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Kumar, MR 2005, 'Total quality management as the basis for organizational transformation of Indian Railways: a study in action research', DBA thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright MR Kumar 2005


The basic objective of this research was to assess the suitability of Total Quality Management (TQM) via the International Standards Organization (ISO) 9000/2000 quality accreditation system route for bringing about organisational transformation in the Indian Railways and to develop an India specific model for taking an ISO certified organization towards TQM. The first part of the research aimed at getting the ‘as is’ and ‘should be’ status of Indian Railways from an organisational change point of view. Based on the work carried out by Khandwalla (1995), a series of open-ended and close-ended questions were asked to the senior members of Indian Railways. Analysis of their responses was undertaken. It indicated that the way they thought Indian Railways should change was in line with the TQM model of change. The culture-TQM fit was studied as a part of this research. ‘Hierarchy’ (or power distance) and its related concept ‘collectivism’ were identified as the two cultural constructs which affect the successful implementation of TQM. The second part of the research aimed at measuring the hierarchical orientation among the employees of Indian Railways. This was measured on three dimensions of ‘dependency proneness’, ‘personalised relationship’ and ‘status consciousness’ based on the work done by Sinha (1995). It was found that among the three dimensions, ‘status consciousness’ and ‘dependency proneness’ were more deeply entrenched cultural traits among Indian Railway employees as compared to ‘personalised relationship’. On the two dimensions of ‘status consciousness’ and ‘dependency proneness’, the class 1 officers of Indian Railways were less hierarchy conscious than the class 2 officers who, in turn, were less hierarchy conscious than the supervisors. The tendency for ‘personalised relationship’ did not vary significantly either across the class 1 officer, class 2 officer and supervisor categories or across different age groups. Further, employees less than 30 years old, from 31 years to 50 years old and more than 50 years old, demonstrated similar level of ‘status consciousness’ and ‘dependency proneness’. This shows that at least in the Indian Railways, even among the younger generation, notwithstanding 15 years of liberalisation, hierarchical orientation continues to be a powerful cultural trait. The third part of the research aimed at understanding the impact of ISO 9000 implementation in the Indian Railway units. It was found that, contrary to the literature, there was no resistance to implementation of ISO based change in the Indian Railways. This research argues that because of their strong sense of identity with their work group, the employees of Indian Railways are more amenable to an internal leader initiated change. Hence there was no resistance to change. The fourth part of the research was an action research project aimed at ISO 9000:2000 certification of a warehousing unit in the Indian Railways. This was carried out to investigate the way organisational learning occurred during ISO certification. Three action cycles were conducted over a period of two months. Seven months later, one additional cycle was completed. Special care was taken to see that the conclusions arrived after one cycle were validated from other sources. It was found that departmentalism and lack of team spirit are major problems in Indian Railways. Both are ascribed to the caste system in India. It is hypothesised that since an Indian Railway employee remains in a department throughout his/her career, the department becomes his/her ‘professional caste’. The research then identifies an Indianised version of leadership in the context of organisational change. It hypothesises that hierarchical teacher-student (guru-shishya) relationship with the leader invokes personal bases of power which promotes change in India. The teacher-student (gurushishya) relationship with the leader is conceptually similar to ‘intellectual stimulation’ factor of transformational leadership. The ‘personalised relationship’ with a more equitable slant can be elevated to the status of ‘individualised consideration’ factor of transformational leadership and the Nurturant Task (NT) leadership model of India is conceptually similar to the contingent reward factor of transformational leadership. In the context of TQM, this research hypothesises that there is a sequential relationship among the critical success factors (CSFs) of TQM. For this, one should begin by framing process-based quality procedures and quality objectives. Process based quality procedures and quality objectives lead to development of team orientation in the context of TQM implementation. Similarly, a multi-tier Corrective and Preventive Action (CPA) reinforced with a reward and recognition system, positively intervenes in the transition of an ISO certified organization towards TQM. The learning arrived at in different parts of the research was finally integrated into a model for transforming an ISO certified unit towards TQM. The model shows that propagation of customer satisfaction as a value and not just as a measurement- as in a customer satisfaction index – is key for replacing some of the dysfunctional traditional Indian values which do not fit in a liberalised economy. More specifically, the compulsion of implementing a ‘Corrective / Preventive Action’ makes a person come out of his/her traditional moorings and thus begins his/her socialisation outside his/her ‘professional caste’. The reinforcing effect of successive improvement inculcates a feeling of team spirit among members of different functional groups. Successive CPAs supported by a suitable reward system and an Indianised version of leadership mentioned earlier create a spiral vortex which continually pulls the organization towards achieving TQM. Finally, this research establishes a link between the soft system methodology and an India specific cultural dimension called ‘context sensitivity’. The researcher argues that it is because of context sensitivity of Indians that no resistance to change was found during ISO implementation in Indian Railways. This also explains why post liberalisation Indians have been able to make a mark in the world.