Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

This month, I’m trying something a little different for our monthly topic for discussion. I recently read an article by Brooks Carder, a longtime member of ASQ who recently worked with our board. Brooks shared the following piece that he’s written for ASQ’s Human Development and Leadership Division newsletter. I think it is well worth our time to read, discuss, and learn from.

As Brooks points out, we have all gone through some kind of conversion.  We know in our hearts we can help make this world work better.  We don’t need to be over-the-top, but we should have the confidence to tell our story, understand our own value, and inspire others.
You may agree or disagree with Brooks’ piece, but as you read it, keep these two questions in mind:

  • How do we encourage those who work in quality to understand their own value? (Beyond the perception of ourselves as “nerd engineers,” as referenced in Brooks’ piece.)
  • How do we spread the message of quality in a marketplace overflowing with ideas about how to boost profitability and ever-changing management trends?

Here’s Brooks’ piece:

One of my college roommates recently sent me an intriguing article, “Redefining Capitalism,” published in the McKinsey Quarterly, by Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer. It came under the heading:

“Despite its ability to generate prosperity, capitalism is under attack. By shaking up our long-held assumptions about how and why the system works, we can improve it.”

Just the notion of McKinsey giving a voice to the notion that maximizing profits was not a good thing intrigued me. The gist of the piece is expressed in one of the opening paragraphs:

“Significantly, this view shifts our perspective on how and why markets work from their allocative efficiency to their effectiveness in promoting creativity. It suggests that markets are evolutionary systems that each day carry out millions of simultaneous experiments on ways to make our lives better. In other words, the essential role of capitalism is not allocation—it is creation. Life isn’t drastically better for billions of people today than it was in 1800 because we are allocating the resources of the 19th-century economy more efficiently. Rather, it is better because we have life-saving antibiotics, indoor plumbing, motorized transport, access to vast amounts of information, and an enormous number of technical and social innovations that have become available to much (if not yet all) of the world’s population.”

When I read this, it reinforced my belief that quality is critical to the function of the economy that is described here. But many of us do not appear to realize that. Consider ASQ’s mission: To increase the use and impact of quality in response to the diverse needs of the world.

In my opinion this is not sufficiently ambitious. After all, quality is responsible for many of the things that make life better. Just the change in automobiles would represent major improvement in the quality of life, an improvement that was enabled by quality.

My own version of a mission would be: To improve the function and value of goods and services worldwide, and to facilitate the development of new products and services that improve the quality of life.

You may think that this is too ambitious. After all, are we not just a bunch of nerd engineers, sitting at the end of an assembly line, keeping statistics and occasionally convincing someone to change a process for the better?

Well, we are what we think we are. But we should not just settle for that. We have undergone a conversion, and it’s a conversion that is very much like a religious conversion. We believe in something that most people don’t believe in. The something we believe in can make life better in the here and now. We need to understand that this religion must be preached.

My own conversion was at the feet of the Billy Graham of quality, Dr. W Edwards Deming. I had the great good fortune to attend six of his four-day seminars during the final years of his life, and even had some brief conversations with him. My conversion was literally an epiphany.

As a scientist I had difficulty understanding why business was conducted in the way that it typically was. Deming explained that my instincts were right and showed me the path to apply scientific knowledge and common sense to business.

Each of us has undergone a conversion. Probably many of them have been dramatic. Mine certainly was. So small groups of us get together for dinner once a month and engage in our rituals.  There is no incense, no chanting, no hymns, and no vestments for the leaders, unless you count our leadership team polo shirts.

But our religion is not as healthy as it should be. Our numbers are getting smaller and our members are getting older. Where is our outreach? The Mormons send their best and brightest young people around the world on two-year missions to spread the word.

But before we can mount an effective outreach, we need to appreciate the value of our own conversion, and the huge contribution we can make if we can bring our full capacity forward.

November Roundup: Engaging Members and Volunteers

Are you part of a professional association? If not, this in itself might be telling. Fewer people are joining professional trade groups these days because information is more available than ever through other sources, including, of course, the internet. The face of professional associations also is changing. In October, our topic of the month was how to recruit members and volunteers to professional communities such as ASQ.

Why join? John Hunter discusses the value of professional associations, finding that career opportunities and open-access information are two of the most valuable aspects to joining. Rajan Thiyagarajan says that networking is still the major benefit offered by associations. And Anshuman Tiwari writes about how ASQ can become more influential and relevant to India’s quality professionals. Edwin Garro blogs about how ASQ can become more relevant globally.

Lessons learned: Bob Mitchell looks on his own experience in volunteer and member recruitment as part of ASQ’s statistics division and the Minnesota section. Lotto Lai writes about how the Hong Kong Society for Quality successfully increased its membership and engaged members. Scott Rutherford looks to how religious organizations make themselves relevant in today’s society and provide value to believers.  Aimee Siegler writes about the importance of training, and finds a good example of this in the Girl Scouts, an American youth organization for girls. And Dan Zrymiak looks to Toastmasters, a public speaking and leadership organization, for inspiration.

Tips for associations: Jennifer Stepniowski offers a variety of ideas for recruiting and retaining members, including organizing an appreciation event or placing an ad in the local business paper. Babette Ten Haken also shares tips for associations, including the basics, such as making members feel welcome. Manu Vora discusses member and volunteer recruitment from the HR perspective. And Jimena Calfa writes that professional groups must now exceed, instead of just meet, the expectations of their members.

There are lots of options these days. Associations, like other businesses, must be the best in the market to succeed.

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.

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?