ASQ is suffering from a serious image problem in recent years. Not only is its membership increasingly irritated by hamfisted decisions made by the ASQ headquarters in Milwaukee, but the organization has taken bizarre, backward-facing positions on key issues such as racism, sexism and hate speech. It almost reads as if ASQ sees itself as stuck in the 1950’s, and that they are totally happy with that.
Added to the mix is ASQ’s attempts to bolster its bottom line by reaching out to China. Now there’s nothing wrong with some international cooperation, and surely trying to build bridges with our enemies isn’t always a bad thing. But ASQ’s leadership is bungling that, too, by giving fact-free interviews to Chinese state-run media praising the country while dissing official US positions and politicians and alleging that Chinese intellectual property theft isn’t, you know, a thing. ASQ doesn’t appear to be building bridges to join the countries, but instead looks like it’s ready to defect.
A key criticism of ASQ — and one that has likely limited its appeal to quality professionals — is that it treats its paying members not as members, but as commodities. Once you join ASQ, you are the focus of an endless flood of sales pitches. Seminars, courses, books, videos, webinars, certifications… ASQ’s torrent of products continues infinitely. For literally decades, ASQ official policy was to “leverage Six Sigma” and push it on its members, despite the fact that Six Sigma doesn’t even work; but at least a generation of ASQ members don’t know this, because ASQ has been selling it non-stop.
Those that buy into the agreement think they are getting a deal, since ASQ offers discounts for members, but in reality the ultimate discount is not buying any of ASQ’s products at all, which is far cheaper. ASQ then uses its significant publishing empire to insist that its products help raise ASQ member salaries, albeit without any solid independent evidence. Many just buy into it, and never realize their salary is likely the same as the non-ASQ member sitting right next to them; factor in that the non-member likely never spent a dime on ASQ products, and saved all that money, and the math is simple.
Making matters worse, ASQ is under new criticism for an alleged plan to sell member data to advertisers, something Oxebridge hasn’t independently verified yet, and I’m not sure it’s true. If this story proves to be accurate — and let’s face it, it’s something ASQ would totally do if it meant generating revenue — it means ASQ is taking the Facebook model of “users are the product.” It’s a double whammy, neither of which serves the actual members.
None of this is working, either, as internal and even public squabbles erupt over ASQ’s financial mismanagement, requiring them not only to aim their sales pitches to China, but also to force the hundreds of local ASQ Sections to surrender their local funds to the control of HQ.
In short, unlike other professional societies, ASQ doesn’t actually offer members any “benefits.” It instead offers them products, and slightly discounts them to members. That’s not an actual benefit, although most ASQ members don’t realize this. Wal-Mart isn’t giving me a “benefit” when they have a sale; they are reducing their per-unit price to generate higher revenue in bulk. It’s not a benefit, it’s a sales tactic. They make more money, not less.
But there are two actual benefits ASQ could offer to dramatically overhaul its ability to serve members, rather than serve them up. It requires dramatic re-thinking on the part of ASQ leadership — which itself may be a stretch — but both are entirely doable.
Supplemental Health Insurance
First, one must understand that most professions have “membership societies,” and that ASQ is not different in this. While ASQ departs uses its members as sales targets, other societies follow the guild model and provide actual services to members making membership indispensable.
Take, for example, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA). Nearly any professional writer, or newbie, is a member or has been at some point in his/her career, because membership in WGA is essential. It provides the basics — industry contacts, peer discussions, meetings, etc. — but then goes far beyond this, and offers a key product that ASQ must start offering its members in order to change course: supplemental health insurance.
Many ASQ members are employed, and struggle to obtain sufficient health coverage under their employers’ ever-dwindling plans. Other ASQ members are unemployed and have no insurance at all. ASQ could become their savior by offering low-cost supplemental health insurance, following the WGA model, and underwritten by a major provider. The insurance would not be expensive, but also wouldn’t be a Rolls Royce plan; it would be enough to offset some gaps in an employed member’s current health insurance, or enough to help an unemployed member in times of need. Using its member base as leverage, ASQ could obtain the necessary discounts, keeping costs low.
It’s estimated that the WGA’s plan acts as the primary recruiting tool for the society as well, often driving new and underemployed writers to join purely to gain access to the insurance coverage. From that, they are then exposed to WGA’s other offerings and benefits.
Free Job Postings
Next, a large portion of ASQ members are either unemployed or looking for a new opportunity. ASQ has a “career center” but it’s run like the other ASQ offerings: as a revenue center to drive funds back to the HQ coffers. As a result, it’s insanely expensive for employers to post jobs (almost $800 to post three job openings, and only for 30 days), and few companies participate. That’s less of a value than Monster.com’s similar offerings, which provide a longer posting period and provide access to over 15 million potential candidates. Ziprecruiter offers a different model, with monthly pricing, but it’s still more competitive than ASQ, and is supported by massive radio and internet campaigns, as well as an app. With LinkedIn offering free (if clumsy) options, employers don’t really need to pay anyone anymore for job postings.
Instead, ASQ could offer free job postings to recruiters and hiring managers, with a focus on those in the quality or related fields; it wouldn’t, for example, open up its service to fast food joints. The costs to ASQ would be minimal: the one-time development of the backend database and website to handle the postings, and a person to manage them. ASQ membership would include exclusive access to this service, and not be made available to non-members, so there would be some revenue coming in to support it. But it requires ASQ to understand the goal here is not to make William Troy rich, but to bring in enough money to cover operating costs; that’s why ASQ is a not-for-profit, after all.
ASQ members, meanwhile, could search job openings and filter by location, etc. The companies would submit their openings for free, ensuring the database remains heavily populated and widely used. Membership would rise because quality professionals would have a reason to join. Having an ASQ app would be good, too, and show that the group has entered the 21st century.
Professional underemployment and healthcare are two major issues impacting on the US today, and ASQ could reshape itself to become a true membership society, working to solve these problems. At last, membership in ASQ would come with tangible benefits, and not be tainted by the feeling that ASQ only uses members as products themselves.
If these two common-sense proposals resonate with you, write to ASQ CEO Bill Troy and let him know. Tell him that it’s time for ASQ to treat members as members, and not products or customers.
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.