Geeze alert! Geeze alert! Hide, hide, hide, hide, hide!
When I was a lad in high school we all took the SATs, and our scores had some bearing on our academic potential.
Now, we have SAT study guides, and SAT scores mostly reveal how hard a student studied for the SATs. As SAT scores have become more important they’ve become less reliable, and it’s cause and effect.
Sound like most professional certifications?
In the world of measurement, gauging someone’s potential is one of the three great unsolved, and very likely unsolvable challenges (the other two are customer loyalty and employee performance). We’ll save customer loyalty and actual employee performance for other days. Today …
So you’re trying to decide which of two applicants to hire for a project management position. One has a PMP. The other one doesn’t. Which one do you hire?
The answer is, whichever one:
- Has brought more and more difficult projects to a successful conclusion.
- Speaks intelligently and in enough depth about the projects they list to convince you they really did manage them and they really did reach a successful conclusion.
- Leads you to conclude, from your conversation, that their “personal culture” will be compatible with your company’s business culture, and their personality will mesh with the people they’ll be working with.
- Their potential peers think will be the stronger addition to the team after they’ve had a chance to talk with both applicants.
Or, even better, whichever one proves to be the better project manager in your organization after you’ve contracted with each of them to manage an actual project and they’ve either run their project to a successful conclusion or run it into the ground.
Understand, the problem isn’t with the certification itself, and in fact, to its credit, the Project Management Institute includes successful project management experience in its PMP requirements.
The problem is that using the certification … using any certification … to evaluate applicants is an example of the observer effect.
The observer effect, in case you aren’t familiar with it, is the scientific principle that all acts of observation affect whatever is being observed. Sometimes the effect is trivial … for example, the act of looking at a comet through a telescope doesn’t change the comet’s orbit in more than a quantum way.
But here, the more companies that use certifications in hiring decisions, the more the people who seek the certifications just want the piece of paper. Gaining actual competence becomes secondary at best.
This is true for professional certifications. It’s increasingly true for college degrees.
And it isn’t limited to individual certifications either.
Take, for example, ISO 9000 and its associated certifications. What they’re intended to be is evidence that a company has strong quality management practices. What they too-often are is evidence that companies need ISO 9000 credentials on the corporate resume and have learned how to tell a good quality story.
An actual commitment to quality on the part of its executives and managers? That’s optional. The International Standards Organization lacks the resources to actually investigate applicants in enough depth to ensure they truly qualify — just as well, many cures being worse than the diseases they treat.
What’s the solution? Here’s one: Every certifying organization forbids the use of their certifications for hiring or vendor selection.
That’ll happen. Just not here on Earth. Still, there are ways to improve the situation. What they have in common is moving beyond short-haul thinking.
Take medicine. There’s a reason most doctors are fundamentally competent, and it isn’t their getting a degree. To become a doctor you have to go through a residency … you have to practice medicine under the watchful eye of practicing doctors. It’s a long-haul, labor-intensive process, for which we should all be grateful.
With most certifications, both certifiers and those certified want a process for verifying competence that’s quick and cheap. Since you only get what you pay for if you’re lucky, the outcome is predictable.
Awhile back I wrote a column predicting a business failure (““Business failure in progress,” KJR 12/12/2011). The company is, in fact, gone. I mention it because its founders and leaders won an entrepreneurship award right around the time I wrote the column.
Demonstrating, I guess, that business awards are even less reliable than business certifications.