Quality management in international companies

Ideas of quality and quality management differ between different parts of the world. This is often a major challenge for multinational companies with operations in many countries. A thesis presented at LiU proposes
strategies and instruments that companies can use to deal with this.

Samer Mohy-Aldeen, Bonnie Poksinska and  Promporn Wangwacharakul. Time for disputation. IT-technician Samer Mohy-Aldeen, supervisor Bonnie Poksinska and Promporn Wangwacharakul checks the equipment. The defence was partly held digitally. Photo credit: Mikael SönneNo text in field]

Same definition important

What do we mean by “high quality”? How can an organisation work to improve the quality of its work procedures and its products? What is needed to satisfy a customer? The answers to these questions differ between individuals and organisations, and they also differ between cultures and countries.

Promporn Wangwacharakul.

In her thesis Managing Quality in Cross-cultural Settings, Promporn Wangwacharakul investigates how quality management is conducted in multicultural contexts, focussing on multinational companies and those with a global customer base. She identifies the differences that exist, and examines how the companies can bridge these differences.

“It’s not about completely removing national differences, but removing differences in the understanding of quality management. What’s important is to have the same objectives and values: you can use slightly different methods to reach the goal”, says Promporn Wangwacharakul.

You have looked at companies in different industries with subsidiaries in different parts of the world. How large are the differences?

“I found large differences. Some companies don’t have any common strategies for quality management at all. This may be the result of companies being merged, and work with quality not being able to keep up.

“Then there are other companies with a very strong common culture, you can say they have it programmed into their genes. In these cases, the national differences have been reduced, and the companies have learnt how to manage the differences that remain. Ideas about quality management are the same, and the same strategies are used.”

What are the risks of holding different views of quality?

“It can be difficult for subsidiaries in different countries to collaborate, for example. Even if the companies use the same production methods, the quality achieved and the number of defective products can differ, depending on where they were produced”, says Promporn Wangwacharakul.

Six different articles

The thesis consists of six articles and a summary discussion. The first article examines differences in quality management between different countries and shows that the “lean method” can mean different things in, for example, Japan and Sweden. The article also describes the challenges faced when adapting central strategies to local conditions. The second article analyses the differences between Swedish and Chinese subsidiaries in a multinational group.

The third article presents an instrument to investigate differences between countries with respect to ideas of quality management and the results of such work. The method is based on what are known as “anchoring vignettes”, in which interviewees are asked to analyse several hypothetical situations. One example looks at how employees experience different forms of improvement measures.

Can you see Promporns thesis among the nailings?

“In the surveys usually used, the answers can differ depending on the nationality and cultural background of the interviewee. If I give grade 10 to something, this may not mean the same as a 10 from you. This type of questionnaire removes any bias, or imbalance, caused by such factors as national differences and age differences”, says Promporn Wangwacharakul.

Strong quality culture

The fourth article investigates differences in customer satisfaction related to the service of mobile phones in different countries. The fifth article suggests a strategy to reinforce common quality management in multinational companies. If a company has a weak shared culture of quality, Promporn Wangwacharakul suggests that it should adopt a standard way of working, and that problems with quality are resolved through clear step-by-step instructions.

“If you focus on the technical aspects of quality management, this can form the basis for common values and objectives. In other words, it can build a strong and shared culture of quality”, she says.

Finally, the sixth article presents a case study of quality management in a multinational company. The article demonstrates clear differences between subsidiaries with respect to ideas about, for example, leadership, customer focus and work with continuous improvement.

Translated by George Farrants

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