Abstract Criticisms of total quality management (TQM) are now emerging and there is a prospect that TQM will be discarded prematurely. Taking Australia as the focus of attention, it is argued that TQM can contribute to improved international competitiveness—though TQM alone does not guarantee success. TQM goes beyond earlier piecemeal techniques such as quality circles and requires a strategic, organization-wide change programme. Two different approaches to quality management are outlined and their operation in a manufacturing and a service organization is reviewed. While standards-based approaches are more suited to the manufacturing industry, culture-based approaches are more fragile and difficult to implement. It is argued that primary emphasis should be given to standards-based approaches and culture-based interventions can then be used to support the standards-based systems.