Cultivating Certification Through Standards
It’s no secret that the success of any certification program rests largely on reputation. Yet, what is reputation, really, and how does one develop a favorable status among professionals in a particular field, as well as the organizations that hire them? The answer, in a word, is standards. The good standing of a credential flows naturally from setting the bar high in terms of education and performance, and not yielding an inch, ever.
Because certifications are becoming more popular and plentiful, programs must emphasize standards to set themselves apart in an increasingly competitive market. “Certification is being embraced more now than it ever has been in the past,” said Willis Turner, president and CEO of Sales and Marketing Executives International Inc. (SMEI). The international association has three certifications: Certified Sales Executive (CSE), for sales managers, company owners and executives involved in sales management; Certified Marketing Executive (CME), for individuals involved in marketing management; and SME Certified Professional Salesperson (SCPS), for individuals who are involved in actual selling.
“We’re seeing unprecedented growth in the interest in certification and the actual number of applications coming in,” Turner added. “We have attributed our surge in membership growth directly to certification, and there seems to be a trend in the business community that individuals are looking for and companies are looking for a professional body that will validate the experience through credentials of their sales and marketing force.”
Part of assuring high standards are implemented and maintained is by assembling a board composed of experts in the field to determine and evaluate important concepts and principles that need to be included in the program. For example, the Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI) International has a certification commission comprised of authorities who are well informed on subjects like project management, risk evaluation and crisis communications.
“They are generally independent consultants. They are generally people who work for themselves or they work for consulting companies, and they are brought in to develop business continuity plans for large corporations,” said Tom Mawson, executive director of DRI International, which offers three certifications: Associate Business Continuity Planner (ABCP), Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) and Master Business Continuity Professional (MBCP). In addition, the organization will be rolling out a new credential soon, the Certified Functional Continuity Professional (CFCP), for disaster recovery professionals with a functional specialty in risk management, IT, data recovery, HR and other specific areas.
Another method of assessing certification standards is by benchmarking views and practices against those of other organizations. SMEI has been doing this from the outset. “The certification programs were started in the mid-1980s,” Turner said. “It was an initiative that was started by the board of directors by SMEI at the time. They engaged different academic institutions, one of which was the University of Memphis, to assist them in establishing what the core competencies would be. Since that time, several institutions, including Syracuse University, have been involved with assisting SMEI, as well as some corporate leaders so that we would have a balance between the academic and the corporate world. Based on that, SMEI has published a list of core competencies for each of the certification programs.”
“We have recently worked in conjunction with a company that has a large field force, as well as a distributive sales force,” Turner added. “We have cross-referenced our sales certification core competencies against their customer satisfaction index, and we have found that everything in our program relates to every one of their key customer satisfaction index items, with the exception of product knowledge, because we don’t cover product knowledge in our program. That cross-referencing and benchmarking is important because it tells us that we’re on the right path—that what’s actually happening in the field and what companies are looking for and what customers are looking for in a professional sales force are being reinforced and are part of the core competencies of our certification program.”
DRI International developed its 10 subject areas, the crux of the certification program, according to a standard originally formulated by an outside organization. “We generally tie into standards that are established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA),” Mawson said. “They have developed, in a technical committee, Standard 1600, which is the standard for emergency management in business continuity. The professional practices, those 10 subject areas, are referenced in that standard.”
Of course, standards are not limited merely to what a credential teaches and tests; values also are important in gaining respect for any certification program. SMEI has a Sales and Marketing Creed, posted on the organization’s Web site, which all certification holders are required to follow. “That creed is the code of ethics that is signed off by everyone who takes the certification exam, and they agree to abide by that code of ethics,” Turner said.
Additionally, DRI International has its own set of values, including practicing the highest level of professionalism at all times; practicing conduct that is legal and ethical, and avoiding any perception of conflict of interest for participants or their employers; seeking continually to increase competence and the competence of professional associates; and participating in continuing professional development. “We’re not a membership organization; we’re a certifying organization, but we do hand out a card—which, for all practical purposes, is a membership card—and the code of ethics appears on the backside of the card,” Mawson said. “We place a very high level of expectation on people who use the certification, as any other professional organization does.”
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Certification Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.