What is Quality Circles?
Quality Circles are small groups of employees from the same work area who voluntarily come together on a regular basis to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems. The concept of Quality Circles originated in Japan in the 1960s as a part of the Total Quality Management (TQM) approach to improve the quality of products and services.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Quality Circles?
- 2 Concept of Quality Circles
- 3 Objectives of Quality Circles
- 4 Organization of Quality Circles
- 5 Success of Quality Circles in Indian Industries
- 6 Quality of Work Life
- 7 Organizing for Total Quality Management
Concept of Quality Circles
Let us understand the concept of quality circles with the help of an example. ABC Group of Institutes runs vocational training centers in New Delhi. The company opened a central library for all its vocational centers running across the city.
In the initial days of its opening, the library’s staff faced various problems, such as missing books, misplacement of books of different categories, book purchasing issues, and allocation of work and responsibilities. To tackle these problems, the management organized a brainstorming session and created a group of five staff members to study, observe and analyze these issues for two weeks.
The group needed to identify the reasons/causes behind the issues and suggest long-lasting permanent solutions. At the end of the two-week period, a report was submitted by the group, which summarised the root cause of the ongoing problems and their solutions.
Some of the solutions suggested by the group were:
- Classification and location of books with the help of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology
- Every issuance of books should be done using software
- Information related to the return and renewal of books, the arrival of new books, etc. should be given to students or faculty members through SMS or email.
The management took note of it and implemented the suggestions of the group. After implementation, it was observed that most of the issues were resolved within a period of one month.
In quality management, a group of employees (the group of library staff in this case) that contributes to resolving problems in an organization (the library) is referred to as a quality circle. Principally, a quality circle is based on employee management participation to identify problems, take decisions, and suggest solutions for improvement.
A quality circle is neither a technique nor a decision-making body; it is designed to identify quality issues on a regular basis, conduct meetings, discuss and analyze these issues, and suggest solutions or take concrete steps for solving the issues. With their focus on the optimum utilization of available resources, a quality circle ensures a smooth flow of manufacturing and supply chain processes.
According to Edwin B. Flippo (1984), a quality circle refers to a “self-governing group of workers with or without their supervisors who voluntarily meet regularly to identify, analyze and solve problems of their work field’.
These workers meet at defined intervals to discuss quality-related problems and find out solutions for improvement. A quality circle is usually a small and autonomous group of workers and is generally led by a supervisor or facilitator. The leader or facilitator brings cohesiveness to the group.”
From the above discussion, the main characteristics of quality circles can be summarised as follows:
- The members of quality circles meet at certain intervals of time.
- Membership in quality circles is voluntary.
- The problems are not only identified by members but also analyzed and resolved.
- They can be both formal and informal and autonomous groups.
The Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers developed the concept of the quality circle. In India, however, the concept of ‘Gun Mandal’ (meaning quality circle) has been there for ages to promote the ‘Satvic Qualities’, such as the urge for excellence and knowledge, mutual trust and confidence, self-actualization, etc.
The concept of quality circle lays emphasizes the concept of problem-solving through the participation of different individuals in a group. Many Indian organizations, such as TVS, Maruti, etc., have adopted the concept of quality circles.
Objectives of Quality Circles
The main objective of quality circles is to identify quality-related issues, find out their root causes, and solve issues to improve overall quality in an organization. For example, the objective of quality circles in BHEL is to ‘achieve and sustain a reputation for quality at competitive prices in the national and international market for the entire product range.’
The following are the main objectives of a quality circle:
- To develop problem-solving, leadership, and supervisory skills among employees.
- To make effective utilization of human resources.
- To improve the quality of products and services.
- To reduce production and operational costs.
- To utilize the imaginative, creative, and innovative skills of employees through participation, cooperation, and mutual trust.
- To encourage teamwork in an organization.
- To boost employee motivation.
- To develop cordial relationships between management and workers/employees.
- To improve the flow of communication within an organization.
- To reduce absenteeism and grievances.
Organization of Quality Circles
As discussed earlier, a quality circle is a group of people responsible for identifying quality issues and suggesting solutions to management.
It consists of representatives from the top management, the human resources department, and representatives of the workforce in an organization. The steering committee takes suggestions from members of different departments.
A coordinator in the steering committee generally belongs to the middle-level management and his/her chief job is to maintain coordination between facilitators and the steering committee.
The supervisory officer who manages a number of quality circles is called a facilitator. A facilitator generally belongs to the quality control or production department.
He/she is generally chosen from the lower level management and is responsible for organizing and conducting circle activities. The circle leader organizes and ensures periodic meetings and discussions on quality issues and reports suggestions to the facilitator.
These are the active workers in a quality circle who share their suggestions and ideas and have active participation in improving quality. Each circle member responsibly involves himself in the task of quality improvement. Circle members may approach the circle leader in case of grievances.
Success of Quality Circles in Indian Industries
To gain access to technological expertise in the automobile industry, Maruti collaborated with Suzuki. However, gradually, the collaboration did not remain solely limited to the transfer of technology; various management practices of Suzuki were also successfully implemented by Maruti.
The quality circle was one such management practice and over the years it became very popular in Maruti. Around two years back, Maruti started forming quality circles among shop floor workers. Over the years, this practice yielded good results for the company.
The shop floor workers meet at regular intervals to discuss issues and find solutions. The solutions offered by quality circles not only help in improving product quality and reducing cost but also enable managers to motivate workers by involving them in the decision-making process.
The members of quality circles receive financial rewards on the basis of their suggestions. Apart from Maruti, many other Indian organizations have successfully implemented the concept of quality circles.
The following are some of those organizations:
- Hero Honda Motors: ‘Sunrise Quality Circle’
- Lucas TVS, Chennai: ‘Honey bee Quality Circle’
- Tata Refractories, Odisha: ‘Niharika Quality Circle’
Quality of Work Life
Quality of Work Life (QWL) can broadly be defined as the ‘quality of relationship’ between employees and their total work environment. It is a mechanism through which an organization ensures optimum and efficient utilization of workers’ skills and abilities and responds to the needs of employees.
The productivity and job satisfaction of an employee is directly related to the work environment or work culture of an organization. In other words, the better the work environment; the higher the productivity and job satisfaction of employees.
The following are some popular definitions of QWL:
- Adequate Payment and Job Security
- Career Growth and Personal Prospects
- Development of Human Capabilities
- Safe and Healthy Environment
- Work-life Balance
- Social Integration
- Social Relevance
Robbins (1989) defined QWL as “a process by which an organization responds to employee needs by developing mechanisms to allow them to share fully in making the decisions that design their lives at work.”
According to Walton, QWL is “a work culture that serves as a cornerstone.” He provided the following elements that influence QWL:
Adequate Payment and Job Security
Job dissatisfaction and decline in the productivity of employees take place if there is unfair compensation in an organization. Thus, an organization should ensure that the compensation provided to employees is proportional to their skills, knowledge, experience, and performance.
Apart from this, sometimes employees develop job insecurity due to sudden changes in the work environment; which may adversely affect their efficiency and productivity. Therefore, an organization must convey to its employees how important they are to the organization.
Career Growth and Personal Prospects
An organization should provide sufficient career opportunities to employees, which leads to their personal development and growth. Various training and development sessions should be organised to develop or improve employees’ skills so that they can be prepared for higher job responsibilities in the future.
Development of Human Capabilities
When an employee is assigned a particular job, he/she should be competent enough to perform it. Opportunities should provide ample learning opportunities to employees so that they can develop their skills and competencies and better perform their jobs.
Safe and Healthy Environment
It is the responsibility of an organization to provide a safe work environment to employees. A work environment is said to be safe if it is free from any hazards and work-related injuries. Moreover, an organization should ensure that all laws related to the work environment are complied with.
An organization should ensure that employees are not overburdened or pressurised. This is because a high workload may lead to an unbalance in the personal and professional lives of employees. This may result in
Employees should be well aware of their rights. There are variations from company to company in issues like privacy, distribution of rewards, etc. which directly influence the morale of employees. This can affect the QWL of employees.
The self-esteem level of an employee is directly influenced by the working environment. A sense of community, interpersonal relationships, appreciation as incentives and promotions etc. satiate the yearning for self-recognition.
Socially irresponsible organizations generate irresponsible employees who depreciate the value of their work and career. Thus, organizations should act responsibly, not only for themselves but also for the environment.
Thus, it can be said that there is a direct relationship between QWL and job satisfaction. This not only reduces employee absenteeism and turnover but also ensures higher quality and quantity of work output.
Organizing for Total Quality Management
In the previous chapter, you studied the concept of Total Quality Management (TQM). It is an organization-wide program of creating an environment wherein an organization can improve its ability to deliver quality products to customers on a continuous basis.
TQM is a customer-centered approach that focuses on employee involvement and continual improvement. Being a crucial program for an organization, it needs to be organized properly by quality staff.
In order to organize its TQM program, the quality staff must:
- Work towards adopting a cultural change that focuses on the importance of total quality.
- Implement a management philosophy that lays emphasis on total employee involvement and customer satisfaction.
- Seek and exploit opportunities for improvement at all levels of the organization.
- Make decisions with respect to the core business processes of the organization.
- Develop and communicate quality policies, procedures, and requirements to employees at all levels as well as to suppliers.
- Be careful while making quality commitments with customers as any false commitment may lead to customer dissatisfaction and mobilize resources to solve quality-related issues.