Is Change Management Certification Valuable?

For those who read posts far and wide, there is a debate -- at times quite heated -- between those who see the benefit of certification and those who do not. At the end of it all, that debate illustrates one truth we can rely on - The value of certification lies in the eye of the beholder. No one is wrong.

We'd like to provide you with some 'food for thought' on the topic so you can make your own assessment about whether this is valuable to you or not.

It is a profession - REALLY!

Most organizations are still very unaware of what constitutes sound change management practice, or even what it means. I remember one project where the manager was clearly hiring me because he had been told he, "had to have change management on this project!" He had no idea what I could deliver. Not a great start!

The existence of certifications provides evidence that there is a legitimate discipline, and that the market is responding to a need for defined, repeatable practices.

Certification demonstrates the maturity of a profession. 

I can deliver!

Yes, I know certification is NOT a guarantee that one person can deliver a service better than another. But there is no question all of us have seen people without any formal training say, "I'm a change management expert" and then not deliver.  This not only destroys the credibility for the leaders they are working with but it also sheds a negative light on the profession as a whole.

You can put any title on your business card. Saying you are a change management expert does not make you one. We also recognize that the rigor behind certification doesn't guarantee success either.  It does, however, tell the world that there is a formal body of knowledge in the domain and provides some assurance that an individual has made a commitment of time, experience and money to develop their expertise in a profession.

The Huffington Post recently published a rather pointed piece on this topic.

Huffington quote
For those concerned about the pretenders in the field, certification offers one way to differentiate yourself as a qualified service provider.

It's been interesting to see that for ACMP's own Certified Change Management Professional (CCMP) designation, there is a clear trend for senior practitioners (10+ years of experience) to pursue the designation. As Bill Murphy, Director of Change Leadership for Travelers says, "It is part of building your brand as a professional."

Certification indicates a level of commitment to abide by a set of proven practices in a specific domain.

Raise your Chances of being hired or promoted

Consider how certification can enhance your reputation.  Organizations that are new to the profession of change management want indicators they are not just hiring someone who thinks they can 'do change'. Because many don't have the skills to determine whether a person is truly qualified to lead change, certifications provide a 'filter' that they hope will raise their chances of finding a strong candidate.

A credential that requires substantial effort to achieve is given greater regard. As reported by the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) from their study,

The more difficult a credential is to achieve, the higher its perceived value.

A study of change management postings reveals a preference for candidates with a change management certification. A recent discussion with a large healthcare provider indicated that ACMP's move into certification was welcome as a way of helping to identify change resources with a certain level of experience and higher probability of performing well.

Certifications are an easy-to-use filter for organizations looking to reduce the volume of candidates they must consider for a role.

Of course, the ownership remains with the organization to conduct strong interviews and other good practices to ensure the candidate can deliver on what they claim to know.

I speak your method

The discipline of change management is still considered to be young and 'in development', but not so young that it hasn't established sound approaches and best practices. We have well established models from Kotter to Prosci, AIM, Change Guides, LaMarsh and many more.

Change Managers use certifications to communicate to potential employers that they have expertise in a particular approach. That's helpful to organizations who have adopted a methodology and want resources that can easily work with them. It saves time vs. 'translating' between methods and tools. Having a common language significantly reduces time to performance for a new change resource.

Certification enables organizations to find people with particular method expertise that aligns with their preferred approach. 

Been There, Done That

For pilots, it's one thing to practice in the simulator, and another to get up in the sky and develop experience. We want to hear about flight time in the hundreds and thousands of hours. Ten hours won't cut it. There's no replacement for experience.

The same applies to certification. Not all certifications are created equal. It's one thing to learn about theory, method and tools, and another to put them into use and apply them.

lifehacker quote

At a minimum, the opportunity to apply what you've learned on a class project or case study makes for good reinforcement. The requirement to use it in your current work is even better.

An education-based certificate typically indicates a level of knowledge has been attained.  The CCMP requires at least 3 years' experience, with the objective of signaling to others that an individual with the CCMP credential has a track record of success.

I SPEAK MANY METHODS (DO I NEED MORE THAN ONE CERTIFICATION?)

We hear this all the time: "I already have _____ certification. Why do I need another?"

Maybe you don't. Again, it's about perceived value. If you don't see the value in a given certification for you personally (enhancing your reputation) or in your market (raising your ability to get work), then you may want to stick with what you have.

Some choose to broaden their skills with multiple certifications in different domains. Others want to 'stack' their certifications in a given profession to demonstrate their growing mastery.

If you have a method-based certificate in change management, consider that organizations in process of transforming themselves need change managers who can flex and adapt, leveraging different methods, practices and tools as the situation demands. Having a single certificate in a single method may not send the right signal to a potential client.

Being able to move nimbly between methods while still adhering to best practice in the field of change management is a major advantage.

Certificate vs. certification

Take a close look at what each certification offers. There are many types with different requirements. Each has a different value proposition. 

  • Does the training qualify you for something else? (advanced programs, CCMP)
  • Is the program itself certified in some way by a third party? (ISO, ANSI, etc.)
  • Does it provide Professional Development Units (PDUs) or continuing education credits?
  • What is the level of interaction and access to an instructor? Does the course offer coaching to give you deeper knowledge?
  • What are the restrictions around use of materials/tools?
  • Is renewal required or is it a one-time certification, valid forever?
  • Does the program help differentiate you from junior practitioners, or could anyone complete the certificate?

Most programs provide a certificate at the end of the course as evidence of course completion, while others allow you to do more with the qualification. For a general comparison of the difference between a program that offers a certificate and those that provider certification, consider the table below.

certificate comparison

ACMP has taken the best attributes of many certification programs to give you all possible advantages. While it cannot guarantee a certain level of competency, the rigor invested in the program goes a long way to assuring both employers and practitioners that those with CCMP certification have taken significant strides to build their knowledge and experience in the domain of change management as it:

  • Requires at least 3 years experience (based on hours)
  • Requires at least 21 hours training specifically in the field of change management, with content aligned to best practice
  • Was developed according to international standards (ISO)
  • Is based on a worldwide study of change management best practices, also conducted according to ISO guidelines
  • Requires ongoing learning and application in order to sustain credential status
  • Is governed by senior practitioners and trained assessors
  • Is backed by a strong Code of Ethics
  • Will be regularly updated to reflect changing practices in the field
  • Is supported by strong market promotion

The value of certification can only be assessed by you. There is no doubt that certifications have helped people gain the recognition and secure the positions they want. Whether it can do that for you is for you to decide.

Ultimately, getting one or two certifications will prove you're capable of learning and retaining knowledge (or at least passing a test) but several under your belt shows that you're committed to a career path, well versed in it, and knowledgeable. As those certifications grow to require experience and dedication to earn, they're exponentially more valuable and prove that you're familiar with industry best practices, have worked in the field, and have retained your knowledge (especially if it's a cert that has to be renewed or kept up to date). ~lifehacker.com

Do you have more questions about this or other aspects of certification? Join one of our regular calls and speak to a CCMP coach. We're here to help!