To be effective in improving quality, TQM must be supported at all levels of a firm, from the highest executive to the lowest‐level hourly employee. TQM extends the definition of quality to all functional areas of the organization, including production, marketing, finance, and information systems. The process begins by listening to customers' wants and needs and then delivering goods and services that fulfill these desires. TQM even expands the definition of customer to include any person inside or outside the company to whom an employee passes his or her work. In a restaurant, for example, the cooks' customers are the waiters and waitresses. This notion encourages each member of the organization to stay focused on quality and remain fully aware of his or her contribution to it and responsibility for it.
The TQM philosophy focuses on teamwork, increasing customer satisfaction, and lowering costs. Organizations implement TQM by encouraging managers and employees to collaborate across functions and departments, as well as with customers and suppliers, to identify areas for improvement, no matter how small. Teams of workers are trained and empowered to make decisions that help their organization achieve high standards of quality. Organizations shift responsibility for quality control from specialized departments to all employees. Thus, total quality management means a shift from a bureaucratic to a decentralized approach to control.
An effective TQM program has numerous benefits. Financial benefits include lower costs, higher returns on sales and investment, and the ability to charge higher rather than competitive prices. Other benefits include improved access to global markets, higher customer retention levels, less time required to develop new innovations, and a reputation as a quality firm. Only a small number of companies use TQM because implementing an effective program involves much time, effort, money, and patience. However, firms with the necessary resources may gain major competitive advantages in their industries by implementing TQM.