IIDA

International Interior Design Association

The third key to a quality education program for product manufacturers

A great opportunity for product manufacturers in the architect/engineer/construction (A/E/C) and design industry is to provide product and service education to the professionals in the industry. This opportunity is most frequently offered on site at the professional’s office. Less often the product manufacturer will offer their education courses on site at a local chapter of the professional such as the American Society for Interior Design (ASID), or Construction Specification Institute (CSI), or the American Institute of Architects (AIA). And like the associations, the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program: planning and performance projection. If the product manufacturer offers education to professionals they are likely to have commitment and support of senior management. Based upon how the product manufacturer do an education needs assessment and analysis, that results will greatly determine the actual education product that they deliver.

The product manufacturer should plan their short term education goals at a minimum of two to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs in today’s economy will take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the serious results programmatically or financially. Since the product manufacturer will incorporate sales projections into their goals, they should include additional time to what would be considered short term return on investment (ROI). Product manufacturers such as CertainTeed, USG, and Custom Building Products offer excellent examples of how developing comprehensive quality education programs built around the needs of the professionals they serve also helped the companies achieve sales objectives. These three companies designed courses based upon needs assessments that helped professionals understand the right product to use and under the right conditions to reach the maximum results. Better installation of products equated to more satisfied customers. Each of these companies created multiple interrelated courses which evolved into a comprehensive, award winning education program. These companies built in a continuing process and a system that provided them with the flexibility and ability to make course adjustments over the years.

Firms find the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Professional firms would not consider skipping planning and performance projection when developing their business operations. Why then do firms suddenly forget this critical element when it comes to the development of their staff? Just like a business, the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program is planning and performance projection. To get to this level we must assume that senior management is committed to the development of their staff and are willing to support internal efforts. And that firms use the same sound business practice of developing measurable short and long-term goals with performance projections when setting the firm’s education goals.

Firms have an opportunity here to incorporate education into job performance projections when developing annual staff revues. This creates a more knowledgeable staff, helps create an internal career path and, and builds a better business. Architecture firms such as FreemanWhite Inc., HOK, and Cannon Design have employed this approach for years to improve the skills of their staff, improve recruitment and retention, and expand their business. These firms and others like Turner Construction and Perkins + Will spent two to three years each developing measurable short term educational goals before they saw key education results. All of these firms continued on their long path toward developing quality education curriculum that support their staff and business plans.

Because the social, economic, and global environments are changing firms need to incorporate these changes and adjust education their goals. In these tough economic times it is important to develop realistic budgets to support the continuing professional development to stay competitive. Review of long term education goals need take place both prior to and during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions.

Remember that professional education and development should not be an add-on or after thought. Take a look at the fortune 500 companies and you will note that professional education and development is incorporated into their overall business strategy. The size of the firm should only influence what resources address the solution.

The third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Photo by Brooklyn Museum on Flickr

The third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program include planning and performance projection. We will assume by now that you have the commitment and support of senior management. Now based upon your needs assessments and analysis it is time to develop measurable short and long-term educational goals with performance projections of key education results. The short term goals should be between one to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs often take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the major results programmatically or financially. Individual courses may take 6 - 18 months but entire curriculum or certificate programs need time to grow. You should have built in a continuing needs assessment process and a system that will provide you with the flexibility to make course adjustments. The better your needs assessment processes the few adjustments you should need to make – maybe.

In today’s Internet and technology environment, 3 years can be a lifetime for some products or service media’s. That stated you should still plan long term of at least 3 -5 years. Expect that the social, economic, political and education environments will change during this time period. Plan on those changes and plan on the possibility that you may have to adjust your goals. Review of long term education goals should take place both prior to and during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions. It is important that the education program projections also tie into the overall business strategy.

Depending upon the magnitude of the education program long term plans, you should consider some to be as long as a 10 – 20 year program. The larger the audience that you are trying to affect the longer the program will take to design, plan and implement. The medical, accounting and architects set out to change the education structure for their entire professions. It took more than 20 years, and the professions are still adjusting. Higher education and government have used distant learning models for decades and even pioneered the early models of the internet in the 1980’s for education. But even these early users have to adjust to the current models of knowledge exchange via the worldwide web. Today they need a vision that looks out 10 -20 years.

“Where’s the data?” – The second key for product manufacturers to unlock for quality education

Education offered by a product manufacturer usually originates from the marketing department. From the point of view of the product manufacturer education is used as a tool to open the door to the professional’s office, to gain access and face time with the professional. As part of the marketing department, access to market research about the product is given a high priority. What is often lacking is a needs assessment related to the education development of the product based upon a systematic approach for gathering trend data related to the target market audience that the manufacturer is trying to reach. Relying upon feedback of a marketing representative (reps) is too often the only assessment that a company may use to obtain education type feedback. If this is the primary method, the company should at least train the reps as to how they should collect data so that it can be assimilated into the larger marketing research data and development of courses. It is important for the product manufacturer to determine how the needs for the education programs, products, or services are identified and how the supporting courses are developed and designed to address those needs.

“Where’s the data?” – The second key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Photo by Dennis Crowley via Flickr

The question I always heard from superiors and peers, “Where’s the data?” I believe that the seeds for needs assessment should be planted with the establishment of the strategic goals. Early on the organization should develop a systematic approach for identifying and analyzing the educational needs that relate to the overall strategic plan. Planning and analysis are simultaneous and should be ongoing.

As defined by Wikipedia, Needs assessment is a process for determining and addressing needs, or "gaps" between current conditions and desired conditions, often used for improvement in individuals, education/training, organizations, or communities. The need can be a desire to improve current performance or to correct a deficiency.

For education and training assessments there are a growing variety of models to from which to choose. Select a model or a blend of models which most closely match your goals, operations, personnel and budget. Methods and techniques for gathering information can vary from formal focus groups, to telephone or mail surveys, to online surveys such as survey monkey. The intent should be to gather timely information to enable those in the organization to make smart decisions based upon relevant and appropriate information.

If the program is intended for internal use of the organization’s staff education then it is important to match the model to the organization’s culture, operational structure, and short and long-term education and professional development needs. The content could relate to technical, conceptual, and/or personnel related needs. It is important to focus on the details of professional staffs’ participation in the needs assessment process. Determine how the needs for the educational program and products/services are identified, how the programs are developed and designed to address those needs.

If the education program is intended for external use, the assessment should relate to the business needs, support the organizations need for delivering training; ensure training delivery design relates to customer’s needs; verifies effective performance; and provides guidance into the evaluation process.

Product Manufacturers - First key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

To be right up front and put it out on the table, most product manufacturers develop and offer continuing education to professionals as part of their overall marketing plan. Regardless if the professional that the product manufacturer is trying to influence is an architect, an accountant, a dentist, or a nurse, their education programs are still a major part of their marketing plan. Generally these programs are managed by the marketing and sales department. And now that I have put that out front I want to add, and that is OK, as long as the product manufacturer follows the guidelines that are set out by the professional associations and government regulatory agencies. This means that there is a commitment from the companies top management to support education when offering education to the professionals.

Every award winning product manufacturer, such as CertainTeed, Pella Windows, and Whirlpool - that incorporates continuing education into their marketing plan has support at the highest decision making levels of their business. Regardless of the size of the manufacturer, when the support from above waivers, so too does the content, quality, and delivery of the education product that the manufacturers representatives deliver in the field. To achieve a level of delivering quality product education, the company leadership must think strategically. This means that they commitment long term, through the highs and lows of the business cycles. Most product manufacturers' commit a lot of time and money to offering such programs, even poor ones. Many companies stop short of how the course is designed and delivered. Professionals should ask the questions: Was the course designed in an educational format with legitimate learning objectives? Did the design of the course include results of industry research? Were technical staffs included in providing content? Was this material vetted by the sales force to insure it is what the clients were asking for and not just a push of a product? And did the company provide a train-the-trainer course for those who were presenting and representing the company?

Committed companies are aware that there are continuing professional education requirements in place and that the professionals are relying on these courses to maintain their requirements, license and certificates. The product manufacturer is a partner in the educational process and needs to be a reliable source. Commitment to produce a reliable, quality education program from top management is the first key to success.

Commitment - A key to unlocking the secrets to establishing a quality education program

The first key to unlocking the secrets of building a quality education program within your organization is to gain commitment and support internally. It must start at the top of the organization. But in order for your education program to achieve excellence it will need more than just senior level support. For the program to be truly outstanding it needs senior management’s involvement in creating and sustaining the organization’s educational direction, performance, and focus. This includes the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the organization. The education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. Like any business, to achieve quality you need to think strategically which includes a long term investment of time, involvement of people and investing of dollars. To be successful the education program must be integrated within the working foundation of the organization. In order for the strategic process to be maintained and succeed there must be a buy-in, a commitment at all levels of the organization. This means there are no lasting quick fixes.

Leadership Involvement summary includes:
1. Senior leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
2. Leadership addresses performance expectations and long-term commitment.
3. Leadership is involved in the education program’s overall performance.
4. Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.

Demonstration of these elements by the senior management and you are taking your first steps to building a successful program.

Knowledge or Education? €“Point of View of a Professional Firm

Professional firms need to clearly distinguish between what knowledge their employees need to improve the firm business and what education their employees need to meet any credential requirement.

Professional firms that have a quality professional development program think strategically. They establish a system to seek out the most up-to-date information for all of their employees, not just the professionals. Much of the information and knowledge gained is now free and/or inexpensive and increasingly web based such as podcast, webcast and online open forums, etc. Professional firms still use of mix of product manufacturer'€™s in-house training, association'€™s courses, mini workshops, conferences, and conventions, with an occasional mix in specialized programming. In today’s economy, cost has become a major consideration to traditional type of programming. Major content considerations for firms - the source is reliable, it is preferably project based, innovative and cost effective.

Today, nearly all professionals are required to complete some form of mandatory continuing education (MCE) as a requirement to maintain their license to practice. From acupuncturist, medical, legal, and accounting to architects, engineers, and interior designers. While most MCE requirements allow for some type of self study and self reporting process, at some point the education to meet MCE requirements must be paid for. Generally the education must come from an external training organization. For the design/build industry, professional firms can take on this responsibly internally, reducing their cost while meeting both the needs of their employees and meeting the strategic goals of the professional firm.

Chief Learning Officer (CLO)

Knowledge or Education? €“Point of View of Associations

This has become a real quandary for many associations. My observation has been that there are two very different directions that an association can take when faced with the decision of offering knowledge or education to their members. At first glance it should be easy, just look at the mission statement of the association. But dig a bit deeper and the issue becomes more complex.

Model one for an association is to offer the most up-to-date information to their members so that the members can be more knowledgeable and competitive in their profession or industry. This could be open source information that encourages the membership to stay current and use the association as a first source - reliable source. The emphasis here is on the benefit to the member. Simultaneously, the association should be providing free information to the public and related industry. Through free and/or inexpensive (to members) use of a webcast, podcast, course, workshop, conference, convention, online open forum, etc., the association should promote the values of the association and the professional services that the association’s membership base represent. This model works best when the membership does not have any form of mandatory requirement to maintain their knowledge standards.

Model two for an association is offer education to their members so that their members can be the knowledge leaders in their industry or profession. This approach generally provides additional benefits for the members, usually when the courses, webcasts, workshops, conferences, conventions, online forums, etc, meet the association’s credential requirements, or another professional organization’s credential maintenance requirements, or more likely a state licensing board’s mandatory continuing education (MCE) requirement. The downside to the association’s members, as much as the member may expect and want it, education is not free. Someone has to pay for the development and the delivery of the education. In one form or another, these expenses are passed on to the member and even more so to the non-member and stakeholders. Strict standards are set for knowledge to be “qualified” as education.

For an association the difference between knowledge and education comes down to two key questions: 1.What is the mission of the association? 2. If the association wants to provide education, how will the association cover their development and delivery expenses?

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