By Association Adviser staff
This month, the Corner Office spotlight shines on Michelle Mason, CAE, managing director of the ASQ in Milwaukee, Wis., which serves more than 80,000 individual and company members.
Association Adviser: Michelle, tell us a little bit about ASQ.
Michelle Mason: We were founded more than 60 years ago and serve more than 80,000 individual and company members. The focus is on advancing learning, quality improvement and knowledge exchange to improve business results and to create better workplaces and communities. Most people know us in connection with the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award. We’ve been the sole administrator of that award since 1991, and we’re a founding partner of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and the Quarterly Quality Report.
AA: ASQ is big on Six Sigma and Lean manufacturing. Do you come from the manufacturing industry?
MM: No. We have our roots in manufacturing, but I’ve always been in the association world. I started as an administrative assistant and just keep working my way up. Before coming to ASQ six years ago, I spent eight years at ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership, where I headed up strategic research. Before that, I worked for the Chemical Manufacturers Association, now the American Chemistry Association.
AA: Speaking of your research, you had a role in one of ASAE’s all-time best selling books.
MM: Yes. The research led to “7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do that Others Don’t.” It provides empirical data and seven success factors that visionary nonprofits seem to have in common.
AA: What are the biggest areas for operational improvement at your members’ organizations?
MM: Three things come to mind: 1) customer service; 2) processes (i.e., documenting how you do your job) and 3) systems. Many organizations are very siloed. Baldridge’s framework is all about breaking down silos and becoming a more integrated organization.
AA: Is there such a thing as a typical ASQ member?
MM: We reach a diverse global membership, but there’s strong representation within manufacturing, health care, education, government and services. Members have a wide variety of job titles, but you’ll see a lot of quality managers, engineers and C-suite executives. Managers and engineers are interested in our certification, training, learning tools and best practices. The C-suite wants to know how to bring in a culture of quality since that has to start from the top.
AA: Aside from the improving economy, what’s helped your membership growth?
MM: We’re offering a lot of new programs. For instance, we just launched ASQ TV, since video is the future. Our CEO also has a monthly blog now, and we’re providing a number of communication vehicles to help our members become subject matter experts.
AA: What are your members’ biggest challenges looking forward?
MM: Three things stand out: 1) ambiguity about the next generation; 2) global issues and 3) the accelerated nature of change. That’s a challenge for many members since they’re very quality and process-oriented. Change can be unsettling.
AA: So, how are you helping members overcome those challenges?
MM: Organizations of all types are struggling with ways to identify top talent. We’re holding our first summit for emerging leaders where the focus will be on learning quality best practices, Six Sigma and critical thinking skills—how to be strategic within your organization.
AA: Some of our readers may not be familiar with Six Sigma.
MM: Basically, it’s a commitment to maintaining very high standards for manufacturing and quality control—less than four defects per million.
AA: What’s helped you attract and retain members?
MM: We’re trying to make all of our member benefits more customized. We’re also using predictive analytics. That helps us not only understand members more deeply, but to anticipate what members want from us before they even ask. That’s a huge part of our member value. Mobile is also a huge driver of our strategy. More and more members are using their mobile devices as the primary way to access and receive our information and best practices.
AA: Predictive analytics. Wow. Are most associations ready for that?
MM: Lots of associations can’t do predictive analytics yet, but soon that’s going to be an expectation not an exception. If you’re still on a 1.0 platform and the rest of the world is on 5.0, then you may have trouble keeping up and staying relevant. Remember, it’s not just an IT initiative. It’s a team-wide approach and you need to get marketing, membership, HR and finance to buy into the strategy.
AA: Do you have special strategies for attracting younger members of the industry?
MM: It’s not about us; it’s about engagement. We try to be relevant and really understand younger members of the industry—who they are, what they want, why they want it and how they want to get information from us.
AA: How would you describe your leadership philosophy?
MM: I’m big on the “servant leader” approach. Membership is our lifeblood. I’m here to serve members, not my ego. You should operate on the premise of passion, the premise of humility. Members are a gift. They generously volunteer so much of their time to help you further the profession.
AA: What kinds of people and skills do you look for when hiring?
MM: I look for people who are very curious. We have very complex problems to solve. We need people who are always thinking about how things work and why we do things the way we do. We also look for people who are perpetual learners. They don’t just learn for themselves. They bring their learning back to the whole organization.
AA: So, it’s safe to assume ASQ is big on innovation?
MM: Innovation is great. But, you also have to be pragmatic about it and deliver. Amazing ideas are no good if you can’t deliver them to members or your profession. New ideas have to align with your resources and your strategy.
AA: Overall, things seem to be trending in the right direction. Is there anything keeping you up at night?
MM: Relevancy. How to stay relevant with all the technological and demographic changes facing us? How do you maintain relevance in a dynamic marketplace? How do you keep engaging members and delivering value?