Originally published in PM Times on April 25, 2016.
There will always be a debate about certifications and whether organizations should support them. Some feel they are an essential and growing part of professional life. Others feel a credential does not make a practitioner a better business analyst, Agilist, or project manager. Both sides have a point, and the debate will continue.
What is undeniable, though, is what we see as the organizational benefits for supporting certifications and credentials. Support can include (in no certain order): providing time to study for a certification exam, paying for certification classes, hosting study groups and forums, and incorporating credentials into hiring and promotion practices. We’re sure there are even more.
Here are the top five reasons organizations should support certifications and the benefits to those that do:
1. Facilitates A Common Language And Set Of Techniques.
An industry standard and credentialing process, like the PMP or CBAP, unites practitioners across organizations and countries. Take the PMP, for example. Prior to the PMBOK and its framework, most organizations managed projects according to their own methods or those from a proprietary vendor. The large push to get project managers certified with the PMP helped organizations use a common language for common processes and techniques that had previously different terminology. This leads to increased mutual understanding which, in turn, increases quality and reduces re-work. Recruiting is also improved, and managers can hire with more confidence when candidates use common concepts and terminology.
2. Provides An Avenue For Employees To Show Dedication To A Profession.
More than one CIO has told us they value certifications for the dedication that employees show when pursuing and achieving one. We couldn’t agree more. Some people will take initiative on their own and be self-motivated to achieve one independently. They are valuable staff members (and in the minority). Most people need some encouragement and a path for getting a credential. However, we don’t advise the routine use of credentialing as a way to weed out employees who don’t achieve one, but that is a subject for another blog.
3. People Learn A Lot When Studying For Credentials.
Successful, credentialed participants are almost always more effective at work. The reason is the amount of learning that has to take place in order to pass an exam. Even those of us who have been on the job and who have had training related to our industry (business analysis, project management, Agile), come to realize what we don’t know. Using my experience as an example, I (Rich) thought I understood project management until I studied for my PMP. Ha! What a mistake! Doing my prep work of reading, attending a class, and doing practice exam questions woke me up to the reality of what I did not know. Many hours of study later, spread over several months, got me ready to pass the exam. My studying also gave me increased PM knowledge, which I still use to this day when managing projects and programs.
It is well to add here that some certifications usually result in more learning than others. “Broad industry standard” type exams like the PMP, CBAP, and PMI-ACP require rigorous study because of their scope. Almost invariably those studying for these exams encounter many “aha” moments, paradigm shifts, and new understanding as they study and find gaps in their knowledge. Our research shows it takes 100 hours on average of study time to prepare for the CBAP, for instance.
Another type of credential requires less study. These exams are narrowly focused and usually relate to proprietary methodologies, like the CSM, IREB, PRINCE2, BRMP, and ITIL. These types of certifications rely on a training class focused on key concepts after which candidates take an exam, often at the end of class.
4. Demonstrates Commitment To Employees.
Leaders in most organizations would say they are committed to employees. Saying it is one thing, but demonstrating it is another. Pay is one way, but people would not work for you without it. Promotions? Same thing, but to a lesser extent. Choice projects? Not everyone can work on them.
Providing the professionals in our organizations with a path to a relevant credential is a practical and meaningful commitment. It is a demonstrable form that employees will appreciate and it will contribute to their long-term loyalty. We know this from first-hand experience.
“If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”
– Sir Richard Branson
5. Better Employee Retention.
This last point may seem counter-intuitive if you fear that helping people gain a credential only helps them land a new job. Anecdotal evidence exists that if you don’t train people, and don’t support them in advancing their knowledge and skills, they will likely leave sooner1. The quote from Henry Ford sums up this point.
What do you think? Are there other reasons that organizations should support (or not support) certification? Please weigh in with your comments.
1. See Training Magazine, www.trainingmag.com/content/training-increases-employee-retention. April 2013.