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Talent and Quality Management: Two sides of the same coin?

One of the biggest successes of 20th century management thinking and practice has been the notion of quality management, also called Total Quality Management (TQM) by some quality gurus.  Some countries, like Germany, the UK, USA, Japan, Sweden and South-Korea achieved significant economic success as a result of driving strong quality management principles and practices, in particularly in the manufacturing sector. In addition, the expansion and growth of the quality work by the International Standards Organization (ISO) ensured that quality became business practice world-wide.  While quality management helped us a great deal in getting the quality of production and service right, in this article I explore the question of whether talent management is the answer to getting people management right.

But let us first revisit the philosophy of quality management. In essence, the notion of quality management revolves around creating and maintaining a management system that delivers quality in a consistency way. Thus, a quality management system is a system designed to assure and manage the continuous improvement of all processes in an organisation in order to meet customer expectations. Quality cannot be achieved on a company-wide basis if it is left to the experts such as quality con­trollers, engineers and production managers. Traditionally, quality has been regarded as being the responsibility of the quality control department. However, many quality problems originate in the administrative and service departments, such as the human resource or administrative departments.

Quality management encompasses a number of essential principles that are interdependent and must be integrated in a holistic manner to optimise organisational perform­ance. These principles can be summarised as follows:

  • All processes focus on delivering quality products and services to meet customer ex­pectations, both internally and externally.
  • Processes and sub-processes are continuously improved.
  • There is an active search for the root causes of problems in the system with an emphasis being placed on preventing these problems. The aim is zero defect.
  • Decision-making at all levels is based on an analysis of data using statistical measurement techniques.
  • All people are empowered and developed to play an active role in delivering quality products and services.
  • A high-performance organisational culture emerges from teamwork, inter-departmental co-operation and a flat organisational structure. Vertical and functional boundaries are thus eroded. This requires sound customer-supplier relationships which are both internal and external to the organisation. Every­one is a customer as well as and a supplier both inside and outside the company, depending on one’s particular role at a given time.
  • There is a strategy in place to actively pursue local and international best practices.

From the above principles, it can be deduced that South African companies need to radic­ally rethink the way in which they conduct business. When managers move from functional man­agement to managing quality, their whole perspective changes. They realise that their function is to manage and improve processes, and not to control people. Instead, they focus on how work flows through the organisation to deliver quality outputs that customers will value.

On the other hand, the new field of talent management offers a complimentary approach to quality management.  While quality management focuses on product quality, talent management emphasises people quality.  The assumption is that if you have quality people, you will deliver quality products and services. Therefore, talent management and quality management are two sides of the same coin.  Talent Management provides quality people, while quality management provides quality products. The two approaches reinforce what both fields are trying to achieve.  In fact, the focus on empowerment and the creation of a quality culture as embedded in quality management is also essential in talent management. Likewise, organisations with the best talented employees are likely to deliver better quality and outperform their competition.

While quality management was the most successful contribution of management science to the 20th century, talent management may emerge as the most valuable innovation in management thinking in the 21st century.  Talent management provides us with an opportunity of aligning people, process and production in pursuit of the achievement of business objectives.  As was the case with quality management, it is my hope and wish that talent management will fully professionalise over the next two decades.  Professionalising talent management will be essential in ensuring that the behaviour, practices and outputs achieved by talent managers, is indeed adding significant value to business and society. Applying both sound quality management and talent management in an integrated manner, can play a meaningful role in improving current and future business performance.

This article is an extract from the book edited by Marius Meyer entitled “Managing Human Resource Development: A Strategic Learning Approach”   5th edition (2017) published by LexisNexis.

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