Bosch is a leader in the European Foundation for Quality Management, whose cause is vital if local manufacturing is to pull past a labouring US and catch up with a fast-moving Japan. In an earlier column I pointed to the tiny showing (now four) of British manufacturers in the EFQM. How come?
One piece of anecdotal evidence may hint at the answer. An outsider who learnt his quality at the highest levels of defence has been working with a British firm of impeccable pedigree and with its customer, the Ministry of Defence. He found both "in the flat earth mode" when it came to total quality management (TQM). There was "no clear corporate policy or published objectives, lack of control over company processes, no use of the ideas and capabilities of the workforce, a dedication to the avoidance of detailed planning and progress/variation analysis, and the lack of a management system which even remotely approached BS5750" (that being the British quality management standard to which many have aspired).
The critic concluded that companies which had not taken a stab at TQM were probably better off and better managed. As for survey evidence, TQM expert Develin and Partners boldly mailed 3,000 companies about their quality programmes, if any. Whether you regard the 10% response as high (Develin does) or miserably low depends on your point of view: 15% of the contacted manufacturers replied, of which nearly all had embarked, or were embarking, on TQM. The suspicion must be that the unresponding were not on the side of the quality angels.
Not that the angels had heavenly results. After seven years or more, only 30% had fully met their objectives in improving competitiveness: only half had improved suppliers' quality to the desired standards; there were also shortfalls in customer service and reducing the cost of failure. In part, these results reflect the fact that TQM is a long-haul game. But they also show a cultural lag at the highest levels of management, especially when it comes to welding together a collaborative and unified effort: only 15% had met their internal communication aims after an ostensible seven years' hard labour.
The quality issue can be taken as a metaphor for the overall predicament. Too much top-down management by lip service has vitiated manufacturers' efforts when, in any event, they are operating in difficult circumstances, made still harder by gross lapses of macro-economic policy (not least the latest).
Still, that does not explain the results of another survey, this time by the Japanese subsidiary Epson (UK). Out of 352 mid-level and senior executives, 60% could not locate the European Community headquarters in Brussels. Two thirds did think that the single market would be the most important event of the decade and would heighten competition, but half thought that the impact of the single market would pass them by. Most thought (rightly) that the Brits were less well prepared than continental rivals - yet a thumping 90% claimed that their own firms, in contrast to everybody else, were armed to the teeth.
There you have it. Lip service and complacency are a fatal combination, and their persistence into the 1990s is an astonishing anachronism. Manufacturing renaissance will be tough and tortuous without them: with them, new birth is utterly impossible. Maybe the incoming flood of more realistic and vigorous foreign owners, notably the Japanese, is Britain's best hope. But do not count too much on outside rescue. In that last column on quality I mentioned that Jaguar was among the British handful of EFQM members. Since purchase by Ford Motor, Jaguar has resigned. Sic transit ...