Total Quality Management is the dedicated effort to providing a continuously-increasing level of quality in an effort to retain the attention (and repeat business) of your customers. Widely practiced throughout the world, large corporations are continuously examining their products and services through the practice of TQM to optimize their competitiveness, paying particular attention to their core customer base. So why can't small businesses do the same?
The short answer is: they can. But if you're a small business owner and you want to apply the analytic practice of TQM to your company, there are a few pitfalls to be aware of, each of which could lead to excessive costs to your bottom line.

Benefits of Total Quality Management

When stacking the pros and cons, the potential for boosting your company's success makes the implementation of a TQM business philosophy extremely attractive.

Those who've initiated a Total Quality Management analysis have routinely experienced an improved understanding of their customers' needs, an overall increase in customer satisfaction, streamlined communication within their organization and better problem-solving. Plus, TQM has enabled many businesses to unify their workforce though enhanced levels of motivation - a key reward many hope to achieve as a result of the process.

All of these revelations lead to stronger relationships with suppliers, fewer product and supply errors and a noticeable reduction in waste related to business processes.

The Downside of TQM for Small Business

Though the valuable insight delivered through TQM makes it extremely attractive, nothing comes without a cost. And that cost can be excessive, even for large-scale organizations.

Revealing both the strengths and weaknesses of your organization, the findings from a Total Quality Management analysis can result in significant increases related to additional employee training as well as a disproportionate consumption of management's time. In addition, the process may include an increase in paperwork and the failure to address the individual needs of your small business due to an emphasis on 'process' rather than 'results'.

Where Your Efforts Should Be Focused

It would seem obvious, but the ultimate goal of any customer-driven organization, whether large or small, should be customer service. And when it comes to implementing Total Quality Management for small businesses, this is exponentially vital.

Small businesses often have limitations on finances, personnel and equipment while suffering under the added burden of vulnerability related to unpredictable shifts in consumer behavior. The surest way to offset this weakness is to operate like a turn-of-the-century specialty shop, catering not only to a specific niche but, more importantly, developing a relationship with your customer base.

Before the days of Costco, Walmart and other national grocery chains, specialty shops that included bakers, butchers and vegetable grocers provided food for every family in their local neighborhood - often for multiple generations - by getting to know each family personally and anticipating exactly what they'd need based on their buying habits, as well as those of other family members.

In doing so, these early shop owners set the standard for both product management and customer satisfaction, cultivating a level of care and attention that often extended to their employees, who were also taken care of like family.

To promote this essential component of Total Quality Management, it's crucial to have a staff that understands the overall process and is committed to its successful execution. Therefore, just as the shop owners of old, the savvy small business owner should recruit and retain quality employees while training and motivating them to work cohesively as a cross-functional team, resulting in more efficient problem-identification and resolution, process execution and overall productivity across all business processes.

These "TQM-enhanced" employees will have more control over their work and a greater sense of ownership in the company, translating to a natural drive toward customer satisfaction and noticeable increases in the overall success of the venture.