COWARD'S INBOX: What options to take if the CEO is not committed

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I am a newly-hired operational planner working for a small food-processing plant.  I’ve read in so many articles that for us to compete with others, we’ve to come up and implement a total quality management (TQM) program which requires the equally “ total commitment” of top management. I’ve already submitted my written proposal to my boss who forwarded it to our CEO.  After almost two months waiting for his decision, I’ve come to a conclusion that this is not the right organization to start with TQM.  What can I do now? – Eager Beaver.

The owner of a photography studio tells the story of a college boy who came in with a framed picture of his girlfriend.  He wanted the picture duplicated.  In removing the photograph from the frame, the studio owner noticed the inscription at the back, written by the girlfriend:

“My dearest Tommy: I love you with all my heart.  I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever.  I am yours for all eternity.”  It was signed “Dianne” and contained a P.S. “If we should ever break up, I want this picture back.”

Like the lovers in our story, TQM requires total commitment of the stakeholders; first and foremost, it must proceed from top management.  Without the unwavering commitment from the top, it will be very difficult for you to continue with your plan.  Even if your management is ambivalent towards TQM, then you have limited options to make it happen as a corporate-wide program.

At the very best, perhaps you can only do a mini-implementation within your department, and consider it as a part of the selling stage.  That of course depends on your influence within your unit.  And I would like to think of it that way. After all, your TQM plan has already been approved by the boss.  If not, it would be unwise for you to push the subject beyond trying to enlighten everyone.  Certainly, you don’t want your actions to be misconstrued as defiance of management inaction.

More importantly, you must also recognize that a “departmental total quality approach” is a contradiction in terms.  The key word is “total” and therefore, doing TQM in select areas may not be proper.  But there’s no harm in trying.  As an exception to the general rule, you may consider doing it as a pilot project in the hope that the CEO may soon notice its impact.  If you decide to take this approach, take heed of the following measures:

- Draft a department TQM vision and mission statement.  Ensure its direct and unequivocal connection with the bigger, macro-view of the corporate vision and mission statements.  This alone could help you prove your case.  If the company has no vision and mission statement or any guiding principle, be sure to seek department approval of your TQM statements, even if it is not supposed to be published outside of the department.

- Volunteer to help orient your colleagues on the TQM principles.  If you can’t do it, hire consultants from the Dept. of Trade and Industry, Dept. of Science and Technology, if not the National Wages and Productivity Commission – three major government agencies that offer free assistance to businesses.  You may also want to check with the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines-Institute for Productivity and Competitiveness Foundation as they offer a special program called “ECOP Big Enterprise, Small Enterprise.”  You only need a major client to be your sponsor or “big brother” to avail of ECOP’s program.

- Hire volunteers from your colleagues inside the department.  You need all the assistance and cooperation of your co-workers.  They can form part of the steering committee.  Of course, depending on the size of your department, the ideal number of your committee should be at least three persons.

- Start harvesting the low-hanging fruits.  Identify problems that are easy to solve without spending big money.  It is easy to convince management, if you can show progress without straining departmental budgets. For starters, do 5S good housekeeping and make the effort visible in a flash.  Of course, you cannot do it alone.  You need the approval of your department boss and cooperation of your colleagues.

- Celebrate milestones or “small wins” when you achieve something for 5S.  Department rewards and recognition must be inexpensive and done outside of working hours.  This can be done by donating something like one bilao of pancit Malabon for free lunch or snack of the group.  This alone, could prove your sincerity to management.

- No matter what, don’t be carried away by your passion and perseverance.  Remember that you are doing this on your own without the CEO’s approval.  You action plan may only be tolerated by your department boss, therefore, you must be extra cautious in doing this approach. 

DO YOU WANT TO CHALLENGE THIS ADVICE?  This article is for non-management employees who can’t raise an issue directly against their toxic bosses for fear of reprisal.  Send your comments or workplace questions to or follow Rey Elbo on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.