“Caveat emptor” (buyer beware) was the advice offered by Mike Brady to Greg in the Brady Bunch episode where Greg purchased a much desired yet unsuitable car from his pal Swift Eddie. Greg got his money back, but the trouble he had along the way cost him so much more, especially when trying to impress the girls at school.
Caveat emptor is also good advice for anyone looking at industry accreditations as a way or boosting their career. My concern with accreditations, especially in the field of Change Management, is that everyone involved in the accreditation game seem to have a commercial interest at heart. I’m not saying that assessments are rigged, or the training is poor quality, but I am asking if industry accreditations really provide the assurances that they are supposed to? I’m inclined to think that they don’t.
So, What’s the Problem?
Professional associations which provide certification, more often than not, have a vested interest in ensuring that their members are advantaged in the service market place. Ways they achieve this are through the establishment of accreditation and membership grading systems, creating the perception that the associations themselves (and their members) adhere to strict professional standards and should be seen as authoritative barriers of entry to the profession.
Consumers of accredited services (i.e., organisations seeking expert help) are typically unaware of what those standards are and are usually happy to know they’re dealing with someone who is a recognised, bona-fide professional. What goes unnoticed is that it is often the case that these “professionals” need something to lean on to confirm their worth as a practitioner. In short, rather than cultivating their own professional standing and excellence they have paid an association to bestow it upon them.
Where the Trouble Begins
Professional associations are often mistakenly viewed as the source of excellence in a given field. In reality, their objective is to create an air of expertise. They do this while funding their self-promotion from their members and delivering what I think are services of questionable value to them and the end consumer.
Case in point: If after paying hundreds of dollars for membership alone you were “rewarded” with a $10 discount on a $50 workshop would you be excited? I certainly wouldn’t.
This is where it becomes clear to me that the value offered by professional associations is the public recognition and endorsement of one’s capabilities.
Professional Recognition For Sale
Given the current state of Australia’s professional services market, there’s some advantage in distinguishing yourself from the pack. Yet, “stand out from the pack” rhetoric is often used to cajole consultants into believing they must become accredited and earn the right to wear industry-endorsed labels – by paying for them: Labels which are usually accompanied by post-nominals, the right to brandish a related logo and the opportunity to post a profile on a website that industry clients never visit.
The real question is: “Does accreditation provide any real assurance that a consultant is any good?” Perhaps, more importantly, we should ask: “Are they any better qualified to serve your organisation and cater to its unique set of requirements?” My bet is that what you can actually be assured of is that their accreditation is at best only a small part of the capability required to truly meet your needs.
Let Experience Speak for Itself
When recruiting or engaging consultants, I think it’s crucial to understand their level of experience and get a sense of their working reputation. While seeking out a candidate with industry accreditation is not in and of itself detrimental, but you must consider what the individual’s ulterior motives are if they promote themselves solely on the basis of a professional designation. The best consultants out there don’t bother with accreditation; they know they’re good at what they do and their clients know it, too.
I’m quite cynical and immediately suspicious of accreditation-toting consultants; I’d prefer to engage a consultant based on less tangible yet far more important criteria. Take one short cut in this process and the only thing you can be confident about is the fact that you’ve identified a consultant who has a rote understanding of change management and had the means to purchase a “seal” to prove it.
Finding Out What’s on Offer
A consultant’s ability to meet situations head on, demonstrate versatility and exercise flexibility can be difficult to test upfront – but, not impossible. Request a list of references and follow-up on each one. Industry accreditation for consultants should be the last thing you turn to when hiring a true professional, as it provides little assurance that a consultant will provide a good return on your investment.
After all, much like what our project management colleagues have witnessed, industry-wide accreditation has become commoditised. It’s a competitive business which, more often than not, serves only the people who head those organisations that churn out cookie-cutter consultants with rubber stamps on their letterheads. There’s nothing at all reassuring about that.