Quality management focuses attention on continuous improvement

Th e work of W. Edwards Deming is a cornerstone of the quality movement in management. 27 His story began in 1951, when he was invited to Japan to explain quality control techniques that had been developed in the United States. “When Deming spoke,” we might say, “the Japanese listened. ” Th e principles he taught the Japanese were straightforward, and they worked: Tally defects, analyze and trace them to the source, make corrections, and keep a record of what happens afterward. Deming’s approach to quality emphasizes constant innovation, use of statistical methods, and commitment to training in the fundamentals of quality assurance.

One outgrowth of Deming’s work was the emergence of total quality management, or TQM. Th is process makes quality principles part of the organization’s strategic objectives, applying them to all aspects of operations and striving to meet customers’ needs by doing things right the fi rst time. Most TQM approaches begin with an insistence that the total quality commitment applies to everyone in an organization, from resource acquisition and supply chain management, through production and into the distribution of fi nished goods and services, and ultimately to customer relationship management.

The search for and commitment to quality is now tied to the emphasis modern management gives to the notion of continuous improvement—always looking for new ways to improve on current performance. 29 Th e goal is that one can never be satisfi ed; something always can and should be improved upon. Evidence-based management seeks hard facts about what really works. Looking back on the historical foundations of management, one thing that stands out is criticism by today’s scholars of the scientifi c rigor of some historical cornerstones, among them Taylor’s scientifi c management approach and the Hawthorne studies.

The worry is that we may be too quick in accepting as factual the results of studies that are based on weak or even shoddy empirical evidence. And if the studies are fl awed, perhaps more care needs to be exercised when trying to apply their insights to improve management practices. Th is problem isn’t limited to the distant past. 30 A book by Jim Collins, Good to Great, achieved great acclaim and best-seller status for its depiction of highly successful organizations.

But Collins’s methods and fi ndings have since been criticized by researchers. 32 And after problems appeared at many fi rms previously considered by him to be “great,” he wrote a follow-up book called How the Mighty Fall. 33 Th e point here is not to discredit what keen observers of management practice like Collins and others report. But it is meant to make you cautious and a bit skeptical when it comes to separating fads from facts and conjecture from informed insight.

Today’s management scholars are trying to move beyond generalized impressions of excellence to understand more empirically the characteristics of high-performance organizations—ones that consistently achieve highperformance results while also creating high quality-of-work-life environments for their employees. Following this line of thinking, Jeff rey Pfeff er and Robert Sutton make the case for evidence-based management, or EBM. Th is is the process of making management decisions on “hard facts”—that is, about what really works—rather than on “dangerous half-truths”—things that sound good but lack empirical substantiation.

Using data from a sample of some 1,000 fi rms, for example, Pfeff er and a colleague found that fi rms using a mix of well selected human resource management practices had more sales and higher profi ts per employee than those that didn’t. 35 Th ose practices included employment security, selective hiring, self-managed teams, high wages based on performance merit, training and skill development, minimal status diff erences, and shared information.

Examples of other EBM fi ndings include challenging goals accepted by an employee are likely to result in high performance, and that unstructured employment interviews are unlikely to result in the best person being hired to fi ll a vacant position. 36 Scholars pursue a variety of solid empirical studies using proven scientifi c methods in many areas of management research. Some carve out new and innovative territories, while others build upon and extend knowledge that has come down through the history of management thought. By staying abreast of such