Today's Notables

Tokushu Kika and the Japan Quality Award

April 2005
Hisashi Furuichi
President and C.E.O.

Tokushu Kika Kogyo recently started applying for Japan Quality Award. Japan Quality Award Council which is run by Japan Productivity Center for Socio-economic Development recognizes excellence in management performance every year by awarding JQA to a corporation that has achieved outstanding performance in Japan. JQA award was established in Japan after the Malcolm Baldridge national quality award was started in the US in 1987.

Right after the war, Japan was able to bring itself up from the ashes and begin manufacturing again. Initially, industry could only manage to produce inferior goods and knockoffs when "Made in Japan" became synonymous with producing fakes. However a diligent and industrious Japanese workforce soon learned the advanced technology of the West and became highly skilled at enhancing productivity through technological advances. Soon, "Made in Japan" had a whole different meaning: high quality goods manufactured through efficient processes. Now, Japanese industry became the leader in manufacturing goods of top quality.

Harvard professor Ezra Vogel published "Japan as Number One" in 1979 in which he demonstrates how Japanese automobile and electronics industries were able to make the transformation from a negative "Made in Japan" image to one where just the brand names meant high quality and reliability beginning in the latter half of the 1970s. Furthermore, Japanese corporations were also adept at accurately assessing the customer and market needs; then reflecting those needs in the form of quality improvements and greater efficiency, quickly and more consistency than other countries. Japan had developed the "new industrial revolution" model, setting the standards for the world.

During the 1980's, on the other hand, American industry began to lag behind in competitiveness. To determine the cause and stop the decline, the US Department of Commerce appointed several top economists and experts to research the cause and find a solution. Naturally, they studied Japan's high productivity along with taking a comprehensive approach to finding causes for the decreasing competitiveness of American-made goods. Then in 1988, the Malcolm Baldridge national quality award was established using these research results as a basis to develop a common yardstick to evaluate total process and product quality. The award was named after Malcolm Baldridge who was then Secretary of Commerce under the Reagan Administration.

While American companies worked to revive industry toward the goals of the Award, the economic bubble in Japan burst, causing severe changes in structure of world markets and shaking the very foundations of industry. This called for a radical reform of management. The JQA was one of the outcomes that arose from studying how Japan needed to fundamentally change management in order to meet the new challenges. Many standards in the ISO Quality Management System were also based on the study of Japan's high quality standards but it is the JQA standards that were modeled after Japanese corporations that have shown excellence in performance.

However lengthy, perhaps that explanation shows why the JQA is one goal that TK should work toward. The JQA calls for a self assessment which needs to be performed by trained personnel. Training seminars are held in Tokyo and Osaka on an as-needed basis. I decided to take the lead and attend a seminar on self-assessment myself. There are three different grades: G1 (one day), G2 (2days) and G3 (3 days). The certification seminar is 2 days in which Japan Quality Award Council certifies someone as an assessor. Throughout the seminar, you study the self-assessment guidelines and outline but most of the time is spent in the practical work through groups and exercises to develop practical skill. Although the group work is based on case studies, there is a significant amount of content to be covered so I had to use my brain more than usual. It was more difficult that I had imagined.

Because the methods to improve the quality of management are unique to the corporation, a consensus must be achieved through dialog. Therefore, there is no "right" answer and you consider the instructor's explanation and then mull it over in light of your own experience. We will continue to send people to train as self-assessors in order to achieve excellence in management quality and performance.

( Reference: "What is the JQA?," Japan Productivity Center for Socio-economic Development )

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