Keep Stakeholders in Mind When Redesigning a Certification Program

Involving stakeholders early in the certification redesign process not only helps promote transparency but also enables associations to build an effective business case around the decision and get member buy-in.

There are plenty of reasons to change, tweak, or even sunset a certification program. For instance, associations may want to go after a new market or reposition the program in the current market. But there’s one thing to keep in mind no matter what changes are being made—stakeholders.

“Don’t underestimate the change management involved when redesigning a certification program,” said Jennifer Naughton, CAE, founder of Naughton Consulting. “Certifications are extremely personal to your members.”

Whether reengineering or sunsetting a certification program, Naughton shared three ways to involve members in the process.

Determine Impact

When you’re starting to plan the redesign, consider not only how the material will change but also how many people will be affected.

“Those two variables will help you gauge the type of resistance you may expect from stakeholders,” Naughton said. “For example, if you’re planning to make a major change and it involves a lot of people, that can up the ante in terms of the resistance.”

Be aware that there may be more stakeholders than you think. While current credential holders will be affected, it’s likely that many other will too, including volunteers, re-testers, employers, candidates, association staff, the broader membership, and members who hold other credentials.

“You want to create a case for change and target your messaging to those different audiences,” Naughton said.

Gather Feedback

Before making a final decision about the fate of the program, collect information from current and prospective credential holders. Naughton recommends providing members with scenarios that can help them understand how the certification will change and how they’ll be affected.

“You want to give them an educated understanding so they can give you good feedback,” she said. “You don’t want to just ask, ‘What do you think about this?’”

Explain what the association is hoping to accomplish by changing the certification and whether they see the value in that change. To do this, paint prototypes for stakeholders, so they know what they’re going to get and what they’re going to give up because of the change.

“For example, if you just ask them if they want an assessment-based certificate that lets them put letters after their name, they may all jump on board. But you also need to tell them that this type of change would require them to spend five times longer studying to recertify every three years,” Naughton said.

When fully informed, members can provide associations with effective feedback, including whether they find value in the change.

“This type of feedback works better than a static survey that just asks if they see the value in one option,” Naughton said. “You want to educate them to avoid potentially skewed answers and build a program that can support them.”

Communicate Transparently

Whether the decision is made to sunset the credentialing program or make a major change, be as transparent as possible with members.

“It’s important to let your audiences know as soon as possible,” Naughton said. “You don’t need to have everything figured out, but you do need to give them a heads up so stakeholders can make an informed decision about what they want to do.”

According to Naughton, it’s better to give your members a sense of the direction you plan to take with the credential, even if you don’t have the full details yet.

“Once you have everything laid out and you have the detailed information, provide an FAQ and a visual roadmap of what members can expect at each phase,” she said. “It can help calm people down about the change, what they can expect, and settle any nerves.”


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!