Related Issues & Topics

Continuing Professional Education Audit Options for Associations

Certificates: A growing trend

There is a variety of approaches to providing continuing professional education quality assurance (QA) or compliance audits of association’s members. Regardless of whether the intend is to meet internal association education requirements, state mandatory continuing education (MCE) licenses related requirements, or continuing education requirements to maintain a specific skill certification. Below I will outline three approaches to conducting such audits or reviews from the auditing organizations perspective.
1. Professional Member Solely Responsible

The simplest approach for an association is to place full responsibly of compliance on the individual member. The member is responsible for everything relate to compliance. The member’s responsibilities would start from taking and completing the appropriate coursework and obtaining proof of passing the course requirements successfully at an acceptable level and in a timely manner. The responsibility of maintaining accurate records and reporting results to meet related requirements also becomes the full responsibility of the individual. Like taxes, there is generally a compliance time period that all records need to be maintained.

In this model the association only requests documentation from the individual member under extreme situations. Examples may include, but not be limited to a complaint or charge of fraud or incompetence by a client or customer. Another example, the individual member might be charged with a related legal violation or a professional ethics violation. Request of the individuals related continuing professional education documentation may be a required part of their defense. In this model a special review panel should be appointed to review and verify the documentation.

2. Blended Responsibility Model
Another approach would still require that the member be responsible for maintaining all continuing professional education documentation related to their meeting the association’s and/or certification requirements.
This model requires commitment and dedicated resources on the part of the association as they take a more systematic approach. This model requires that a small percentage of the members be audited on a regular pre-determined basis (5 - 20%). The association needs to commit at least a part-time dedicated reviewer that will be responsible to review and verify the documentation. A special audit/review task group should be appointed to establish guidelines and a review process policy. They should also act as a final decision making body for all disputed audits outside of a legal system. The established review process needs to be published and made available to all participants.

3. Association Commitment Model

An extensive association commitment approach should include a blended approach to records maintenance. While the responsibly of compliance falls on the member, course content and delivery should be a role that the association is at least involved with supporting and monitoring. The record keeping in this model becomes a shared approach.

Through an automated system it would be possible to offer a full menu of services. This could includes a selection of courses from pre-approved course content providers or listed options of alternate externally approved methods of obtaining the appropriate skills and knowledge. An automated records system can be monitored by the association. Records for members would include appropriate completed coursework that is maintained and monitored during the compliance time period. This approach also allows the association to provide and ongoing audit and review process towards a 100% compliance rate.

Similar to the Blended Responsibility Model an audit/review standing committee should be appointed to establish guidelines and a review process policy. They should also act as a final decision making body for all disputed audits outside of a legal system.

Depending upon the size of the association and the number of members involved, this model would require full time staff dedicated as reviewers responsible to review and verify the documentation. And depending upon the commitment of using an automated system, the service could be either in-house or contracted out. Appropriate staff to support either effort would be required.

After the Storm- A Plan for Renewal

Lowther7, LLC Sunset photo of a gazebo in Sanderling, NC

The challenge: How can we survive right now and prepare to thrive as a relevant business for the future? The answer: Channel resources toward organizational and professional development renewal.

By Guest author Sonja H. Winburn, SPHR.

Industries serving the built environment continue to weather a perfect storm: a tough economic climate, new technologies, and varying delivery systems. The tension between the way we have done our work in the past and the way it will need to be done in the future is causing firms to feel disconnects and dilemmas in all operational areas. There is fear, confusion and ambiguity in how leaders need to lead and carry their firms forward. This indicates that organizations need to create and communicate a new vision for their new reality and then realign their business model to match the new direction. In order to accomplish this, firms need to define where they are now and where they want to go in the future.

Firm Leaders need to be able to see and communicate clearly the changes they wish to make and the activities that may need to be eliminated. One way to start defining your needs is by challenging some of the assumptions held from the past. As we look over our shoulders and examine current dilemmas in light of past assumptions, the disconnection between them can be seen. Similarly we can look ahead, reviewing the current state of affairs in terms of the new environment and then make connections to new needs. Such efforts can only be accomplished if we can see and highlight the gap between the current reality and where to go from here. Then translate the change to the people that will need to carry out the strategy. Then the firm and its people can change and realign with the leaders newly defined path.

This kind of organizational change has to be addressed holistically. Plans for redirecting or reshaping an organization have to be purposeful, systemic, and coordinated. A new vision, ideas about innovation, attitudinal changes, and appropriate process changes all need to be aligned and communicated in a renewal plan. The plan should address what services we provide and to who, how we will lead and develop people, how to achieve operational excellence, and then utilize resources effectively. When we accurately describe our strategic goals and current reality, and then line up our resources to close the gap between them, we can move ahead with confidence.

Terminology from the industrial environment separated organizational development from individual profession or employee development. A/E/C leaders do not make this distinction and it hinders communication and holistic system change and planning. A successful plan will address both your organizational plan and include how this should impact the new skills and information needed by staff to be productive in their work. The implementation of the strategy must permeate employee selection and development, the orientation processes, skills training, manager’s mentoring, and the relevant education of your business along with the relevant issues in the markets of our clients. In other words this is an entire system “upgrade”.

Your renewal plan’s implementation map will look like a spider web that runs through all efforts and activities. For example, how do you now communicate with people on important information? All firm systems should be examined for more effective ways to access any needed information quickly and easily. Utilization of an intranet or a company Wiki to capture and disseminate knowledge and changes, or the use of VOIP options such as Skype to help facilitate long distance communication, are inexpensive ways of improving the effective use of time, people, and resources. Firms can also use forums and lessons learned sessions to share problems and solutions. There should be opportunities that require face to face interaction as well as the use of blogs and the standardization of project documentation. There is no replacement for face to face interaction because business is about relationships and trust. It takes time and personal interaction with those you work with to develop this kind of trust. Also remember to apply more than one method to reach target audiences because of differing experience levels and generational communication preferences.

As a starting point for developing a renewal plan:

1. Put forth the effort to discuss your business issues, markets, disconnects etc. with those in your organization that know the current environment and markets.
- Choose this group carefully. Rethink who can and will contribute in terms of defining the current and future needs of “your” business.

- Center your discussion on what your people need to know today to be more effective.

- Topics should include markets, operations, people, project management, technology, research and innovation, etc.

- Document the discussion and highlight any ideas for change or improvement.

2. Focus on the real and current client and business needs first.
- Correctly and honestly identify the issues that come out of this discussion. This will determine if your plan will impact and change your effectiveness as a firm.

- This effort should lead to ideas that will have full system impact, process changes in the way you market, manage projects and define subjects for an employee education plan.

3. Choose a champion.
- Make sure this is someone you will allow to take the time to work on this.

- Someone that understands learning theory and people.

- A person that really believes in the process and cares about the outcome.

- Someone that has a good understanding of the resources and can allocate them for this kind of effort.

4. Develop and document a formal plan.
- Commit to it.

- Designate responsibility to appropriate staff and set timetables.

5. Align defined implementation strategy with the resources you can afford and have available.

After you have established your needs, do what you can today with what you have today. Don’t wait until you have it all worked out.

In the past, one of the primary obstacles to establishing and completing this kind of planning effort was finding the time to devote to implementation. The people most qualified to take on such an effort are the same people wearing the project and managerial hats. When a conflict between the urgent project need and the important strategic need arise, the immediate project wins. The trick here is to either elevate in your mind the value of your strategy needs or to minimize in terms of your use of resources the conflicts by allowing someone with the proper skill set to hold this as a primary responsibility.

Another obstacle connected to having our project managers and our leaders combined in the same individual has hindered the development of good and relevant content for programs and training for the needs of the A/E/C environment. As technology and information sharing explode there are now ways to get this content at reasonable costs.
As a result of converging macro environment factors, the recognition by multiple design practices that this is the perfect time to leverage sustainable design and the LEED building certification process, together have allowed the USGBC to offer some ground breaking choices for firms. The education arm of the USGBC has developed case studies on green buildings and also provides content subscriptions. that are available for purchase, thus providing good and relevant content for at least this one area of possible program need.

Most small to mid size firms do not have people on staff that can facilitate this kind of holistic change or focus on the individual development components of the system. After you have specifically defined your needs you may need to seek help from outside resources in terms of outside consultants to help with implementation or program content development, facilitators, etc. But someone internally needs to be tasked with primary focus of the development of staff and their alignment with the newly defined vision.

If your firm develops this kind of holistic plan then you will feel more comfortable with your ability to deliver improved service that can impact fee and/or profit. The resulting changes will have elements to capture and communicate the strategy needed, then search for appropriate solutions to business and project needs, and somehow stretch the searching and communication into a continuous process. The new business system model itself should also hold people accountable to a defined, well-communicated specific set of expectations. Research shows that when people accurately understand what the firm expects of them and they have the right skills to execute it then performance does improve sharply. A comprehensive plan for renewal will translate into better project performance and more credibility with clients and staff.

Sonja H. Winburn, SPHR. is an HR and Business Operations Consultant for her firm “People and Solutions” Sonja helps organizations serving A/E/C organizations with organizational planning and implementation strategy. You can contact Sonja at sdhwinburn@bellsouth.net

An Emphasis Shift from Teaching to Learning

Emphasis on the learner

The situation, instruction and facilitation are becoming more difficult and challenging. Today the emphasis is on the learner, not the instructor. In January I wrote that learning objectives where a key to selecting the best delivery approach by the instructor in a classroom. Today’s learning objects are the contract between what the course designer and faculty are supposed to deliver and what the learner or student should expect to learn. For continuing professional development (CPD). in today’s firms the learning emphasis should be focused on the learner, not the instructor or facilitator.

Traditionally the transfer of knowledge occurred when the subject matter expert or instructor imparted their knowledge to the student. I still support this approach, but conditionally. In several of my earlier blogs I stressed the use of situational instruction, how the instructor could determine effective approaches to teaching the subject matter. Once you determine the development and motivation level of your students the learning objects should indicate when it is appropriate to be directive, when to use a coaching technique, when to be supportive and facilitate a group activity or when to delegate a learning approach. For the instructor the critical key to successful instruction or facilitation in the situational classroom is matching the right delivery style to the development level of the student, at the correct time of need.

While the situational instruction approach is still valid in traditional education, for employees with experience, graduate level courses, and professionals concerned with their CPD the focus has shifted to the learner and away from instruction. The learner is no longer exclusively dependent upon the instructor. Regardless of the expertise, experience, or knowledge level of today’s instructor, if the instructor cannot gage the development level of the learner correctly and deliver the material accordingly the learner will simply tune out and seek alternate sources of learning. By searching the internet, an iPod, or a personal tablet, sharing with the learner’s peers, any number of delivery methods are now available to the learner for finding on-demand and open source education material. Various sources of information can provide the content outlined in the learning objects of a course in a format and pace where the learner will successfully learn – without or without the instructor.

The emphasis of learning today is literally in the hands of the learner. The classroom style of instruction is not obsolete, however instructors beware! Once the course learning objectives are agreed to between the deliverer and the learner, the instructor needs to be flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of the learner. If not, someday all instruction may be limited to mechanical or experiential.

For individuals who wish to refresh their knowledge or who want to learn more about situational leadership, the basics upon which this learning approach is based, visit Wikipedia or read the book, The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams authored by Dr. Ken Blanchard, Donald Carew, Eunice Parisi-Carew.

Appropriate Education Provider: Line dance or tango?

Dancing Partners or Selecting an Education Partner

Organizations can develop simple certificate programs or complex certification programs. However, before your organization progresses too far into the development of the standards and requirements take a pause and think strategically. During your development process, think about those education providers who will be developing and offering the education courses that support your program. Consider those certificate holders who be required to take classes from the education providers and how in the long term that relates to your overall program. Think strategically about your education providers. Do you set up a system that shapes and influences the education or do you rely on randomness, good luck and the good intentions of the education providers? Let me give you three simple examples of what it could look like and then suggest four indicators that will help you determine if the education provider(s) is the right dance partner for your organization.

If you have ever been to a western style or honky-tonk bar you may have witnessed the country line dance. You know the one - where two or three of the patrons get up on the dance floor in a line and start a two –step motion. After awhile other patrons join in with various levels of skills. This can be entertaining and fun to watch as you never know how the dance will conclude.

Have you seen the Broadway production or the movie of the Chorus Line? It starts out with professional performers who are generally better dancers than your average two-step line dancers. After a lot of practice and rehearsals on the part of these dancers they provide a well choreographed dance routine that even an untrained eye can appreciate.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Argentina and my host took me to a cabaret show where the performers did the tango. It was a totally new level of dance to which I had not been previously exposed. The performers showed a grace, elegance and harmony where the partners performed as one motion.

Now, think about the education providers that your organization relies on to provide the education to your certificate or certification holders. What are your education outcome expectations? There at least four basic indicators that will help you determine the type of dance partner that you are dependent upon.

Do you and your education providers share the value of credibility? Is the big motivator for your organization or that of your education providers to generate revenue as a result of your certification program requirements? Is participation growth the primary concern of your program and that of your education providers? Do you and your providers emphasis quality as the most important issue?

In several of my other blogs I point out seven keys to developing a quality education program. The first key is a strategic approach that stresses the integration of the organization’s short and long term goals. This would include how the education providers would support your certificate or certification program. The second, develop a systematic approach to engage the education providers in a way that benefits and supports your certification program. Do you want the relationship to look like a line dance or a tango?

Emerging Blend of Degrees, Certification, and Professional Development: Impact on A/E/C/ firms

Continuing Professional Development Conference

Today many A/E/C/ firms have established professional development programs. These were created to address the continuing professional development (CPD) of their staff, certification programs and state licensure Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE) requirements. A few progressive firms extend their programs to their clients and peers through cooperative programs with associations and universities.

For decades there were only a few firms that encouraged professional development or had organized mentoring programs for their staff, but those firms were the exception and not the rule. In 1995 the American Institute of Architects (AIA) implemented MCE requirements of their members. Within ten years most state licensing boards began requiring MCE for licensure for registered architects, engineers, interior designers, and landscape architects. The number of industry related certification programs, such as those offered by AWI,IFMA,ICBO,NFSA,NKBA,and LEED also expanded during this period. Professional development began to take on a new importance.

What was lacking during the 1990’s, role models of how the A/E/C firms should adjust to the changing CPD environment? No longer is that the situation for A/E firms. One solution from 1997 - 2008 – the AIA Continuing Education System (CES) Award for Excellence program The AIA/CES award program not only recognized firms for their commitment to internal CPD, the award program also provided a roadmap for all firms to achieve professional development success. The AIA/CES award program was a blend of the Malcolm Baldrige award and education standards established by International Association for Continuing Education ( IACET). The AIA/CES award criteria involved a detailed review of the firm’s education strategy, planning and analysis, design, implementation, delivery, evaluation and the improvement process of their professional development programs.

At first only large firms had the resources to build these types of programs. Large firm award winners included NBBJ; HOK; FreemanWhite; Rosser International; Gresham, Smith and Partners; Einhorn Yaffee Prescott; Mithun; Cannon Design; and Lord Aeck & Sargent. During the last several years of the award some mid-sized firms such as Rogers Krajnak Architects, Inc and Marshall Craft Associates, Inc. also met the standards and won the award. Turner Construction was the first to achieve the honors for creation of their online education efforts following the standards of the International Learning Unit (ILU).

Now added into the mix are a few online certificate or certification programs such as those found on UGotClass that are developed by associations, colleges and A/E firms. Don’t forget the free online management courses from leading universities such as Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and other colleges. While the Boston Architectural College offers an online Sustainable Design degree, RedVector delivers sustainable design courses created by University of Tennessee faculty for professional in the A/E/C industry. What’s coming? Look for A/E firms to offer online professional practice education using their own adjunct college faculty’s to reach out their clients globally, 24/7.

Pages