Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why credentialing is so important

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

The concept of credentialing has been growing strongly—particularly since the late 1980s when the signatory countries of the Uruguay Round Multilateral Trade Agreement stipulated for the first time that global standards should be developed by competent authorities (i.e., organizations made up of reputable professionals with no political or nationalistic agendas) using inclusive and transparent processes as defined by the International Organization on Standardization (the Geneva-based ISO). The Uruguay Round signatories observed that the lack of such standards encourages discord about what constitutes a safe product or a competent professional and that this discord has been a barrier to trade (otherwise known as a non-tariff trade barrier).

This international treaty mandate has been passed on to each of the signatory countries (well over a hundred—including the United States) where it has been incorporated into national regulations. These regulations stipulate that the national government must not be involved itself in the creation of these standards, but that the appropriate regulatory agencies may work with and encourage nonprofit trade associations and professional societies to do so. This has the potential to vastly empower nonprofit organizations that represent industry sectors and professions of all kinds.

In order to link all these national standards making initiatives together, each nation should designate an agency or agencies to coordinate their nation’s work with the ISO so to create more uniform global standards for all products and services that are traded commercially across national borders. For the US these agencies are the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE—formerly known as NOCA). ANSI and ICE recognize and endorse the work of standards making organizations that do their work in an appropriate manner.

What is credentialing:

There are several categories of credentialing. Terms are often used loosely and because of that they cause confusion, but it is important to know the difference. The following definitions follow ISO guidelines:

Certification—certifications are bestowed on individuals who have proven they have mastered a certain level of competency that defines an activity or profession. When such a credential is required by a state or national governmental entity it is called a license. In such cases licenses are required before a person can practice their profession such as doctors and lawyers. Certifications and licenses are usually valid for a certain time limit before they must be renewed. Renewal ensures that person has kept up their knowledge of the latest changes in the field and have maintained their competency. Competency is demonstrated through independently developed and administered tests and/or field experience.

Accreditation—organizations are accredited—so schools are frequently accredited. Accreditation establishes that organizations have met certain minimum standards. Where accreditation is required under state law it is also called a “license to operate”—so hospitals and restaurants and other establishments open to the public are licensed. Accreditation is demonstrated through independently conducted audits that verify the organization meets minimum defined standards and is renewable.

Certificates and badges—these are credentials that indicate a person participated in a certain program or activity but they do not necessarily demonstrate competency or mastery of the subject. There is no test involved, but such certificates or badges are valued because they demonstrate to others that a person has in fact taken the time to try to improve their skills—and this is important, particularly to employers who may have paid the inscription costs!

Why is credentialing important to associations:

1) Credentialing starts by defining the body of knowledge and/or performance standards that represent competency in a certain profession or activity. The organization that is the first to do this for a sector or profession has by definition credibility and status as a pre-eminent authority in its field.

2) It also creates several non-dues revenues streams from:

  • The production and sale of texts and learning tools of various kinds
  • Courses and the teaching and/or coaching fees associated with them—both online and in person
  • Testing fees
  • Continuing education requirement and retesting
  • Franchising fees, should the association wish to set up licensing agreements with other educational organizations for delivering their coaching, education, training, and testing programs

Friday, May 22, 2015

Human Resources: Trust local managers to get the job done

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

“What do you want me to do, trust you?” In this era of command-and-control management styles and techniques it sounds like heresy to suggest that trust might have a place in management; but international management best practices have shown that trust is a critical component to success. Cultural, personality, and language differences, not to mention real and assumed differences in law and business practices, provide many opportunities for misunderstandings, inefficiencies, and missed opportunities. Time and again employees respond to detailed operating instructions from distant managers with a shrug of their shoulders and compliance to the letter—with lackluster results.

However, left to their own devices, local managers, who know the market best, can usually be counted on to find the best way to achieve their objective. And in the course of doing so, they may also identify new products and methodologies that could have applicability upstream back at headquarters or in other parts of the organization.

Clearly one of the world’s most successful global enterprises, McDonald’s, learned early on during its quest to open fast-food restaurants in nearly every country that micro-management tactics weren’t an option. For global success, the reigns of responsibility had to be placed in local managers’ hands, along with a blueprint for achieving what the company defines as success. McDonald’s developed and implemented a strategic plan with a vision, mission, values, and goals that could be easily understood by every employee. Its vision is ambitious: to have a presence in every community worldwide. Its mission: to feed people. And its values are three: cleanliness, convenience, and affordability.

Within this framework local managers are given fairly broad operational latitude—including being encouraged to change the menu to fit local tastes and needs. Strict reporting procedures are in place, but apart from that, the world’s most successful restaurant chain is remarkably decentralized. Call it trust, but McDonald’s managers know what is expected of them and are encouraged and rewarded for identifying better ways to get the job done. You too can develop a circle of trust that empowers your local managers by:

  • involving them in the association’s strategic planning process;
  • encouraging them to cultivate and suggest better ways of doing things, through public recognition and performance incentives; and
  • sharing best practices for addressing challenges and creating new ways to realize opportunities.

Remember, trust lubricates relationships and opens channels for creativity and better performance.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Term Limits!

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Those familiar with Washington, DC know the very notion of term limits strikes fear into the hearts of all politicians here. No politician worth his or her salt wants to give up their hard-earned power without a fight. But, the argument goes, once in power the status quo tends to triumph over change—no matter how badly needed change might be—and the balance of power becomes a little too comfortable for those who have it and uncomfortable for those who don’t.

But there are two reasons why federally mandated term limits have never gone very far in Washington. The first relates to the constitutional right of voters to elect the representative they want. If they want “the same ol’ people” then they should be able to have them! The second reason quickly becomes apparent to anyone who comes to Washington as an elected official; and that is, the art of governing is complicated. It takes time to learn the merits of issues and quirks of personalities as well as what works and what doesn’t. Until an elected official reaches this level of competence, guess on whom they rely?—That’s right; the staff! The problem is; who elected the staff?

Virtually all these same issues that roil Washington every few years also are issues for the association community. More than a few associations have boards of directors whose members never seem to change, where new ideas are not welcome, and where newcomers feel as if they are joining a club run by insiders. On the other hand, there are many associations with year-long term limits who push their volunteers through leadership positions so quickly that they hardly have time to make a mark when they are already out the door! We can all think of examples of both types of associations. In the first instance everything and everybody (including the staff) are run by the board; and in the latter it is the staff who run the show with the volunteers just happy to be given a brief chance to be in the spotlight.

The overseas chapters of US-based organizations often fall into the first category—their chapter volunteer leaders tend not to change. This is due to a variety of reasons. In those markets where English is a foreign language, the leaders tend naturally to be the ones who are most comfortable with the language and there may not be many of them to be found. But whether or not language is an issue, in virtually all cases the responsibility of heading the chapter of an international or global organization often conveys a status that is perceived to be valuable and, for this reason, hard to give up.

So what is an organization to do? Just as an organization is weakened by never having any changes in its volunteer leadership, so is it weakened if the turnover is too rapid--but where to draw the line? Good leaders never stay long enough, while poor leaders seem to stay on forever! The key challenge for an association perhaps is to offer its membership choice; and this means cultivating future leaders and encouraging them to run for leadership positions and then stepping aside to allow their membership to decide the leader and direction they prefer.

Winston Churchill famously observed that “democracy is the worse form of government….except all the others that have been tried.” In this time that the World Bank has referred to as the “Great Recession” every association needs all the wisdom and flexibility they can find from among their memberships. One of the oldest tools in our management toolkit is perhaps the best way to achieve this.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Executive Coaching

By Ann Rosser, Consulting Senior Advisor at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

The coaching process helps executives improve their performance and personal effectiveness while reducing stress. It offers the executive a rare opportunity to stand back and take a fresh look at the experiences and assumptions of a lifetime. The process enables the executive to …
• Identify inner resources.
• Target areas for growth.
• Promote a healthy balance between career and personal life, so he or she can sustain the vitality necessary for effective leadership.
• Uncover specific behaviors that need to change in order to enhance short-term and long-term performance.
• Challenge underlying beliefs and values, and offer possibilities for fundamental change that will enhance the overall quality of life.
The coach offers direction and assistance, but the individual retains freedom of choice. He/she is responsible for discovering the self-knowledge that forms the foundation for continued growth.

The executive can freely confide in the coach because the coach has no internal links with the company. The coach brings a variety of skills to the relationship by assuming different roles, such as supporter, co-creator, political confidant, and skills developer. A coach provides many positives to the process:
• Independence
• Impartiality
• Objectivity
• Different viewpoint
• Wide knowledge and experience
• Experience of weighing opportunities, risks, and rewards

The coaching process can take a number of forms depending on the needs of the individual and the desires of the client who requests the coaching. The process typically unfolds as follows:
• Client and coach meet to discuss the need, and to make a decision about whether coaching is the best approach to achieve the desired objectives.
• The coach and the executive meet to become acquainted and to decide how to handle matters of confidentiality.
• Based on the results of these meetings, the coach and client design a process to meet the agreed upon outcomes.
• The coach questions the executive in depth, possibly giving him or her questionnaires to complete. The coach may observe the executive at work and in other situations, perhaps interviewing bosses, peers and subordinates.
• The executive and the coach will identify key strengths, weaknesses, and developmental needs, and put together a plan.
• The executive and coach work together to achieve the agreed upon objectives.
The process generally ebbs once the executive has established momentum toward acquiring enhanced leadership abilities, and has developed an organizational support mechanism for ongoing growth.

Coaching yields a multitude of benefits. The exact nature of these benefits depends in part on the precise form and style of the coaching relationship, but some of the most common are listed below:
• Coaching helps people order priorities. They gain confidence in their current positions because the coach helps them think matters through thoroughly. True to the old adage, “a problem shared is a problem halved,” the coach does lighten the executive’s burden. But this has nothing to do with devolving responsibility, and everything to do with gaining clarity.
• The coaching process helps the executive identify the skill-sets he/she needs to move up to the next step on the career ladder, to acquire the resources, and take the actions that are needed in order to get there.
• Executives tend to think their problems are unique, but that’s rarely true. The coach often can bring a wealth of experience gained from other similar situations, which the executive will value as enlightening and refreshing.

Potential outcomes from a coaching relationship can include:
• Greater Clarity
• Greater Focus
• Improved Decision Making Skills
• Enhanced Creativity
• Improved Balance in all Aspects of Life
• Greater Effectiveness and Better Performance

Executive coaching often is the best way for an individual and an organization to grasp the nettle of change in today’s increasingly demanding world. The decision to hire an Executive Coach is highly personal. It must be based on trust and commitment. Only when both are established can the relationship begin to move forward in a positive and successful direction.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sunset Clauses

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Some decades ago Congress introduced a concept that was intended to control runaway costs by pruning bloated government programs of those elements that had lost their direction or outlived their reason for being. The concept was called a “sunset” provision and it was to be made part of every project or program funded by the federal government.

As its name implies, a sunset provision meant that funding authorization carried with it the requirement that the funded program was to terminate or shut down automatically after a specified period of time. Any attempt to apply for new funding would bring with it the obligation to prove why the original funded project failed to achieve its objectives or, in the case of projects that had been successful, to identify and justify what further accomplishments were needed.

Too few associations have adopted such a “sunset” strategy and as a result are burdened by projects, programs and committees that continue long after they have ceased to be useful. Volunteers who might have grown comfortable in their committee roles seek to perpetuate the way they identify with the association even after these committees have ceased to produce meaningful results. Programs that once worked continue to live on past accomplishments despite disappointing results year after year. As a result of these all too human inclinations, associations can find themselves incrementally turned into stagnant old storage rooms filled with dusty monuments to past success.

As an association manager, if you suspect it might be time to do some spring-cleaning, one way to do this might be to introduce the sunset concept into every aspect of your association’s operations. Here is a spring-cleaning checklist:

· Trim your bylaws of unnecessary structural requirements. Many association’ bylaws contain provisions stipulating that certain committees exist even though they might not be linked to the mission. No association should be burdened by permanent committees. Use your next strategic planning session to rid yourself of all imposed clutter and be ferocious in making sure your organization remains lean.

· Seek consensus then draft and adopt “sunset” language for all your association’s projects, programs and committees. Such language should include the requirement that measurable, mission-relevant objectives be identified and supported by detailed implementation plans with specified budgets and timeframes.

· Publicize each of these initiatives and build stakeholder support for success. Create expectations, praise teamwork and recognize achievement. As the saying goes, there is no limit to how much you can accomplish if you don’t mind who gets the credit.

Introducing sunset provisions into your organization likely will produce revolutionary changes – making your whole organization leaner, more focused and more efficient. The sunset concept lends itself well to strategic planning, budgeting and even identifying performance goals for personnel evaluations – including your own!

It is sometimes said that one of the best ways to strategically think and plan is to work backward. When all has been said and done, what is it that you will want to have achieved? The sunset concept forces an organization to constantly answer this question for anything requiring time, labor and money. Difficult? Perhaps, but not unreasonable and not a bad discipline for everyone to follow.