agree are critical to achieving excellence in their organization. Second, the programme must give employees the opportunity to practise the new behaviours in situations that occur regularly in their day-to-day experience in the organization. The authors think that these criteria are important, but feel that it is critical that employees from cross-functional areas be brought together. According to Clancy[7], we are moving away from traditional manufacturing where highly specialized training was provided towards the realization that crosstraining is necessary to increase flexibility. Crossfunctional department discussions help to communicate the quality message as well as solicit employee feedback and suggestions and give employees an opportunity to hear from others outside their typical work groups. How to Integrate the Quality Strategy through Training The experts say that quality begins and ends with training[4]. This is often easier said than implemented. As stated previously, training should integrate strategy. The truth is that strategy must precede training. Cocheu[4] has proposed two models, a six-step improvement strategy model and a model of six phases of training. The six-step improvement strategy includes: (1) preparation; (2) planning; (3) awareness; (4) deployment; (5) implementation; (6) continuous improvement. The six phases of training consist of: (1) understanding and commitment; (2) quality management systems; (3) improvement teams; (4) customer service; (5) process improvement; (6) advanced quantitative methods. It is important to note that the two models are dependent on each other to be effective. Humphrey[12] proposes a collective training model. This model consists of five phases:

Cross-functional department discussions help to communicate the quality message

Quality training is synonymous with creating excellence-oriented cultures[11]. Today many senior executives are looking for quality training to empower people to alter their daily behaviours so that, over the long term, a different feeling will characterize the way in which their organizations conduct business internally. Inguagiato and Rubin[11] have set two criteria for quality



(1) analyse; (2) design; (3) develop; (4) implement; (5) control The main theory behind this model is that it does not focus on the individual, but on the entire organization. It is significant that this model begins with an analysis of the organization, and completes that analysis before proceeding with the design or development phase[12]. A third model, the input-process-output model, is suggested by Bushnell[13]. This model is primarily appropriate for evaluating training. The input stage consists of system performance indicators which include trainee qualifications, instructor abilities, and training materials. The processing stage includes the value-added activities such as planning, designing, developing, and delivering. (Whereas, the output stage consists of trainee reactions, knowledge and skills gained, and improved job performance.) What is important about this approach is that there are built in feedback loops at the critical junctions. Failure Patterns What appears to be happening in many companies is that an initial commitment is made to quality training, but the bridge between the classroom and the functional area is never completed and return on investment never happens[10]. As a result, anticipated excitement, enthusiasm and pay-off turn into failure, disillusionment and resentment. Failure patterns that need to be avoided include the fizzle effect and the total quality management/statistical process control (TQM/SPC) charade[10]. The fizzle effect occurs when quality enthusiasm is generated and training is provided, but the workers are not given the opportunity to use the tools and techniques acquired in training. Inguagiato and Rubin[11], as mentioned previously, comment on the importance of allowing employees to practise the new behaviours in their everyday situations. The TQM/SPC charade occurs when the workers are provided with training, but management does not expose itself to the same training for understanding. Spiess[1] stresses the fact that top management should not only be trained, but also be trained first and deliver the training themselves to the next level of management. The end results of both of these scenarios is that most of the

workers fail to internalize the value of TQM/SPC, ignoring the process insights provided by control charts and, in some cases, taking a pro forma approach to data collection. Because the quality training effort does not produce worker understanding of the TQM/SPC philosophy and tools, the following occurs: (1) Team membership is created through conscription, not by asking for volunteers. (2) Teams meet regularly, but, in some cases, the project charter is ill-defined or too broad for team success. (3) Only one or two team members dominate most of the work, (4) Workers see team participation as a pro forma responsibility rather than an opportunity for improvement. Although quality training serves as the foundation for all quality improvement, if training strategies, methods, and materials are not congruent with the target audience, certain negative outcomes are inevitable such as loss of training dollars, workforce resentment, lost quality improvement opportunities and competitive advantage, investment in data collection with no discernible return on investment, and disinterested and disillusioned workers[10]. These are all pitfalls that should be avoided.

A Case Study The Prince Corporation

The company seeks to employ individuals who are naturally curious and challenging and who want to learn and relearn. It desires high achievers who are never satisfied with the current status. To help their employees to grow and become more valuable not only to the company but also to themselves individually, the company has set up a training partnership with a local college. This college offers special courses geared especially for the company employees and helps the employees to receive college credit for job-related experiences. In addition to the partnership which was designed to aid their employees significantly in conveniently obtaining college degrees, the company offers a general education reimbursement to all full-time employees. This reimbursement programme offers 100 per cent reimbursement of tuition and books to any job related courses and 50 per cent reimbursement for those which are not job-related. Prince has shown its dedication to the importance of education.



At Prince Corporation, quality is a way of life. Quality is assumed by every employee. The companys mission statement points out its sincere obligation of producing high quality goods and services that meet and exceed the customers expectations and their dedication to innovative products and continuous improvement. Each employee receives the mission statement as a part of his or her general orientation. In addition, quality is a part of the strategic plan. This plan is revised annually by senior executives.

At Prince Corporation quality is assumed by every employee

The company also offers several internal quality classes. One class offered at the company was entitled World-class quality and was taught by various employees covering such topics as a review of what quality means to the company, benchmarking, several problem-solving tools, key quality tools. It required a group project from cross-functional teams. The groups were given eight weeks to research a selected quality project and prepare a presentation. The project along with the groups proposals was then presented to the entire class and selected vice presidents. Recently, this class was replaced by a TQT (total quality transformation) class. This class was introduced by first training the top level managers and now it is trickling its way down through the organization. This class focuses on procedures for redesigning and improving systems and also requires a group project. Quality is the job of every employee. The company has several improvement programmes in place. In the past eight months, the employees have generated thousands of cost savings and efficiency improvement ideas. One direct result of the employees active involvement has been a significant reduction in value lost percentages. The company is very fortunate in having a highly motivated workforce with strong values. As a way of measuring its quality improvement, each department at the company is responsible for monthly QOS (quality operating system) goals which are reviewed by top management. The QOS plans include an annual goal, monthly goals, and year-to-date actuals. The QOS plans

also contain the months hits, misses, and action plans. Prince also tracks numerous costs of quality such as action items, warranty expenses, downtime, discounts lost, obsolete inventory, premium freight costs, parts per million, and others. The company is also constantly striving for a pull-one approach to manufacturing and employs the kanban system between internal divisions. The company operates under the teamwork approach. The culture strongly emphasizes this group approach. It employs a very open style of management where everyone is free (expected) to voice their opinions and concerns. As such, there are no unions at the company. It does offer several job enrichment opportunities including job rotation through several departments.

The company is very fortunate in having a highly motivated workforce

There is always room for improvement in quality, but the company is on the right track. It has a strong culture of continuous improvement and customer satisfaction with strong management commitment. It is always looking to the future and depends on its strong, educated workforce to meet and exceed future expectations.

In conclusion, a new emphasis on quality and on increase in productivity creates a competitive advantage for companies[7]. People and computers work together in all major activities, from strategic planning and finance through human resources and engineering, and on to the shopfloor. Training is a major factor in creating a competitive advantage. Quality training goes hand-in-hand with establishing excellence in an organizations work culture[11]. Top management plays a key part in instilling the direction, attention, and focus towards quality improvement. Also, to gain the full advantage of quality training, every employee must be trained. Finally, quality is another name for customer satisfaction, which no one can afford to ignore for long[14].



1. Spiess, M.E., Finding Time for TQM Training, Training & Development, February 1993, pp. 11-15. 2. Carnevale, A.P ., The Learning Enterprise, Training & Development, February 1993, pp. 11-15. 3. Galagan, P .A., David T. Kearns: A CEOs View of Training, Training & Development, May 1990, pp. 41-50. 4. Cocheu, T., Training with Quality, Training & Development, May 1992, pp. 23-32. 5. Kaeter, M., Quality Training, Quality, March 1991, pp. 14-25. 6. Hayden, J., HRD and Quality: The Chicken or the Egg?, Training & Development, January 1992, pp. 49-52. 7. Clancy, J., Training Workers for the Factory of the Future, Training & Development, February 1989, pp. 46-9. 8. Miller, J.A., Training Required to Support Total Quality Management, CMA Magazine, November 1992, p. 29. 9. Zenger, J.H., Leadership Skills for Quality Improvement, Executive Excellence, November 1989, pp. 11-12.

10. Zagarow, H.W., The Training Challenge, Quality, August 1990, pp. 22-6. 11. Inguagiato, R. and Rubin, I., Changing the Work Culture, Training & Development, July 1991, pp. 57-60. 12. Humphrey, V., Training the Total Organization, Training & Development, October 1990, pp. 57-64. 13. Bushnell, D.S., Input, Process, Output: A Model for Evaluating Training, Training & Development, March 1990, pp. 41-3. 14. Carr, C., Total Training, Training, November 1990, pp. 59-65.

Jaideep G. Motwani and Mary L. Frahm are researchers in the Department of Management, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA. Yunus Kathawala is Chair and Professor of the Department of Computer and Operations Management, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, USA.