Quality Magazine

Probing the Limits: Wake Up ASQ!

August 1, 2003
If the American Society for Quality is to live up to its potential, it has to face its problems.

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) is an association for quality professionals. The group has hemorrhaged members for five years and the leadership seems to be denying that this is a problem that they “own.” I’m a supportive member of ASQ, but it’s time that someone spoke up about the problems facing this important organization.

In May, ASQ held its annual Quality Congress, and once again, the leadership continued to be in denial that there is a serious problem in the organization. People vote with their membership dues, and the votes that are being cast should be a wake-up call for the leadership. This year membership dropped for the fifth straight year and revenue dropped by almost 10%.

This year, like last year, ASQ’s chairman Liz Keim downplayed this problem by blaming it on the economy, the war and corporate cost-cutting. She also stated that, “We definitely can look back at our accomplishments this year with pride.”

In reality, the membership drop started in 1999 when the economy was healthy and companies spent freely. Not only is ASQ hemorrhaging members, it has misdiagnosed the ailment. It is ironic that an organization which focuses on customer satisfaction, root cause analysis and continual improvement, can’t execute on those issues.

ASQ continues to focus on its Futures Study to try and determine what is ahead for the organization and prepare for it.

Wake up ASQ.

Before focusing on the future, focus on stabilizing the bleeding patient. ASQ leadership and its members are not in alignment.

This year ASQ abandoned setting an annual strategy and direction and implemented a “living strategy” so that the leadership can change the strategy as the year progresses. I can see how this “turn on a dime” strategy might work for a start-up company with five people, but not for a large organization like ASQ. How motivated are members going to be to support today’s strategy when they know that their efforts may be wasted if a strategy direction is suddenly changed? For an organization that teaches the importance of stable top management support to drive continual improvement, they are setting a poor example.

It appears that ASQ has lost touch with its members. Writing this column has put me in a unique position because I get feedback from many readers. Many of those who contact me are not happy with what is going on in the quality profession and have dropped their ASQ membership. These former ASQ members are saying that they are tired of the constant push from ASQ on Six Sigma and ISO 9000. They are tired of consultants who seem to have taken over ASQ and driven it toward generating new clients for them on the latest quality fad. They are tired of local ASQ meetings being primarily a place for laid-off people to look for jobs. They want more emphasis on what works; they want more emphasis on the teachings of the great quality leaders such as Deming and Juran, and an emphasis on the basic body of knowledge that they outlined, which delivers results. I agree.

ASQ needs to look at what worked in the past. The ASQ membership was on a steep incline from 1984 to 1995. This was during the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement. Times have changed, and the TQM movement probably does not fit anymore, but the ideas generated by the quality visionaries are timeless. I would like to see ASQ put more emphasis on spreading their word. I would also recommend that ASQ resurrect its local training and abandon its support for $10,000 per person Six Sigma black belt training which is making it hard for highly qualified non-black-belts to find jobs. In addition, ASQ needs to shift from its manufacturing focus and develop programs to deploy quality in engineering, project management, marketing and customer support. It has done this in the healthcare industry with great success. These areas offer tremendous opportunities for ASQ.

Quality professionals are constantly complaining about bad leadership and this is also a great opportunity for ASQ to address this root cause issue by creating leadership and business skills development programs. Making this type of fundamental change would mean setting a multiyear strategy—a major break from the “change at any moment” strategy that was set this year.

I started writing this column a year ago with the intent to affect some positive change in the quality profession. Send me an e-mail with your opinion on ASQ’s performance, and what, if anything, needs to change. I’ll compile the results, report on them in a few months and forward them to the ASQ leadership.