Probing the Limits: Readers Question ASQ's Credibility

December 1, 2003
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Addressing objectivity issues would enable ASQ to meets its mission of promoting quality.

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) is struggling in its mission to be the steward of the quality profession because of issues with objectivity, according to reader e-mails. Addressing these objectivity issues would enable ASQ to meet its mission of promoting quality.

This is the final follow-up piece to the August column, "Wake-Up ASQ!" In that story, I invited readers to give feedback on what, if anything, needs to change within ASQ. I received tremendous feedback. Much of the e-mail focused on a central theme-ASQ's lack of objectivity and, as a result, its lack of credibility.

The First Principle in ASQ's code of ethics is, "I will be honest and impartial, and will serve with devotion my employer, my clients and the public." This is a good statement to live by, but is ASQ living up to it? Many members don't think so. ASQ is not impartial and this seriously impacts the credibility of the organization and of quality professionals.

I receive many mailings from ASQ each month and rarely do I see material that could be considered an objective analysis of a quality trend or technique. Most of the material can be described as cheerleading for the latest quality fad. The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is fundamental to the quality profession, and the members that I heard from would like to see ASQ do a lot more "checking" on the effectiveness of quality fads and trends before giving unqualified endorsements.

I read about quality from many sources. There are published studies and good articles that question the effectiveness of ISO 9000, Six Sigma and other quality trends. I almost never see a critical evaluation of a quality program published by ASQ. Even in situations where quality was the fundamental issue in stories of human tragedy, such as the Firestone SUV tire failures, ASQ never took a critical look at the ISO 9000-registered plant that made those tires.

Did ASQ meet its own ethical guidelines for honesty and impartiality? I don't think so. Why? Many readers suggest that ISO 9000 consultants drive ASQ, and being critical of ISO 9000 is counter to their own personal interest.

To take a deeper look at this issue, compare ASQ to another professional society, the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA is an influential organization that is frequently in the news and clearly has a positive impact on healthcare in this country.

What would happen to the AMA's credibility and contribution to society if it only reported the benefits of new medical procedures and medicines without ever reporting complications or negative side effects? What if the AMA constantly sent doctors promotional material on the latest medical technique that was for-profit and not objective? Clearly, they would lose all credibility with doctors, patients and the media. In other words, they would lose top management support. Does this sound familiar? ASQ's lack of credibility is the reason it is rarely in the news. It is just not a credible source.

I've suggested before that the waning interest and application of quality techniques is more a problem within the profession than a problem with external factors outside the profession. That's a real tragedy because quality techniques can be such a powerful force for positive change in business and society.

I have two fundamental suggestions for ASQ. 1) Don't publish or send anything to members unless it is objective. New quality programs or case studies should be reported in the same manner that AMA reports on new

medicines - objectively and with all potentially harmful side effects included. In addition, don't hold back on publishing studies that show that some techniques that were originally thought to be great turned out to be harmful. Acknowledging that some quality programs are not effective would go a long way in winning back credibility and top management support.

2) Eliminate the revenue-generating culture at ASQ, even if it means paring down member services. The feedback I got from members is that they would be happy with getting less from ASQ if it was objective and untainted by a culture of selling quality-literally.

E-mail me and let me know what you think. Even better, e-mail ASQ at help@asq.org.

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