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When it comes to a certification program, perception is important! If the program is not seen as being meaningful and valuable to those seeking certification and to the industry in general, it probably won’t be successful. The value of the program extends beyond its content; how it is administered is also a factor. Having assisted in managing several certification programs over the years my focus is often on program administration: guiding candidates through the certification application process, maintaining files and serving as a resource for anyone with questions about the program. Here are some of the practices I have found most helpful when it comes to program administration.

Facilitation of a consistent experience for candidates is a primary goal. From application through certification achievement, the intent is that everyone has access to the same information, follows the same steps and completes all the required paperwork. How? One word: routine! Following an established routine has proved indispensable. Not only does it help ensure a uniform experience for those going through the certification program, it makes it much easier for staff to be certain that all necessary steps have been completed.

One side note about routines, though. As a program administrator one should not be afraid to modify the procedure to make it work better. In my experience, something might seem perfect in the development stage, but once in practice some adjustments may be needed. Keep an open mind, listen to feedback and make adjustments when necessary.

Closely related to following an established routine is documentation and record maintenance. When it comes to managing a certification program I’ve found that the details are crucial. Keeping notes and consistently maintaining a step-by-step application checklist in real time have been worthwhile practices. This is especially true if there is any variance from the routine or if any unusual circumstances occur. It is true that note taking and checklist maintenance are not the most exciting tasks and may be easily overlooked. Yet, time and time again they have proved to be incredibly beneficial, especially in the long term. If questions or issues arise later the notes will be there to provide answers.

Serving as a reliable resource for anyone with questions about the program is also important. To accomplish this my focus is on consistent and responsive communication. Keeping the application process moving along by turning around forms quickly, promptly communicating any delays in the process and responding to individuals’ questions or requests as soon as possible are just some of the ways effective communication contributes to program quality. It is also helpful to remember that communication extends beyond those seeking certification. Making sure that all interested parties are informed about the certification program is beneficial, so regular, proactive communication with a larger audience (e.g., colleagues, the general industry) should never be neglected.

How a program is administered matters. Having a cohesive administration strategy goes a long way toward delivery of a high-quality program that is viewed by all parties as valuable to their own experience. Perception is important and in the end, even the smallest details and tasks matter!

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in Certification Management 159 0
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Working in association management, it is important to find ways to connect with and recognize association members. The certification program offered by our client, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), provides a great example – the chance to recognize member companies that have achieved CSIA Certification or certification renewal.

Recognition of companies that successfully complete an audit is a good way to boost the visibility of the certification program. More importantly though, we understand the amount of hard work and dedication that members put into preparing for a certification audit and are eager to acknowledge this achievement!

These are some of the ways CSIA members’ certification success is recognized.

Social Media Recognition
One of the most immediate ways we acknowledge CSIA Certified and recertified companies is through social media. In a matter of minutes, a post announcing a company’s certification can reach so many people. In terms of simplicity and effectiveness, social media is certainly one of the most successful recognition tools we use.

Certified Membership
Upon successful completion of the certification audit, a company is classified as a Certified member. By providing this membership category CSIA Certified companies are easily recognizable. This membership category also provides unique benefits such as access to certification-specific materials and a larger discount off the purchase price of an online profile on CSIA’s online marketplace, the Exchange.

Certification Materials
Certified companies receive a packet of information from CSIA soon after their certification is processed. Materials sent include:

  • Certification plaque (sent to companies certifying for the first time). 
  • Date bar showing the current certification term that is attached to the company’s plaque. A new date bar is sent each time certification is renewed. The plaque is designed so that a company can attach each date bar in order. 
  • A certificate is sent via email (so that the company can share it electronically with clients and post it on their website) and in paper form for display.
  • Stickers – These have proven to be popular with members. We often receive requests for additional stickers and companies have enjoyed sharing photos of the creative ways they have found to display their stickers.

Annual Conference Recognition
The annual CSIA Executive Conference brings the industry together and we have found that it is an ideal time to recognize Certified members. Conference recognition methods have included:

  • Slides/signage listing CSIA Certified members
  • Name badge ribbons
  • Recognition of CSIA Certified members during a conference event (such as a dinner or awards ceremony).
  • Photo ops

We are always searching for new, creative recognition methods to try. No matter our approach, the primary intent of certification recognition is to connect with the member and to demonstrate that we take their accomplishment seriously. It is our experience that members who feel appreciated by and connected to their association add a great deal to its success!

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Last year, we began developing a new certification management system for the CSIA Certification program. When I was asked to assist, my first thought was, “Great! But how do we start?” Getting this project off the ground took a lot of hard work and focus on the part of everyone involved. Looking back I realize that it was also an opportunity for me to take a crash course in project management. These are some of the most important lessons I learned.

Collaboration was vital. From the beginning, it was clear that this was not a one-person assignment. Successful completion of this project called for a great deal of collaboration. We had a core group of staff and industry members who undertook the day-to-day work and it was incredibly helpful to be able to rely on each other for fresh perspectives as we moved through the assignment. At times, the ability to talk an idea out was the best way to solve a question at hand. We also relied heavily on member/industry input. After all, this was their certification program and so their time and expertise was essential.

Establishing deadlines improved our focus. Before jumping in to the main work of the project we took some time to set up a schedule and set deadlines. We started by determining a target project completion date. With our start and end dates in place we could fill in the rest of the schedule, deciding on target deadlines for different parts of the project, all the time moving toward our completion date. Having this schedule in place provided structure to the work and allowed us to plan ahead. Rather than getting overwhelmed by the project as a whole we were able to focus on meeting each deadline as it approached.

Flexibility was essential. For all of our planning we figured out pretty quickly that this project was going to change as we progressed. We absolutely had to be flexible! We adjusted our schedule a number of times and our collaborative approach to the project meant we experimented with several management structures along the way. Even now, after the system roll out has been completed, we are still making changes to documents and procedures as we learn what works and what doesn’t.
Being part of this project has definitely been a great lesson in project management! It was a challenging assignment, but by working collaboratively, setting deadlines and staying flexible we were able to bring the development of the new certification management system to a successful conclusion. As we move the new system into practice I will continue to learn from these important project management lessons.

What about you? Have you been faced with a big project recently? What tools did you find most helpful?

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in Certification Management 1475 0
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Association Management Partners (AMP) announces that Laura (Ritchie) Portz has earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE®) credential from the American Society of Association Executives CAE Commission.

Portz helps associations with membership development and retention, technology tools, meeting planning, and outreach. A Madison, Wis., native, she holds a bachelor’s degree and Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Laura provides impeccable member service, creative ideas and leadership to several professional associations,” said Lynda J. Patterson, FASAE, CAE, owner of AMP. “We are very proud of her latest accomplishment!”

The CAE program serves to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance, and designate those who demonstrate knowledge essential to the practice of association management.

To earn the CAE credential, candidates must first submit an application satisfying professional experience and education requirements. Successful applicants must then pass a challenging examination on all aspects of association management. Candidates undertake rigorous study sessions in preparation for the exam, and only those who are able to achieve the passing score earn the CAE credential. Once earned, the certification must be renewed every three years through additional studies and leadership activities.

About AMP: Association Management Partners provides association leadership, strategic planning, meeting planning and management, member communications, financial management, and public relations services to a variety of trade and professional associations. AMP is located at 22 N. Carroll St., Madison, Wis., 53703, phone (608) 251-5940.

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