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Building a Design Firm'€™s Professional Development Program - Need Assessment and Analysis

Photo of computer showing data analysis display

Successful professional development programs require a system for identifying and analyzing educational needs that relate a firm's overall strategic plan. It is important to assess the learners' educational and professional development needs both short-term and long term.

In part three of this eight part series I have assembled requirements from several prestigious organizational award programs that appear with consistency. The self-assessment guidelines presented in this piece are intended to assist those individuals who are responsible for establishing and operating an Architectural/Engineering Design and Consulting Firms'€™ professional education department. The recommendations provided are organized in a manner that should be used as general guidelines to establish, organize, and manage the organizational structure of the firm. This assessment tool is not intended for the design or development of any individual course, certification, skill or professional program.

KEY 2: Need Assessment and Analysis
Here we examine the firm’s structure for gathering appropriate data and analyzing the firm’s educational needs and the staff member’s professional development. This section provides recommendations for how the firm configurations short and long - term education needs and professional development planning using multiple need assessment approaches.

The selection of information and data collection is critical to building a strong program foundation. How well does your firm match up?
1. There is an established process I place to determine what program evaluation information should be collected.
2. At least 3 different tools are used to collect supporting data to determine learning needs.
3. A review process is in place to determine appropriateness of educational information and activity content.
4. Staff members of the targeted profession (architect, engineer, interior designer, landscape architect, graphic designer, IT support, etc.) are included in the assessment process to determine learning needs of the audience.
5. There is an established process to determine what data will be shared and how it will be reported.

Regarding Data Analysis:
6. There is an established process to determine what program evaluation information should be reviewed and maintained.
7. There is an established process to determine who should review the data.
8. There is an established process for determining how comparative data will be used to measure performance.
9. Annually, the firm shares action(s) taken by the Learning and Development team that impacted the firm, based on business performance results.

Sources:
Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, a special task force created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (A/E/C) industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice of learning and development.

Building a Design Firm'€™s Professional Development Program – Planning and Performance Projection

Photo of staff reviewing graphs

Planning and performance projection is the critical third step to building a successful professional development program. This step should be based upon the results your needs assessments and analysis. At this point you develop measurable short and long-term educational goal with performance projections of key education results that tie into the overall business strategy. If you have not already done so at this point, be sure to develop a realistic budget that supports your project.

Continuing in part four of this eight part series I have assembled requirements from several prestigious organizational award programs that appear with consistency. The self-assessment presented in this piece are intended to assist those individuals who are responsible for shaping and managing the organizational structure of an Architectural/Engineering Design and Consulting Firms'€™ professional education department. This assessment tool is not intended for the design or development of any individual course, certification, skill, or professional program.

KEY 3: Planning and Performance Projection

Here we examine the firm'€™s planning, support and performance projections. This section examines how the firm identifies, develops, and supports program designers and faculty. Key 3 also takes into consideration how the firm effectively collects and reports information about activities and participants.

Planning Process
1. There is an established organizational planning process leading to the implementation of learning solutions and educational programs. As appropriate this process includes on-the-job support where and when your L&D customers need it.
2. There is a process that addresses how technology supports the learning evaluated, improved, and kept current with changing business needs.
3. There is a process involving how to use key information in the determination of learning objectives for learning and knowledge sharing activities.
4. There is a short-term planning process leading to necessary adjustments of educational programming, staffing, and delivery.

Human Resources
5. There is a process to identify and involve key personnel in roles of program designers, developers, instructors and facilitators, and evaluators.
6. There is a process to train and support key personnel to serve as program designers, developers, instructors and facilitators, and evaluators.
7. There is an established process that ensures all appropriate staff is kept current of all requirements, regulations, and laws related to course content.

Performance Projection
8. There are identified metrics used to assess the effectiveness of your learning solutions that are updated annually.
9. There are short and long-term projections related to desired key education results.
10. There are short and long-term projections related to performance and/or benchmark data that can track improvement.
11. At least some of the short and long-term projections for the education program reflect measurable goals.

Program Tracking & Maintenance
12. Detailed summaries of all revenue and expenses related to the overall program are maintained and evaluated on a scheduled basis.
13. There is a process that ensures that program standards are maintained when partnering with other organizations.
14. There is a process for compensating and recognizing individuals and groups who help reach the education objectives and for those whose performance improves.
15. A process for tracking and reviewing the education program marketing results - internal and external.
16. There is a process for tracking, reviewing, and improving the program content and offering new educational activities.
17. A process is in place for recording and filing required designations for activities, such as Health, Safety and Welfare (HSW), LEED, ISO, ANSI, Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE), PDH, state license etc.

Sources:
Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, a special task force created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (A/E/C) industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice learning and development.

Building a Design Firm's Professional Development Program -€“ Evaluation and Improvement

Photo of an evaluation form

This final segment of an eight part series covers evaluation, feedback, and continuous improvements. As before, I have assembled requirements from various award programs that appear among several prestigious organizations with consistency. My intent here has been to provide a self-assessment tool that can be used to help improve and more effectively manage a firm's professional education department.

All successful programs include an evaluation and feedback process. A system should be established that will evaluate each course, service or product against (Key 3) measurable short and long-term educational goals using performance projections. Don'€™t collect data just because you can. Collect what you need to help make informed decisions. And if you collect it, don'€™t ignore the information and let it collect dust. Use the information to continually improve your program, build your reputation as a quality organization, and become more profitable.

KEY 7: Evaluation and Improvement

This section provides a list of award winning recommendations for the areas of educational evaluation and program improvement. For each section below there is and established process.

Selection of Information and Data Collection
1. Determine what program evaluation information should be collected, maintained, and reviewed.
2. Addresses the methods used to evaluate the quality of the education program.

Evaluation and Review of Educational Performance
3. Determining comparative data to be used to measure performance.
4. Evaluation of the educational system with identified areas for improvement.
5. Determining how learning activities reach their stated objectives.

Education-Specific Results
6. Evaluate performance results for education services, programs, certification, and licensure compliance.
7. Using information to improve program effectiveness.
8. Keeping current with the changing educational needs of the audience.

Accessibility and Complaint Management
9. Providing access and information to participants who seek assistance or voice complaints about the educational activities.
10. Ensures that complaints are resolved effectively and promptly.

Feedback and Continuous Improvement
11. Insures information is and data shared and reviewed by leadership, and appropriate committees and individuals with the expectations of continual improvement.

Sources:
Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, a special task force created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (A/E/C) industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice learning and development.

Overlooked Internal Training Sources for A/E Firms

Use Professional Presentations for Internal Development

This summer I was reading a firm’s internal newsletter and noticed that there were at least sixteen instances of the firm's staff providing presentations and white papers at a variety of fall, national and international conferences and workshops. Some of the professional associations that were hosting these events would be recording the presentations. In a few instances these recorded presentations would later be converted to recordings or webinars and sold for a profit by the association or organization.

Having worked with associations for many years I realize that some associations rely upon the professional members to give back to the profession by sharing their knowledge. I believe that this is a great service and I encourage professionals to share their knowledge and research with the industry that they represent. This knowledge sharing process has been going on for decades with the A/E industry. It has been a win-win for the professional and the association. The professional is provided a platform upon which she/he can share their knowledge, research and opinions. The association wins by being viewed as a reliable source of knowledge within the industry, and in some cases receiving a revenue source for providing seminars, workshops, recording and webinars to the profession.

The source of the knowledge most certainly comes from the professionals and the firm that support the research and experience. The winners here are usually those professionals who sit in attendance during the conference or workshop or who later purchase the video or webinar. What is so often missed – the professional’s presentation that is recorded at a conference for future redistribution and sales is not captured by the very firm that supports the professional’s research and experience in the first place. To add to the problem, the firm usually has to pay additional fees for their other employee members who want to hear or view the recorded presentation given by their fellow employee. In other words, firm end up paying the association for a copy of the recording or webinar that was provided by their own employee.

Professional development within an A/E firms has evolved during the past decade. It is time to re-think how A/E firms share and distribute their intellectual property with professional associations. I offer two suggestions to this dilemma.

One, the firm’s legal department should create a contract that predetermines use, sale and resale of related material of any presentation that is recorded by an association or hosting organization. If the original presentation is going to be recorded and used in any way as a revenue source for the association or hosting organization, then at a minimum a copy of the presentation should be provided to the firm for its own internal use and training.

A second option, the firm could record the presentation themselves and copyright the material. They could then distribute the material internally for reuse, internal training and sharing of select material with their clients. By copyrighting the presentations the firm could shape how the material might be used or redistributed by another organization at a later date. .

Instructional Method: A Professional Action Plan

Learning contracts do not need to be complex. A number of years ago when I was involved with the AIA/CES Firm Leadership Symposium we needed to a simple method for an after-training-support-by-the-faculty. The process and tool we developed was simple. At the beginning of the workshop we would spend a few minutes explaining that each participant would be expected to identify at least one goal that they would like to accomplish after the workshop was over and they returned to their work environment. The action plan exercise was always planned at the end of the workshop so should that should they choose, the participants could include some of what they learned during the workshop into their action plan.

First we would discuss the purpose of the action plan. We would provide each participant with a Leadership & Learning: Professional Action Plan worksheet. The worksheet was intended as a simple structured outline for developing an individual action plan. Each participant was expected to identify at least one goal or action that they wanted to complete. The Leadership & Learning: Professional Action Plan required that the participants respond to 7 questions:

What is the goal?
What are the strengths related to achieving the goal?
What obstacles are we likely face?
What opportunities would likely be present?
What resources would they need?
What action steps are needed to complete the plan?
What were the related timelines?

First the participants would work to complete their own action plans. Additional time was then set aside to work in pairs - sharing with each other their goal and how they intend to accomplish it. At the end of the exercise participates exchanged POC information and committed to contacting each other after 30 days and again after 60 days.

The group faculty member or facilitator can become as involved after the event as appropriate. For those who did make contact at the 30 day mark, most went on to complete their goals. This process can be accomplished on-site, on-line or as a blended approach. I have since used the action plan approach successfully at the executive, manager and supervisory levels, and in both the private and public sectors. Hope this provides you with enough information. If you would like a free WORD copy of the worksheet just contact me directly at tlowther7@gmail.com.

A Key 5 ROI: Unifying Marketing and Promotion thru Social Media

Flickr photo by UW Digital Collections

Last February one of our staff, Jacob Robinson convinced me and several others that we should join him and several marketing and sales folks from FedEx Services for dinner at a local Georgetown restaurant. As it turned out, not only was it a great dinner but perhaps one of the more significant business learning experiences that I have been exposed to in a long time. The social conversation turned from advertisements during the Super Bowl to exposure to the type of information and education that many senior executives would pay handsome sums to experience. Our host for the evening was William Margaritis, Senior VP Global Communication & Investor Relations, FedEx. FedEx has been regularly ranked in the top 10 on the FORTUNE magazine “World’s Most Admired Companies” and “Best Places to Work.” Under his leadership, the FedEx communications program has been recognized as “best-of class” in the discipline of reputation management.

Blog contribution by Jacob Robinson, Curriculum Development Manager at the Green Education Foundation.

Social media has become a buzz term that we hear talked about in our offices and see written about in news and blogs nearly every day for the past couple of years. “How to Maximize Social Media in Your Firm” or association or something similar is a common title for blogs and articles that seek to provide strategies on embracing social media in a holistic and meaningful way. Yes, social media is in. It’s hip. Everyone is talking about it and everyone is doing it. In other words, “If you’re not there; you’re noticeably absent,” as a 2010 study by FedEx Corporation stated. Companies and organizations everywhere on the planet are participating in social media in one way or another, with many continually increasing their annual budgets for such programs in both external and internal communications.

However, be wary of the rewarding temptation to only use social media as a promotional tool; while you may see an ROI of views, retweets, and hits, this limiting output could put your company at risk of relying too much on brand. As companies like FedEx and Southwest Airlines are successfully showing best results come from fully integrating social media into your promotions and your marketing business plan. Even for smaller organizations, it is paramount to understand that social media is a two-way street, whether B2C or B2B, your level of engagement (including follow-ups to posts and tweets) is a key factor to successful implementation. With social media, you have at your hands a powerful set of tools to show the world the culture of your business, not just what products and services your business provides, but who you are as an organization. Through these means, you can effectively promote your education program and build brand reputation leading to customer loyalty and business strength.

I want to end by first thanking Mr. Margaritis for a wonderful evening, both entertaining and educational. You have an excellent sales and marketing staff in the DC area. And next, I would like to thank Jacob Robinson for writing this blog and convincing me that the business dinner would be much more valuable than just food and wine. Best of luck Jacob on your new position!

The Fifth Key for Firms to Successful Education Courses: Marketing and Promotion.

The Fifth Key for Firms to Successful Education Courses: Marketing and Promotion.
The emphasis for most firms is internal professional development of their own staff. Those firms that think strategically will include key clients when it is appropriate to share knowledge and information on common critical elements of a project during their training sessions. Even though most training is internal for firms I still want to highlight the fact that there are two actions that need attention as the firm builds their education programs, marketing and promotion.

Be sure that your firm’s education strategic plan is integrated into the business marketing plan. As part of the strategic development process, include a targeted needs assessment of not only your staff but one that includes the education needs of your clients as well. For your firm to be most effective your staff will need to be aware of the knowledge level of your clients related to the projects you are working on together. Do your clients need to have your staff teach them through each step of the project or merely inform them of your progress as you work through the scope of work? If you find that your staff consistently needs to train your clients then you need to be sure that your staff is knowledgeable about the subject and know how to train your client. How does this become a part of the firm’s marketing plan? Your trained staff becomes a selling point.

During the past several years, in large part due to the economy most firms have had to alter their approach to offering internal education to their staff. Most firms cut back on staff support, others released their education staff, and still other firms cut out the budget for education entirely. According to Jill Faulkenberry, PHR, Director of Human Resources at the architecture firm FreemanWhite, Inc., firms have had to reduce their education efforts and become smarter about how they offer professional development. I asked Jill, with four offices, Charlotte, NC, San Diego, CA, Nashville, TN, and Leeds, UK how do you communicate what, when, where, how and why staff should take internal classes. Jill stated that even with an award winning sophisticated intranet system FreemanWhite relies on the basics. Jill says the firm uses staff meetings to promote important upcoming training; those the firm leadership believes support the mission and/or culture. The most widely used promotion method is email and the notice taped next to the coffee machine. For the FreemanWhite Academy – a structured program that is integrated into the employee’s performance appraisal and promotions, the classes are promoted on the FreemanWhite internal website and internal newsletter. Jill stresses, “keep the promotion timely, accurate and simple.”

As the Director of the FreemanWhite Academy Jill realized that sometimes it is better to let others provide support and assistance. Thinking strategically FreemanWhite wanted to share some of their in-house developed courses with the rest of the design and construction industry. To achieve this goal FreemanWhite Academy partnered with AEC Daily to market and promote some of their online classes.

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.

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