# Business values, management and conflict handling: issues in contemporary Singapore

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## Business values, management and conflict handling: issues in contemporary Singapore

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This article reports the results of work being undertaken in Singapore with some 300 managers and future managers in the public and private sector. As well as conflict handling the research has investigated the concepts of power, needs, assertiveness, personal and leadership styles and influencing styles in order to paint a picture of the Singaporean manager of the future in the context of a society at the crossroads of development from an industrial to post- industrial one.

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## Nội dung Text: Business values, management and conflict handling: issues in contemporary Singapore

3. Journal of Conflict resolution strategies Management Many societies and organizations attempt to promote the notion, far beyond Development what reality tells us, that harmony and consensus are both prevalent and positive. Cursory experience of societies and organizations indicates that this is 14,4 a myth and that conflict is, in fact, the reality that all human beings experience in their day-to-day lives. Most of this conflict is dealt with easily, but in some 58 situations it is of considerable importance and not so easy to resolve. Thus a strategy for resolution is essential. In management, the ability to resolve conflicts successfully is a vital skill which has two subskills: the cognitive (do I understand how conflict can be resolved?), and the behavioural (can I resolve specific conflicts?). It is vital that the manager understands how he/she resolves conflict him/herself. There are a number of approaches to discovering this, but many have elements in common [6-9]. In a general sense there is the manner in which individuals deal with conflict situations as identified by Cornelius and Faire[10]. These authors identify five possible reactions to circumstances of conflict: (1) Withdrawal: the individual responds to conflict by ceasing to talk, sulking, retiring hurt, becoming resentful, becoming depressed, saying nasty things behind another’s back, stopping caring about anybody, moving to a business only level. (2) Suppression: here the individual deals with conflict as if nothing is wrong, carries on regardless, puts up with a difficult conflict situation for the sake of peace, uses charm to get his or her own way, says nothing at the time but is devious later on, keeps all bad feelings inside. (3) Compromise: an individual who compromises in dealing with conflict attempts to maintain the friendship, tries to discover what is fair, divides the prize equally, avoids pulling rank or being authoritarian, gives something to preserve the relationship. (4) Win/lose: a person who seeks to win in conflict and not lose will set out to show that the other person is wrong, get moody and sulk until they change their mind, shout them down, turn physically violent, refuse to take “no” for an answer. (5) Win/win: the individual who seeks win/win solutions to conflict will find out what others need, find out where differences come together, design new options where people get more of what they need and work in partnership with others to find solutions. The Thomas-Kilmann approach A well-known and widely-used approach to understanding the different ways in which people deal with conflict is the Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument[11]. Unlike the work of Cornelius and Faire[12], Thomas and Kilmann do not suggest that all conflict is best resolved by searching for a
4. win/win situation. Indeed, there are a number of different ways to deal with Business values, conflict and each of these modes of conflict handling can be useful under management different sets of circumstances. For example, following the five conflict- and conflict handling modes identified by Thomas and Kilmann, each of the following may be appropriate under divergent circumstances: q “two heads are better than one” (collaborating); 59 q “kill your enemies with kindness” (accommodating); q “split the difference” (compromising); q “leave well enough alone” (avoiding); q “might makes fight” (competing). The extent to which a given conflict-handling mode is effective depends on the requirements of the specific conflict situation and the skill with which it is used. In this sense in any given situation a particular mode of handling conflict may be more suitable than others. Furthermore, every individual is capable of using all five conflict-handling modes; nobody can be characterized as having a single, inflexible style of dealing with conflict, although some people will be more inclined than others to use certain modes. The conflict behaviours of individuals, therefore, are a combination of their personal characteristics and the requirements of the circumstances within which they find themselves. This is important and is the purpose of the Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument. In addition to the conflict-handling modes, Thomas and Kilmann developed their model further by indicating that all reactions to conflict stem from two general impulses. First, assertive behaviour, the desire to satisfy personal concerns and, second, non-assertive behaviour, the desire to satisfy the concerns of others. Figure 1 represents the model. Assertive Competing Collaborating (domination) (integration) Compromising (sharing) Avoiding Accommodating (neglect) (appeasement) Non-assertive Figure 1. Modes of handling Unco-operative Co-operative conflict
5. Journal of The Singapore survey Management The survey of managers and future managers in Singapore involved 303 Development respondents. Some 51 per cent were male, 49 per cent female. These figures are representative of the total population of Singapore, 50.6 per cent male and 49.3 14,4 per cent female (Census, 1992). The ethnic make-up of the group was 79 per cent Chinese, 8 per cent Indian, 5 per cent Malay and 3 per cent Eurasian. The 60 figures for Chinese, Indian, Eurasian/others are representative of figures for the Singaporean population as a whole – 77.61 per cent Chinese, 7.08 per cent Indian and 1.2 per cent Eurasian/other. For Malays our sample of 5 per cent is not representative of the Malay population of Singapore (14.17 per cent ) but taking into account that all respondents were full-time or part-time students enrolled in an institute of higher education, the under-representation of Malays should be taken in the light of the fact that the average number of years of formal education of Malays (7.7) is lower than that of the Chinese (8.4), Indian (8.4) and Eurasian (8.0)[12]. It may be suggested, therefore, that Malays are less likely to be taking part in higher education. Of the respondents 10 per cent were in management or administration, 12 per cent in public services and 14 per cent in private services; some 13 per cent were in production, engineering and technology; 16 per cent were in clerical and secretarial jobs; 8 per cent were in the armed forces and 22 per cent were full-time students. Of the respondents 97 per cent were in the age range 16 to 35, almost half in the 21 to 25 range. The group, therefore, represented a young, upwardly mobile and ultimately well- educated group of people who would be very important to the future of Singapore and management in Singapore. Gender Figure 2 indicates the dominant modes of handling conflict. The two predominant modes of handling conflict for both men and women were compromising and avoiding, although the greatest tendency for men was compromising and, for women, avoiding. Figure 3 compares gender by the three main racial groups in Singapore. Within the Chinese group the overall pattern is similar for men and women; men have a greater tendency to compromise when resolving conflict, and women have a greater tendency towards compromise, closely followed by avoidance. In the Indian racial group men and women handled conflict differently; men tended to be more compromising, whereas women tended towards collaborating. Both men and women have a tendency towards avoidance. The Malay group show that men are compromisers while women are very clearly avoiders. We would expect there to be some difference in the way men and women handle conflict in any society. Gender identity is primarily a social construction and as a consequence derives from processes of learned behaviour. This socialization process tends to promote the view that women are biologically suited to the role of wife and mother. By comparison, men, also by virtue of their “biogrammar” are seen to be more suited to, and capable of, achievement
6. 8 Business values, management 7 and conflict 6 5 61 4 3 2 1 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Figure 2. Modes of handling conflict in relation to Key : Male Female gender 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Chinese Chinese Indian Indian Malay Malay (male) (female) (male) (female) (male) (female) Figure 3. Modes of handling Key : Competing Compromising Accommodating conflict in relation to Collaborating Avoiding race and gender
7. Journal of outside the domestic sphere. Men have been associated more closely with, and Management given increased access to, extra-domestic and public domains[13]. In Asian Development cultures, this separation, though not necessarily as clear cut as popular stereotypes might suggest, is significant. The significance is best demonstrated 14,4 by the marked increase in research by South-east Asian behavioural scientists particularly relating to women’s marginalization from decision making in rural 62 development programmes, training in technology and mechanization, which renders them incapable of advancing further[14]. The general conclusion in relation to the gender dimension is that there is a tendency for men to be relatively unassertive and relatively unco-operative in the way they deal with conflict. Women have a greater tendency towards unassertiveness but less of a tendency towards unco-operativeness. In terms of conflict resolution, then, we can see a difference between males and females which is a function of gender differentiation. In Singaporean society the difference in behaviour is a function of attributed, socially expected, and therefore significantly influential modes of behaviour. According to a survey carried out by government matchmaking agencies (SDU and SDS) certain characteristics are seen as specifically desirable in either males or females. Key attributes in men are self-confidence and assertiveness, while for women it is more positive to demonstrate “gentleness and fondness for home life as well as respect for her husband as head of the household”[15]. The conflict resolution strategies adopted by males and females in Singapore are influenced by societal gender-behaviour expectations, promoted openly by male political leaders[16]. This is particularly so in the predominant Chinese group. The implications of this are quite clear for women in relation to employment and management. As with women in the West, the force of societal, patriarchal norms operates against their success. A few of our female respondents may break through the glass ceiling and reach the top; however, for the majority the structural and psychological constraints on choice and achievement will prove too great in the foreseeable future. Race Much of the literature dealing with cross-cultural issues in organizations and management often makes the mistake of packaging all countries in the continent of Asia as Asian, suggesting there is a set of values and attitudes common to all Asians. This tendency is evident even in the work of some Asian writers and comments of Singaporean politicians[1,17,18]. This is clearly absurd. If we look at the results of the survey as they relate to the four main racial groups in Singapore we perceive some interesting differences. Of the four groups the Indian racial category is the most competitive. This may indicate the need of a minority group to be extra competitive to compensate for their numerical disadvantage. Malays and Eurasians are relatively less competitive and Dr Mahathir Mohammed, Prime Minister of Malaysia, has himself offered some interesting insights into this aspect of the Malay character[19]. As we would expect, the Indian racial group are less
8. avoiding and accommodating than any other racial group, while the Malays Business values, and Eurasians are more so. The extent to which Malays adopt a strategy of management avoidance is particularly high. In the case of Malays this must be taken in the and conflict light of the fact that unity and resistance to division are a particularly important aspect of Malaysian society[20]. All four groups are relatively high on compromising which is likely to be a feature of most societies. The findings in relation to the racial dimension suggest that the Chinese have 63 a tendency towards unassertiveness and co-operativeness in dealing with conflict, indicating a desire to retain a sense of harmony and order which is probably linked to the popularity of Confucian and Buddhist beliefs among the Singaporean Chinese community. The potential influence of these beliefs is an important issue of debate in Singapore led by current Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew[21,22]. The Indian group have only a slight tendency towards unassertiveness and towards co-operativeness. In comparison the Malay group has a strong tendency towards unassertiveness and a tendency towards unco-operativeness. That Malays have a strong tendency towards unco-operativeness should not be taken as indicative of aggressive unco-operativeness but perhaps more of conflict withdrawal, which is more in keeping with Malay culture, i.e. the avoidance of disturbing social harmony and balance[20]. It is interesting to consider the differences by gender and by race (Figure 3). Male and female Chinese have quite similar profiles in relation to resolving conflicts. However, the Indian group shows that, while both men and women are similar in terms of assertiveness, women tend to be more co-operative than men. Among Malays this situation is reversed, with women tending to be more unco- operative than men. This is a function of the cultural and religious constitution of Malay women which evokes a particular psychological response to work stress and gender hierarchy[23]. While the concept of order and harmony appears to exist in many Asian cultures, rendering the open manifestation of conflict virtually impossible, the origin of these beliefs is somewhat different. The prevalent Western view of a conflict situation is that it can be resolved openly, rationally and systematically, leading to benefits for the organization and the individuals, groups, departments involved. This view is unlikely to prevail in many Asian cultures. In turn, this will have considerable implications for the management style adopted in these cultures, which remains largely hierarchical and patriarchal, although with distinctive manifestations of such hierarchy and patriarchy[24]. There is nothing in our survey which indicates any movement towards the Western notion of collaboration in dealing with conflict among any of the racial groups in the survey. The extent to which this may be significant in the context of economic development is considered in the summary and conclusion. Age Of those surveyed 97 per cent were in the age range 16 to 35. Figure 4 represents the details of this group separated into four segments. In all age
9. Journal of 8 Management Development 7 14,4 6 64 5 4 3 2 1 Figure 4. 0 Modes of handling Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating conflict in relation to age Key : 16-20 21-25 26-30 31-35 groups there is a tendency towards compromising as a conflict resolution strategy, as we would expect. There is a tendency towards unassertiveness among all age groups except those in the 31-35 age range. This suggests that, while compromising represents the middle way, most respondents would combine unassertiveness with either co-operative or unco-operative behaviours resulting in avoidance or accommodation as a conflict-resolving strategy. With increasing age respondents have a clear tendency to become more assertive. Indeed, the 31-35 age group do indicate a collaborative style (a combination of assertive and co-operative behaviour). This is an interesting trend which may indicate the importance of experience in the working environment in changing perceptions of how to resolve conflict. Maturity, then, as measured by age, may be significant in the adoption of a more collaborative style of conflict resolution. To show this to be the case, however, further work would need to be undertaken. It could be that age, as it does, correlates more closely with position in occupational hierarchies. Occupation The survey distinguished eight occupational categories; administrative and management; students; armed forces; clerical; private services; production and engineering; information systems; and public services. With the exception of administrative and management, public services, and clerical staff, all categories had a tendency towards compromising as a mode of conflict
10. resolution (Figure 5). Administrative and management staff were Business values, predominantly collaborative, while public services and clerical staff were management predominantly avoiding. and conflict While collaboration is the dominant mode for administrative and management staff, a closer look at the results indicates a tendency towards assertive yet unco-operative behaviour. Those respondents already in positions with some authority and responsibility tend to operate in an authoritative 65 manner. Conversely those respondents in public services and clerical work have a tendency towards avoidance as their dominant mode of dealing with conflict. Clerical workers tended to be unassertive and unco-operative, while public service employees were co-operative but unassertive. Such results are interesting in that they suggest a correlation between personality and job, although further analysis would need to be undertaken to conclude that certain personality types are attracted to certain types of employment. It is interesting to note also that gender is not an important variable in either the public service or clerical work, and so although women dominate clerical and public service employment they are no more avoiding than men in these jobs. With the exception of the administrative/management group, all categories have a tendency towards unassertiveness, and all groups with the exception of students and public services have a tendency towards unco-operativeness. In most types of occupation the majority of respondents appear to be adopting a style of conflict resolution which produces all outcomes with the exception of win/win. The results in relation to occupation are interesting. Up to this point it has been suggested that culture may be the dominant variable in determining approaches to resolving conflict among our respondents. However, it might be that the roles and responsibilities that people perform in largely bureaucratic organizations may have a logic of their own when combined with personality characteristics which construct power relationships within the organizational structure. Certainly the results of this research indicate such a link. Moreover, the classical organization and management approaches of Weber and Fayol fit well with the Confucianist concept of wu lun. As Hofstede[25] points out, this concept suggests that “the stability of society rests on unequal relationships between people”. Managers might expect to give “protection and consideration”, in exchange for “respect and obedience”[25]. This might explain, in a predominantly Chinese society, the relative competitiveness of managers and the relative avoidance of lower level personnel in organizations towards resolving conflict. Summary and conclusions The results of the survey on the conflict resolution styles of present and future managers and executives in Singapore suggest that, while there is a general tendency towards compromise as the most adopted strategy in conflict
11. Journal of 7 Managers and administrators Management 6 Development 5 14,4 4 3 66 2 1 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Students 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Armed forces 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Clerical 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Figure 5. 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Conflict resolution in relation to occupation (Continued )
12. 8 Private services Business values, 7 management 6 and conflict 5 4 3 67 2 1 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Production and engineering 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Information systems 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Public services 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Competing Collaborating Compromising Avoiding Accommodating Figure 5.
13. Journal of situations, a deeper assessment indicates an important overall tendency Management towards unassertiveness and unco-operativeness in dealing with conflict. Development It is very much the prevailing belief in American management thinking that, in the complex and fast-changing business world of the 1990s and twenty-first 14,4 century, competitive advantage can be gained if the behavioural dynamic of organizations encourages collaboration. Collaboration is a strategy for 68 resolving conflict that promotes assertiveness and co-operation. Assertiveness is important because it enables individuals to state their position openly. Co- operation is important because it promotes win/win solutions to conflict situations. We have the potential to develop new solutions to conflict situations by asserting our position and working towards better solutions by combining this with co-operation; adding value to each individual’s or each group’s preferred resolution[26]. Of the other approaches to resolving conflict identified by Thomas and Kilmann, competing is a strategy to win and not lose. There is no room here for listening to the views of the other party and developing a combined and better resolution of conflict. Avoidance is an unco-operative strategy in which a person or group never makes their position clear, or never puts “their cards on the table”. This is, therefore, not a strategy for the resolution of conflict. Accommodation is a co-operative strategy, but is unassertive. It is a strategy of submission in which accommodators never get their views heard. Finally, compromising is a give and take approach to conflict resolution which is likely to result in a solution of reduced effectiveness through dilution. The future managerial and executive class in Singapore tends towards the unassertive and unco-operative position in dealing with conflict and, consequently, conflicts may often be resolved inadequately from an organizational/group point of view according to the logic of Western thinking. This brings us to a fundamental issue in the debate concerning cultural differences in business and management. Should we take a universalist or particularist approach to business and management, and to what extent are management practices influenced by the organizations and society in which they occur? One could argue that the more open a society and the more educated its people, the more they will demand involvement and participation, and the less likely they are simply to take orders. Future managers in Singapore may be managing experts and others of much higher educational levels. Hierarchical organization and patriarchy do not fit well in such situations; everyone in “their rightful place” becomes a difficult position to justify in business organizations which need to respond rapidly to economic, business and competitive environmental pressures. To a great extent the issue is much more significant than the particularist- universalist distinction identified by some writers[27]. It is about the clash of traditional values and modern values and, in particular, the values of expanding global capitalism. As social and economic development depends increasingly on fast paced invention and innovation, conflict over ideas becomes crucial; no élite can hold all the keys to the locked doors of creativity.
14. The logic of successful global business culture today requires the psychological Business values, acceptance and management of change and conflict. Some cultures can do this management more easily than others, and some societies allow this more freely than others. and conflict A major issue for Singapore and also for the newly industrializing economies of the Far East is how to deal with the clash of capitalist values and traditional values as societies develop economically, educationally and socially. This is a perennial question which is at the centre of debate in Singapore in particular. 69 Economic development tends to shatter the traditional value systems of all societies in which capitalism takes root. Continued economic development in Singapore may require an adherence to economic values and psychological behaviours which have been frowned on traditionally by the government and are currently underdeveloped; for example, conflict resolution rather than avoidance. If this is the case, not only is there an inevitability in the logic of capitalist economic and social values, but also there may be some degree of inevitability in the psychological practice of capitalism. The economic success, particularly of the Chinese in Singapore, may already be due to an individualism which the leaders do not, or choose not, to recognize. Adaptability to the developing psychological practice of capitalism into the twenty-first century may only be obstructed by the government itself as it seeks to retain paternalistic control over an increasingly progressive population[18]. References 1. Chee, S.J., Dare to Change, The Singapore Democratic Party, Singapore, 1994. 2. “One man SDI”, The Straits Times, 22 August 1994. 3. Bennis, W., “Changing organisations”, Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, Vol. 2 No. 3, 1966, pp. 247-63. 4. Peters, T.J., Thriving on Chaos, Macmillan, New York, NY, 1985. 5. Wong, C.K., “The style of managing in a multicultural society – Singapore” in Putti, J.M. (Ed.), Management Asian Context, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 1991. 6. Stepsis, J.A., “Conflict resolution strategies”, in Pfeiffer, J.W. and Jones, J.E. (Eds), The 1974 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, University Associates, San Diego, CA, 1974. 7. Robert, M., Managing Conflict from the Inside out, University Associates, San Diego, CA, 1982. 8. Blake, R.R., Shepard, H.A. and Mouton, J.S., Managing Intergroup Conflict in Industry, Gulf, Houston, TX, 1964. 9. Thomas, K.W., “Conflict and conflict management”, in Dunnette, M. (Ed.), Handbook of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, Vol. 2, Rand McNally, Chicago, IL, 1976. 10. Cornelius, H. and Faire, S., Everyone Can Win, Simon & Schuster, Australia, 1989. 11. Thomas, K.W. and Kilmann, R.H., Thomas-Kilmann-Conflict Mode Instrument, Xicon, Tuxedo, NY, 1974. 12. Quah, S., Chiew, S.K., Ko, Y.C. and Lee, S.M., A Social Class in Singapore, Times Academic Press, Singapore, 1991. 13. Rosaldo, M., “Women, culture and society: a theoretical overview”, in Rosaldo, M. and Lemphere, L. (Eds), Women, Culture and Society, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA, 1974.
15. Journal of 14. Wazir, J.K. “Gender studies in South East Asia”, South East Asian Journal of Social Science, Vol. 21 No. 1, 1993. Management 15. “The bonus of getting a capable wife”, The Straits Times, 19 August 1994. Development 16. “Confucian ethics and Asian tradition”, Asia Week, 21 September 1994. 14,4 17. Bedi, H., The Asian Manager, Heinemann, Singapore, 1991. 18. “PM: new steps to strengthen the family”, The Straits Times, 22 September 1994. 70 19. Mohammed, M., The Malay Dilemma, Time Books International, Singapore, 1972. 20. Carsten, J., “Analogues or opposites: household and communities in Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia”, De La Hutte au Palais Sociétés à la Maison en Asie du Sud-est Insulaire, (ECASE) Editions du CNRS, Paris, 1987. 21. “Three lessons for Singapore”, The Straits Times, 19 October 1994. 22. “What would I do if I were an undergraduate?”, The Sunday Times, 16 October 1994. 23. Ong, A.C., Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia, New York Press, State University of New York, NY, 1987. 24. Waters, D., Twenty-first Century Management, Prentice-Hall, Singapore, 1994. 25. Hofstede, G., Cultures and Organisations, McGraw-Hill, London, 1991. 26. Senge, P., The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday-Currency, New York, NY, 1990. 27. Trompenaars, A., Riding the Waves of Culture, Economist, London, 1993.
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