Purpose - The core principles of total quality management (TQM) are considered to be incompatible with the traditional mechanistic way of organizing. It is believed that this constitutes a major reason for failed TQM programs: attempting to introduce its principles with the traditional mindset. Additionally, initiatives to change behaviour often fail due to the fact that no concurrent attention is given to the coherence and consistency of those macro-organizational variables determining behaviour. These two primary reasons for TQM failures are the subject of this discussion. Design/methodology/approach - From the perspective of TQM, the importance of a human-centred approach to organizing is argued. The human-centred approach to organizing fundamentally offers the possibility of aligning human interests with organizational interests. Rather than depersonalisation of work, with the possible danger of alienation, work offers possibilities for self-realization and self-development. This is considered to be the most fundamental contribution of TQM. It is thus argued that TQM in its ideal fundamental concept differs from the traditional mechanistic principles by offering genuine possibilities for employee development and self-realization. Findings - It is argued that TQM entails a human-centred approach to organizing which is fundamentally incompatible with traditional mechanistic thinking. Further, the needed focus on employee behaviour requires attention to organizational culture, management practices, and organizational structures and systems, seen as macro variables determining behaviour. Absence of coherence and consistency among these variables when attempting to change behaviour has been argued to be another major source of TQM failures. Originality/value - Establishing coherence and consistency among the three elements of the behavioural context should thus be a central focus area.