Strategic Plan

Building a Design Firm'€™s Professional Development Program - Business Development

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You can refer to this section as business development or client facing skills since few firm leaders consider that they include their in-house professional development programs as a part of their marketing and promotion efforts. Professional development within A/E firms has evolved during the past decade and it is time to re-think how A/E firms share and distribute their intellectual property with professional associations and clients. For those firms that already have in-house programs you likely already have components in place. I offered several suggestions last November in my blog Overlooked Internal Training Sources for A/E Firms.

Business development (marketing and promotion) is a critical element of every firm. If your professional development program is intended for internal use, then be sure that your marketing plan relates to the needs assessment of your staff and client'€™s knowledge needs. If the firm includes education as a part of external marketing efforts be sure that it is also included within the firm'€™s strategic plan for educating target audiences. A staff presentation at an industry conference is a good example. You may have the world'€™s most knowledgeable subject matter expert (SME), designed an interesting presentation, and even offered the program using an innovative delivery format. However, if the intended audience is not aware that course is being offered then be surprised at a low turnout. Those who rely solely on the firm'€™s reputation to spread the word will frequently fail. You must adequately promote and advertise each of your courses. Budget accordingly.

Continuing in part six 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 5: Business Development (Marketing and Promotion)

Key 5 examines the firm'€™s business development structure that includes marketing and promotion of the educational courses and programs. This section provides recommendations for how the firm should address both internal and external marketing and promotion or their education courses and programs.
1. There is an established long-term educational marketing plan in place that includes: budget and pricing; projected incomes (including internal between departments); registration and enrollment procedures; number of classes and class sizes per session; cancellation policies; fees (ex: staff, instructor, course development expenses; course materials, equipment, technical considerations, facilities).
2. There is a separate One-Year marketing plan.
3. Print and social media promotional and advertising methods are used to support the marketing strategy that includes related expenses.
4. Other promotional activities include publicity, advertising, open houses, press releases, etc. to clients supporting speakers at professional conferences.
5. Quantitative metrics are in places that measure indicators and provide current levels, trends, and any appropriate comparative data.
6. There is a process for projecting new educational activities.
7. The marketing plan and promotion efforts are evaluated for effectiveness annually.
8. A process for researching the regulatory standards and legal and ethical requirements that should be addressed through professional development.
9. A process for ensuring that the firm addresses its responsibilities to the client, the profession, and the community through community outreach through education and training.

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 design 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 – Implementation and Delivery

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Be patient and allow time for your implementation and delivery action plan to work. Individual courses can often be created and delivered in a short time frame if there is an established system in place. However, for an organizational-level program or curriculum, think in terms of a process that may take 2- 3 years to see real results. Your needs assessment and analysis (Key 2), and planning and performance projection (Key 3),will provide you with direction and a path. If the firm is committing time to the development of internal courses be sure that each support the firm'€™s strategic business plan. Most mid-sized firms and larger have a generational mixed staff so don't be afraid to try the new and the different methods of delivery. Stay as current of technology as your budget will reasonably allow. Be prepared for continual change and adjust accordingly. For those firms that already have some in-house programs in place consider tapping into the expertise of your own staff members, those who present at professional conferences or are adjunct instructors for your local college or university. I offered several suggestions last year in my blog An Overlooked Internal Training Source for A/E Firms.

Continuing in part seven 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 6: Implementation and Delivery

Key 6 examines the firm's process for course / program delivery methods. This section provides recommendations for matching the appropriate delivery method based upon expected Learning Outcomes.

How well does your firm'€™s implementation and delivery process match up?

1. For each course/program the question is asked, “What do you want the participant to be to do, or what should they know when they finish the course /program?€ Then, €œwhat is the best delivery method to achieve the expected outcome?€
2. Courses and curriculum include provisions for practice and application, not just volume of information. There is a process for ensuring that program delivery methods are consistently appropriate for course content and material. [Ex: Instructor -led, PowerPoint, Case Study,Case Study, Gaming, Webinar, Podcast, etc.)
3. Selection of delivery methods that is appropriate to the learner'€™s skill/knowledge level is considered, such as awareness, practitioner, and mastery level.
4. Technology is used as a tool to support courses and curriculum, not drive them.
5. The firm ensures selecting appropriate delivery methods as required by external agencies when supporting special designations and license requirements.
6. There is a process to establish a schedule that meets requirements by external agencies when supporting special designations and license requirements.

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

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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. .

With So Many MOOCs How Can Associations and Non-Profit’s Compete?

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Massive open online courses or MOOCs are challenging and disrupting the traditional models of higher education and the practices of corporate learning and development.
In a recent article, Here Come the MOOCs, by Frank Kalman (Chief Learning Officer, January 2014) Mr. Kalman writes about the impact of MOOCs and the influence they are having on corporate learning. I will add, if the corporate world has to adjust to MOOCs, so too will professional and trade associations and non-profit organizations.

Two years ago, when I was working for a global engineering and design firm I wrote the blog Free Learning and Development Resources – 7 Tips. The blog included the names and websites for several of the same open online courses providers that Mr. Kalman discusses in his 2014 article. My purpose for writing the blog was to introduce to the firms’ staff, some free educational resources, beyond those that the firm offered internally. In the U.S. and Canada, most of the firm’s staff had historically relied upon internal training or professional and trade associations for their professional development training. Considering the increasing volume of MOOCs, a tight economy, the ease of mobile learning, and the increasing competition of industry specific online education providers – where does that now leave professional and trade associations and non-profits who offer education?

The root and strength of associations and non-profits has been their networking opportunities and the ability to share ideas related to common interest and issues. We know that social networking is radically changing the professional networking landscape. Still, these organizations are usually viewed by their members, and in some case the general public, as a reliable source of information that supports the betterment of the industry or mission of those involved. Professional and trade associations and non-profit organizations need to focus on their mission, their niche. Does the mission include the education and development of their members or the public? If the answer is yes to either or both of these audiences then the next step is to consider what knowledge they need to impart or information they want to share, that best serves their organizations interest. The mission focus of the association and non-profit organization is one of the major advantages they have over MOOCs. It can also align them closer with segments of the corporate world than the MOOCs. If monitored closely, the focus provides them with a competitive edge with early insight to practice changes, key issues and trends of a specific industry. Beyond specific issues and industry needs, associations and non-profit organizations can more logically tailor their business courses such as leadership, marketing, project management, accounting and legal practices to the specific needs of their membership. They should also have intimate knowledge of what and when certifications and, or continuing education license requirements are due. Depending upon available resources, technical capabilities, and finances, they should be able to adapt quickly with the most effective delivery format for their membership and interest groups.

After the Storm- A Plan for Renewal

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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

Implementation and Delivery: The 6th key to quality continuing education

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The first rule of implementation and delivery, follow your action plan. Be patient and give your plan time to develop and unfold. On an organizational level think in terms of a process that may take 2- 3 years to see real results. Between your needs assessment and analysis (Key 3) and planning and performance projection (Key 4) you should discover that you have been provides with direction and a path to follow. At the course level, keep a close eye on the competition, technology, along with your profession or trade issues. The entire world of continuing education and professional education has changed in the past several years. With four generations now in the workplace there is still room for the tried and the traditional but build a little flexibility into your plans to accommodate some advances in technology. Don't be afraid to try the new and the different but do so in measured steps that connect to your strategic education plans. Technology is changing faster than your three year plans. Stay as current of technology as your budget will reasonably allow. Be prepared for continual change and adjust accordingly. Plan on it!

The Fifth Key for the Product Manufacturer to Offer Successful Education Courses: Marketing and Promotion

You will find that most successful product manufacturers have some form of internal professional development for their own staff. For this article I want to focus on the product manufacturers who provide education courses to their clients as part of a strategic marketing approach. Within the design, medical and financial fields the marketing department of a product manufacturer will arrange to offer education courses in a firm’s office, at the professional association local chapter office, and occasionally in a local hotel.

Those businesses that rely on their brand reputation alone will likely fail in their education efforts. When it comes to education, adequate promotion and advertisement is essential. Marketing and promotion of education programs has changed dramatically in just the past 2 - 3 years. Mark Johnson FAIA, CKD, AIBD was a primary force behind two winners of the AIA/CES Award for Education Excellence in the product manufacturer category. Mark led the team at CertainTeed, when they first won the award twice in the late 1990’s. Mark then lead the Whirlpool Corporation architecture education program in 2009 when they won the same award. Mark indicated that with CertainTeed they originally did all the traditional types of promotion of their education courses, trade shows, printed materials, and direct mail. At Whirlpool Mark began to alter his promotion approach by cutting back some of the traditional methods, in large part due to the economy. As a replacement he added online advertisements and online sponsorship. Today Mark has gone high tech, with emphasis on social media. For Mark there are now fewer trade shows, fewer printed brochures, and fewer online advertisements. Several times a day Mark tweets online to build brand awareness with the design community and consumers. Mark lists as the big three social sites for the design industry, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Mark states that social media is like an overlay on top of all of the traditional promotional methods What once took weeks or months to plan and execute now takes hours and minutes, and he can reach both a broader audience and a highly targeted audience. Through Twitter he can promote thought leadership, industry events, and products, real time throughout the day.

To bring marketing and promotion into the present I would point you to the blog of an interactive marketing and online media expert, Elizabeth Grenier. As the Strategic Accounts Manager at Percipio, Media Elizabeth writes that there are 3 eCommerce Phrases You Should Know Using Social Media. she lists E-auction: A tool used in industrial business-to-business procurement; Web 2.0: A second generation of web-based communities such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies, which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing among users; and Virtual communities/Community of Practice: A group of people that primarily interact via communication media such as letters, telephone, email or Usenet rather than face to face.

For Associations – The third key to unlocking the secrets of quality education

For associations, the third key to developing a quality education program is planning and performance projection. For many associations, education for their members and the profession is part of the mission statement. If it is not part of the mission statement then it is critical that senior management is committed and supportive. And of course, after analyzing the results of your needs assessments, it is time to develop measurable short and long-term educational goals.

The short term goals will likely focus on courses, workshops, webinars, conferences and other content related offerings. These can be one hour, 3 days, 6 weeks or 12 months in duration. However, these offerings should all be directly interrelated to short term, overall program goals of 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 change or be adjusted quickly 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.

You should plan long term of at least 3 -5 years for your core programs. Expect that technology; social, economic, political and education environments will change during this time period. In today’s environment the probability is that you will have to adjust your goals. Review of long term education goals should be a continual process. It is critical for both the association and the membership that education analysis occur during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions and that the education program projections tie into the overall association mission statement and business operational plan.

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

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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.

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