Business is sweet on quality street: competitiveness drives quality in UK companies


European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Publication date: 1 February 2001



Mabey, C. and Thompson, A. (2001), "Business is sweet on quality street: competitiveness drives quality in UK companies", European Business Review, Vol. 13 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited

Business is sweet on quality street: competitiveness drives quality in UK companies

Business is sweet on quality street: competitiveness drives quality in UK companies

Keywords Quality management, United Kingdom

Quality management is no longer seen as just another management fad, according to new research among UK managers.

Successful organisations need to place quality at the very heart of their businesses as pressure comes from customers, competitors and regulators to improve continuously the quality of service, says the research, A Question of Quality? launched today by the Institute of Management (IM) and the British Quality Foundation.

More than eight in ten (83 per cent) managers predict increased emphasis on the quality of their organisations' products and services, over the next three years. This applies to all sectors – public, private and voluntary. In addition, 82 per cent expect the competitive pressures facing their organisations to become more acute, with 43 per cent anticipating significant increases.

However, executives believe delivering quality is a job for the many, rather than the few. It is too important to be left to a small team of specialists – quality needs to be absorbed into the culture and day to day behaviour of everyone in the company. But equally, managers say quality improvement programmes cannot succeed without leadership from the top. A total of 45 per cent think the board and top team should take responsibility for them, 45 per cent believe everyone in the company should and only 19 per cent think they should be left to quality specialists.

Yet one of the greatest problems managers say their organisations face in trying to implement quality programmes is lack of top level commitment. The other main obstacles are cost, too much emphasis on short-term goals and lack of time. However, the research also shows that a new senior management team is more likely to integrate quality into its strategy and this is one of the main reasons for the introduction of a quality programme.

For many organisations, quality is already part of the company ethos with almost seven in ten (69 per cent) managers saying their organisation has introduced a quality programme in the past three years. Over three-quarters of managers believe their organisations' commitment to quality is long-term and they expect quality programmes to last indefinitely.

UK organisations have successfully adopted a range of initiatives with the most widely used being Investors in People (45 per cent), ISO 9001 (42 per cent) and the Business Excellence Model (15 per cent). When measuring the impact of these models on business success, managers are most positive about ISO 14001 (specifically environmental management), which 83 per cent rate highly, and the Business Excellence Model, rated highly by 79 per cent.

When it comes to assessing the value of initiatives, only 3 per cent of managers say their organisation fails to measure whether levels of quality have improved. Over half of managers (51 per cent) say the main method used is customer satisfaction levels, followed by monitoring performance targets (30 per cent) and measuring failure/reject rates (30 per cent).

Finding the right information can be the first step for many organisations. Executives are most likely to seek advice from customers (60 per cent), colleagues (56 per cent) and professional bodies such as the Institute of Management (55 per cent). The Internet is becoming a favoured source of information for 47 per cent of managers, with this figure rising to 62 per cent among those working in London.

Mary Chapman, director general, Institute of Management, commented: "UK organisations have come a long way in taking on the quality message, but the research shows there is no room for complacency given the growing competitive pressures they face. Quality needs to be led from the top and central to how we do businesses if organisations are to survive and thrive in the competitive environment of tomorrow."

Joe Goasdoue, chief executive, British Quality Foundation, said: "The survey shows that there has been a step change in attitudes to quality and performance improvement amongst managers in the public, private and voluntary sectors. For the first time, we have evidence that a majority of management teams have embraced quality, in one form or another. It's not all good news, however. A number of managers still see quality as too costly, and it appears that a significant minority of top management teams continue to show a marked lack of commitment to quality."

The report, A Question of Quality? A Survey of Performance Improvement Initiatives, is available, price £40 (£20 IM members) from Cara Rodwell, Public Affairs Department, Institute of Management. Tel: +44 (0)20 7421 2704 or The Publications Department, British Quality Foundation. Tel: +44 (0)20 7654 5000.