Creating Quality Cultures in the East and West
By Michael Maccoby
Published in: Research Technology Management, Vol. 37 No. 1
January-February, 1994. pp. 57-59.East and West differ significantly
in terms of how people view leadership and ideal organization, and because
of this, they face different issues in creating the trust essential for a
total quality (TQM) culture. Westerners must confront deep rooted values
of individualism, which influence not only employee attitudes to TQM, but
also how managers interpret their leadership roles. Asians have somewhat
different problems, especially expanding and exporting their more communal
corporate culture. The better they understand the differences in their
values, the more successfully will managers from East and West communicate
with and learn from each other.
The ideal of Europeans, and even more so North Americans, is to
minimize authoritarian control while maximizing individual autonomy and
initiative. For the Westerner, the best leader is the "one minute manager"
who communicates clear goals and delegates decisions about how to
implement them. The best organization is a fraternity of equals.
This value system even influences technology design, and I suspect it
is one reason why, in the early 80s, GM wasted hundreds of millions of
dollars trying to automate final assembly at the Hamtramack, Michigan
plant. At the time, GM managers indicated to me that they could not only
save labor costs, but also rid themselves of a conflictful, unpleasant
relationship with the assembly workers and their union. When this vision
failed, idealists at GM put their hopes in the Saturn project in which
union leaders co-manage the plant at Spring Hill, Tennessee. At Saturn,
the issue of hierarchy is, to some degree, fudged by representative
democracy. In contrast, Toyota has been slower to automate final assembly
and has emphasized training for teams of workers led by managers in the
role of teachers and team leaders.
As a consultant to Volvo in the 70s and 80s, I found the same Western
yearning to do away with hierarchy and class differences. The Swedish
ideal was the self-managed team of craftsmen and women, working without
need for a boss. The assembly plant at Uddevalla was designed by a team of
management and union leaders to realize this ideal, but Volvo decided that
it did not achieve sufficient levels of productivity (an issue still being
debated in Sweden.) In fact, the Volvo assembly plant with the best
productivity was in Ghent, Belgium. There, the plant manager studied the
Toyota approach and reorganized the plant according to this model. Swedish
union leaders rejected the Toyota approach as oppressive.
The high value Westerners place on individual autonomy typically leads
to bureaucratic gridlock. Each individual tries to increase autonomy, and
managers struggle for control over employees. In many companies,
spontaneous teamwork resists the dictates of management, rather than
focussing on satisfying customers, improving processes and cutting costs
by driving out waste (i.e. anything that does not add value for
customers). In the West, creating a TQM culture requires channeling
individual self interest toward quality goals and developing trust that by
working cooperatively, individuals will not be exploited.
The Western IdealThe Western vision of ideal organization and
leadership stems from the historical struggle for individual rights and
freedom from authoritarian domination. In most Western companies, the
majority of employees - especially middle managers - are not compliant
organization men. They attempt to maximize their autonomy and control of
turf. The positive side of this is entrepreneurial initiative. The
negative is political positioning and playing it safe. Asked by the CEO to
cooperate across turf lines, Western employees, especially managers,
calculate whether they will gain or lose by ceding control. While respect
for Western leaders ebbs and flows according to their achievements, their
followers expect these leaders to do what is necessary to maintain their
own autonomy, and success. Few employees have illusions about the
benevolence of Western leadership.
The Asian IdealThe ideal Asian organization is based on good
interpersonal relationships rather than individual rights. It should be
like a caring family. In this organization, leadership is part of a
natural hierarchy. The good leader is like a good father who accepts
responsibility for the development and well-being of employees. In return,
these leaders expect obedience and personal loyalty.
Unlike Westerners who rebel against domination, Asians accept
benevolent despots who appear to lead the people toward a positive goal.
Asian managers tell me that without such leaders, there would be no
cooperation, because people would be out for themselves and their
families. They admire Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Mahathir Mohamad of
Malaysia, strong leaders who have produced dramatic material progress at
the expense of rights for individual expression. It is interesting to note
that Lee Kuan Yew now believes that Singaporeans need to become more self
affirmative and has directed the schools to institute more project rather
than rote learning.
Psychological DifferencesPsychologically, these cultural
differences are profoundly significant. The defining myth of the West is
Oedipus, the king who killed his father and married his mother. According
to Freud, this myth expressed a universal tendency, but it has little
significance in the East. In the West, Oedipus signifies the competition
between father and son, the conflict of generations. Psychoanalytically,
the self managed team becomes the band of brothers who have killed the
father. Alternatively, in the hierarchical Western organization, the son,
fearful of castration identifies with the father and competes with brother
managers as rivals for approval. The father-boss remains wary of these
sons who must be kept under control.
In the East, the psychodynamics are different. The eldest son has an
honored role in the family and is educated by the father, who in turn,
expects to be cared for by the son in old age. Family and society have a
stake in maintaining harmony between the generations. Rebels risk
ostracism or worse.
Asian companies try to develop benevolent leaders. Corporate education
emphasizes values. Thus, Toyota rewards workers who teach others and
create group harmony with bonuses and promotion to management. Toyota
leaders are expected to use the tools of TQM not only to improve products
and processes, but also to continually educate workers.
TQM has de-emphasized status distinctions in Asia. Empowerment has
meant that everyone's ideas are heard. Employees become less fearful and
compliant, more responsible and innovative within a system with clearly
defined and understood roles and goals. They are rewarded for translating
their criticisms into ideas for improvement without appearing to insult
their superiors. Conflict is transformed into testable hypotheses. In a
sense, TQM is liberating for Asian employees, a step toward individuation.
For Westerners, TQM provokes ambivalence, particularly among middle
managers. Before TQM, managers were told to delegate, meaning as long as
your subordinates got the results demanded, they should be free to do
things their own way. With TQM, best practices become standard practice,
and process measurements force managers to support the system. No longer
are middle managers licensed to guard their turf. They are expected to
cooperate to solve problems and build cross functional teams. This can be
Western StrengthsLet us not ignore the strengths of Western
individualism. The U.S.economy has achieved high levels of productivity in
large part because people take initiative. But TQM without sufficient
understanding of Western individualism can dampen this initiative.
Consider of Florida Power and Light which in the late 80s was publicized
as a model of TQM. A FP & L subsidiary was formed to teach the methods
to other companies. However, in 1990, a new CEO curtailed these
activities. Observers reported that the heavy emphasis on processes was
sucking resources away from customer service. One of the FP&L union
leaders told me another part of the story. Service technicians
traditionally kept their own notebooks on methods of solving problems
without having to use lengthy procedures. They were improving both
productivity and the quality of their working lives. When the FP&L
process engineers demanded that everyone accept best practice, these
service techs followed the new rules at the expense of taking their
customized short cuts.
Why didn't FP&L process engineers make use of these labor saving
approaches? In many Western companies, workers will not tell management
about their ideas for cutting costs, because these will result in
lay-offs. If they offer ideas, they may innovate themselves out of a job.
Even so, I am frequently amazed at how willing American workers are to
share ideas, when these are listened to, even though they put themselves
at risk. The need to influence and make work meaningful is sometimes
stronger than self interest. What turns off ideas even more than
insecurity of employment is when workers feel they are ignored or put down
by process engineers.
It is noteworthy that Motorola and Milliken, two U.S. companies which
seem to have been most successful in transforming their corporate cultures
to support TQM, have been led by members of the founding families and have
been able to maintain employment security. In a sense, they have blended
positive Western and Asian values. While creating a spirit of a caring
community, they have encouraged individual initiative and open debate.
They have not fudged the issue of hierarchy, but combined leadership with
heterarchical teamwork. (see "Move from Hierarchy to Heterarchy",
RTM Sept-Oct 1991). However, both companies have also been
successful at increasing market share. It remains to be seen whether or
not they would maintain employment during a downturn in business.
Companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Kodak and IBM maintained employment
security until the market and their owners compelled them to fire
To achieve a TQM culture, Westerners must be prepared to transform the
corporate social system, taking account of the values and aspirations of
the participants (see "To Create Quality, First Create the Culture",
RTM, Sept-Oct 1993) and the context of Western society. This
requires more from top leadership than is taught in Western business
schools. Managers must lead the transformation of the corporate culture.
The top management team must describe an ideal future in systemic terms
and lead an interactive implementation process. Interaction is neither
delegation nor dictating, and it requires on-going dialogue that can be
initiated from the bottom-up as well as top-down.
In the Western context, middle managers will support this process and
accept leadership roles only if their knowledge and insights are respected
and they are rewarded for implementing the vision. Observers have told me
that many of the highly touted GE "work-out" sessions, where everyone is
supposed to suggest changes, have been failures, because top management
brought in outside consultants to encourage workers to beat up middle
management. This is a losing strategy that increases conflict, fear, and
resistance to change. The top will enroll the middle not by attacking
them, but by engaging them interactively.
According to a recent survey, American workers express little loyalty
to employers, but place high value on open communication and management
responsiveness to their needs, not only at work, but also as family
members. (The Wall Street Journal, September 3, 1993) The Western
employee can be at least as cooperative and innovative as Asians, but this
requires that everyone's interests are understood and at least minimally
protected. A compelling business logic must be communicated by top
management. Roles must be clear. Measurements must be considered fair. As
in Japan, there needs to be systematic ways of developing teamwork and
encouraging innovation that do not increase conflict. Leaders and
followers must not compete against each other.
The new generation of employees I have described in Why Work
(Simon & Schuster 1988) are especially willing to cooperate within
such a framework. These offspring of dual career families have learned at
an early age to participate in teams. When it makes sense, they will share
leadership in a heterarchy. They are emotionally less involved in the
Oedipal drama of the 19th and early 20th century middle class nuclear
family in which the father is sole wage earner. Rather than compete or
identify with father figures at work, they want good coaches who are more
They are also quicker to understand that interactive teams can
facilitate success and also be emotionally satisfying, especially if work
allows some playfulness. They tie their career aspirations more to
developing their competence than to advancing in a particular company. In
a sense, they are in business for themselves, and with good leadership
will become good partners. (Incidentally, some of the young Chinese
engineers I met recently in Beijing fit this social character).
Building Trust In the West as in the East, productive
organizations require trust that cooperation will be rewarded. In the
East, this trust has been created by strong protective father figures and
clan-like organization. It has been supported by shared ownership of
networks of companies (the Japanese keiretsu) which place the
highest values on both product quality and employment security. In the
West, trust results from a combination of implicit or, preferably,
enforceable contract and mutual understanding. It is maintained by open
dialogue about expectations in an ever changing environment. (Notably,
senior managers hired into companies today demand contracts).
In an economy of continual innovation and reengineering of work, it is
unrealistic to promise employment security. Factory jobs in the West will
continue to be automated or move to lower wage labor markets. Whenever
possible, simple service jobs will be automated, and the ones that remain
will require advanced skills. Increasingly, employment security depends on
mobile and marketable technical and social skills including
entrepreneurial initiative. Companies can increase a sense of security by
cooperating with employees in developing these skills.
Trust can also be increased by involving employees and their
representatives in the strategic planning process, so that they can
influence change to take account of their interests. This is the aim of
the Workplace of the Future which was negotiated by AT&T,
Communication Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers (IBEW) in 1992 bargaining. In return for this
influence, the unions agreed to cooperate with management in supporting
transformation to a TQM workplace. Agreements such as this may prove
valuable in the Western economic system, given that the dominant values of
management are not to create a caring family but rather to lead a winning
team which is scored quarterly by financial analysts and investors.
Although such agreements may appear to constrain managerial freedom, there
is much to be gained from mutual commitment. It is in the interest of
managers, employees, and owners to increase the trust essential for TQM.
In the Western context, this will require a framework that demystifies
hierarchy by re-defining the ideal organization and the roles of both
leadership and followership.
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