Is Every Quality Professional a Leader?

Here at ASQ we’ve introduced a powerful idea that I think can and should help shape our future.

The idea is this: Every quality professional, a leader.

Like a lot of fundamentally important concepts, this sounds simple and straightforward but needs to be thought out a bit.  In short, we want, need, and expect every one of our members—and indeed,  every person in the quality community—to grow and develop as leaders.

We at ASQ understand and endorse this idea and accept the implicit responsibility to help our members do just that.  You may hear much about leadership, but some—or even many—quality professionals don’t get opportunities to participate in leadership training. For a lot of ASQ members, I am convinced that whatever we provide may be the only leadership training they get.

So what is this connection between leadership and quality, and why is it so important?  Simply put, the quality professional, wherever he or she may be and at whatever level of management, must be a leader to be effective.  The quality professional at work somewhere in the quality field is not an artist alone at the canvas. That professional is bringing insight, tools, principles, and personal example to someone—to some crew, team, or section; to a business unit; or to something even bigger, such as a hospital, a federal agency, or a school system.

This task is going to be bigger than the sole person, perhaps much bigger.  It will involve other people, with all of their complexities, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears.  So whatever our quality professional is working on, it is going to take leadership to get the job done.

Some have made the case recently that quality professionals lack the business skills needed to connect with the C-suite. Others note that quality professionals sometimes lack the “soft skills” needed to make the case for quality outside the quality department. Leadership encompasses all of the above. Business savvy, people skills, and decisive action all are required to get results in the world.

Now I want to hear from you. Do you think you are a quality leader? What kind of leadership training did you receive and was it enough?

Recruiting Members and Volunteers Amid a Changing Landscape

In recent months I have been traveling to ASQ sections and divisions to meet with our members. Our members are very passionate about ASQ, and they don’t hesitate to bring up challenges that we must address as an organization. One of those challenges is our membership model. Simply put, members tell me that we must make it easier for quality professionals to be a part of ASQ. For some, the traditional section and/or division membership works great, but for others, it does not.

While we will certainly analyze this issue, I think we’re not the only association in this boat.  Most associations must generate new and creative ways to attract and retain members. This comes as no surprise. If you’re really interested, you could read this report from the Center for Association Leadership on changing demographic trends and how they affect associations.

From the report:

“The dependency on membership and participation for traditional third-sector organizations will likely continue, but the sustaining sources for such organizations — namely the ‘traditional’ members — will certainly evolve and could even disappear, forcing organizations to look for new sources of members, donors, volunteers, and revenue. Organizations may have to change their missions to meet the needs and demands of a whole new membership and service sector. The transformation is a result of dramatic demographic change in the U.S. population, a force that is altering the profile of U.S. membership associations like never before. The pool of ‘traditional’ members (i.e., members derived from historic rather than current demographic data) is diminishing quickly as demographics continue to shift.”

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. It appears that professional associations worldwide are also affected by demographic trends. Even without such trends, we intuitively know that there are many ways for people to get professional information these days—certainly on the internet and on social media, for a start.

At ASQ headquarters we are sometimes asked for advice on best practices on attracting members to their section or division. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I do want to share some tips developed by ASQ’s Community Development team, which works closely with our members and volunteer leaders.

  • Asking people to attend an association event is an authentic, effective, and simple way to engage potential members.  The Community Development team tells me that people of all ages are three times as likely to help if asked directly. In this age of electronic communication, do we ask people to help, face to face, as frequently as we could?
  • In addition, current association members can refer members and colleagues. They can invite them to association meetings and events, and they can follow up with members who’ve lapsed. A simple call or email can do the trick.
  • To encourage committed members to step up and become association leaders—such as volunteers or chapter officers– explain what’s in it for them. Think leadership experience, practice and application of skills, and personal achievement. You should be ready to provide enough information about specific requirements and expectations. Finally, of course, asking them is the most effective technique of all.

Now let’s hear from you. If you’re part of a professional association, how do you encourage people to join or volunteer? How do local trends impact your association?

*Not to trumpet ASQ, but in November we will resume our annual Adding New Voices campaign, in which ASQ members can give a free, six-month membership to a colleague or friend. Members, watch your email for details.

Charting A Strategy For Quality–And Beyond

Before joining ASQ, I spent my entire career in the U.S. Army. As you may guess, strategy was an essential part of my education.  I was fortunate to attend the British Army Staff College and the Naval War College, the Army having given up educating me at an early age. I had the chance to help develop and implement strategy at several stages in my career.

In recent months I have had the opportunity to work with the ASQ Strategic Planning Committee and see how the board and the staff work together to develop ASQ’s strategy.  I have been impressed by the passion, openness, and collaboration that characterized our process.

I am someone who loves the study of strategy and I firmly believe that the underlying principles of strategy apply to almost any field of endeavor, whether you’re working in a corporation, a nonprofit, a small business, an NGO, an educational institution, healthcare–you name it.

The purpose of strategy, after all, is to answer this question: How do you get from where you are to where you want to be?  What is your path?  How are you going to get there, what steps do you need to take, and in what order?

This month, I’d like to offer five key questions about strategy that you may find useful as you work on your own strategic planning. These principles served me well when I was in uniform, and I think they will serve ASQ well now.

One caveat: Determine how much time you have to spend on strategy and act accordingly. We all must get things done, so we must not fall to “paralysis by analysis.” We can only admire the problem for so long. A good rule of thumb many of us learned in the military is the one-third, two-thirds rule.  Each level of command (or management) takes one-third of the allotted planning time and leaves two-thirds to their subordinates.  If each level of command disciplines itself to that standard, there will be a fair allocation of planning time for everyone.

1.  What are your key facts and assumptions? All strategies are based on certain essential facts and assumptions. My suggestion: Write down your facts and assumptions.  Having them in your head isn’t enough. Expose them to the scrutiny of your boss and your colleagues.  If one of your key assumptions is the availability of a certain material, is it safe to assume it will be available to you at the price and in the quantity you need?  Finally, be especially aware of hidden assumptions—these are dangerous.   It’s an assumption you may take as a given, but, in fact, it may not be.

2.  What is your theory of victory? That is a way of saying,  okay, let’s say you can accomplish all the components of your strategy- will it get you to where you want to go?  There are many examples of both nations and corporations successfully accomplishing the vital aspects of their strategy only to find their theory about where it would get them was fundamentally flawed.

3. Can you actually accomplish each aspect of your strategy? I call this the feasibility test. Something in your strategy may sound good, “be first to market,” or “cut our price by 50%,” but can you actually do it?  If the honest answer is no, it cannot be part of your strategy.

4. Is your organization doing things that sit outside your strategy? These things may be good to do, but if they seem to be outside your strategy you should question them.  They are consuming resources – time, people, and money–, but you are not balancing their cost and benefit compared to the rest of your strategy.  I am very suspicious of activities that seem to be outside my strategic framework.

5. Have you left enough planning time to test your strategy? You must test your strategy before you deploy it.  The testing might be as sophisticated as thousands of computer-run simulations or it may be as simple as a bunch of your best staff people sitting around a table trying to poke holes in your strategy.  Ask others, especially other leaders, for feedback on your strategy before it’s finalized and presented.  I have learned that an 80% solution that has been tested can often be quickly improved and you will be far better off than a more polished product that is deployed with little or no testing.

That’s my approach to strategy. What’s your approach–in your organization, your business, your professional association, or even in your personal life?

The Future of Quality: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

In 1835, Alexis De Tocqueville, a French political writer, wrote his classic work, Democracy in America.  His observations about America were a fascinating window into the times and issues of the day.  Part of the power of his observations was his detached perspective.  He could stay above the intense political currents, prejudices, and passions of the times and report on what he saw and heard.  His writings still resonate today and tell us about the American character and culture.

I am a little bit like Mr. De Tocqueville, abroad in a foreign land, albeit not as articulate, learned, or astute.  In this case, the land is the quality community. As a newcomer to the quality field, I don’t have an insider’s grasp of the culture, language, or heritage, but I have a great admiration for your passion for quality.

While being a visitor can be frustrating and confusing, I hope you will see it also gives me the advantage of a certain amount of objectivity.  The quality community has many different constituencies, each with its own perspective.  There is broad agreement on some things and sharp disagreements about others.

One of the things I bring to this post is my respect for what you know and what you do.  I came from a military background where you quickly learn that standards and certifications are serious business.  Being in a field such as yours, where we also value learning, standards and certifications, feels noble and right to me, and I bring the advantage of a certain detachment from one particular quality perspective, which I hope will serve the community and ASQ well.

One of my early observations is that I believe there are two very distinct views about the future of quality we need to at least acknowledge, if not actually reconcile.

Evolutionary change: I would describe one view as the ascribing to evolutionary change.  The quality movement has been immensely important and successful in many fields and will continue to grow and evolve, but will do so in recognizable and well-defined ways.  We will move down traditional paths but reach new destinations and make new inroads into fields that are underserved today. We will keep doing what we do well and find ways to do it even better.

Revolutionary change: I would call the second view as seeing revolutionary change in the future of quality.  Some of the ways we brought value to our businesses, industries, and communities will have to fundamentally change.  We will have to bring value to the C-suite as much as to the production line. We must have tools that will facilitate a meaningful contribution at ever more senior levels to make the impact our customers and colleagues want.  Knowledge, which we value so highly and have worked so hard to gather, organize, and refine, must be shared much more freely in the age of new media.  Even what we describe as quality may be subsumed by different umbrella terms such as “organizational excellence or “risk management.”

I predict a lively debate in the days ahead and I look forward to reporting what I see and hear among you who hold the keys to our future in your hands.

In the meantime, what do you think? How will the future of quality unfold?