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Succeeding as a Standards Professional

Part 5 of 5: Your Future as a Standards Professional

This is the last in a five-part series of articles that examines how standards professionals can protect and even promote their roles within their companies. First presented at the Standards Engineering Society’s Annual Conference in August 2001, the idea was to give those working with standards (either as subject matter experts or in the management of standards systems) concrete ways to help them have their work and their profession recognized as valuable. Given that few companies provide formal training in standards or well-defined career paths for standards professionals, it’s up to individuals to protect their current positions and define their futures. Please let us know if you find these “tricks of the trade” useful or if you have any of your own to add.

If you asked most standards professionals how they got where they are today, the answers would be as varied as the individuals. Chances are they followed no set course or career path. Most of them have carved out a good portion of their current positions themselves and accept the fact that they are probably the ones to orchestrate any future personal career growth. And that’s the basis for this article, which reviews many of the ideas in the previous four. If you are committed to being a standards professional and to having a career managing, developing, or strategically employing standards, then it’s up to you to define your future. What follows are six strategies you can employ to build a career as a recognized and valued standards professional.

Disseminate Standards Information

To be widely recognized as a standards expert, you need to become the center of standards information. Establish yourself as the standards “infomediary” — the central switchboard and clearing house for standards information. Never miss an opportunity to pass standards data on to others. Like the movie slogan for Ghostbusters, the answer throughout your company to “Who you gonna call about standards?” should be your name.

Of course to disseminate information, you must first gather it. One of the easiest ways is to “cruise the news.” Define the core of information resources you need and the people and places that can help keep you current. These can include:

• Newsletters of standards developing organizations;
• SDO Web sites;
• Internal news;
• Industry associations;
• Competitors’ Web sites;
• Regular conversations with others involved in standards;
• Trip reports from committee participants.

Once you’ve gathered standards information, you need to share it. Develop regular reports and briefings for those in your organization who manage the budgets, may be impacted by or interested in the information, or are just ready to listen. Disseminate this information via newsletters and Web pages. Incorporate your findings wherever appropriate: employee educational materials, organizational displays, yearly reports, budget proposals, etc. The more you’re seen as the focal point for standards information, the better position you’re in to promote yourself as a corporate resource.

Educate Others

The standards corollary to the academic watchwords of “publish or perish” would have to be “educate or perish.” With today’s business environment in a constant state of flux, there’s no guarantee that the champions and supporters of your standards work will be there tomorrow. In addition to being ready at a moment’s notice to provide information on the use and value of standards to your company’s products and processes, you must actively seek venues for promoting standards education.

Build a library of pitches to cover common educational opportunities such as:

• New management: Be prepared to brief them.
• The budget review: Be prepared to justify the value of standards work.
• New product development: Show how your services can benefit a new product development team.

Develop and promote training for all levels. Don’t just focus on the levels above you. Put together training for your company on how to access and use standards. Develop training and resources for those participating in standards development committees. Ask yourself what information a new committee member would need to participate effectively and efficiently in the development of value-added standards for your industry.

Education is a never ending process. And it’s one of your most important functions as a standards professional.

Facilitate the Business of Standards

There is a business side to standards. Technical information doesn’t just spring forth and implement itself. One of the key functions of a standards professional is the facilitation of the business of standards.

Successful standards development or management demands a focus on processes. Every step in the business of standards should add value. Take a look at the process improvement and quality management tools used by your organization. These same tools can be applied to the business elements of standards. Processes for standards development, coordination, distribution, etc. (and the tools used to perform those processes) should be nimble, flexible, and change along with the changing business environment. Use these tools to facilitate improvements to your standards processes.

In dealing with the business end of standards, new skills are emerging for the standards professional.

Project Management
Approaching the development or revision of a standard as a project, with schedules, milestones, and deliverables, will keep work moving along and ensure timely results. Becoming more disciplined regarding standards processes and building in metrics, will allow you to be more knowledgeable about the bottlenecks and potential areas for improvements.

Systems Analysis
This is use of systems analysis in the original meaning of the term: being able to look at the big picture and understand information flows, task dependencies, and fundamental requirements, being able to delve down to the true reasons for why something “is,” and separating out legacy issues (“because we’ve always done it that way”) from true requirements.

Team Building and Facilitation
Let’s face it, the basic tenet behind standardization is coming to an agreement on a process, method, term, product, etc. A good standards professional should be skilled in the tools required to bring a group of stakeholders together, focus the activity, and produce a product. Just locking the door and refusing to let anyone out until there’s consensus is not a winning strategy (tempting though it may be). If your company provides courses on team building, take advantage of them. The true value of a standard lies in the agreement process.

Standards development has historically been the domain of engineering. However, users or primary beneficiaries are often found in other areas: procurement, customer support, after-market services, etc. Reach out to these other groups to facilitate the building of the bigger picture of how standards are used and where they add value.

And lastly, when it comes to facilitating the business of standards, don’t forget to work with other industry members. Often your competitors can become your strongest allies in working toward standardization.

Integrate Standards into Your Business Streams

To really leverage the value of standards and standardization, you must integrate standards into all parts of your business. The quality community realized that to manage quality successfully, it had to become a part of the corporate culture. Like quality, standards and standardization are not something that should only be considered after the fact and engineered as an add-on. Standards need to be integrated right from the start during every phase of the design/build/support processes. And the business of standards needs to be managed along with all the other business activities.

The most direct way of integrating standards is to elevate the management of the business of standards up to the same level as the management of quality, safety and environment. Define the organization responsible for standards management and standards strategy and then hold them accountable on a regular basis. World-class companies have explicit programs to manage quality, product safety, and the environment — they must also have a program to manage standards and standards development. There’s a standards component to everything your company does. Find it, highlight it, leverage it.

Network

It’s not what you know, but who you know—and who knows you. Being able to facilitate the business of standards and to integrate standards into the key business process in your company means working with people. To do this effectively and efficiently means managing these relationships as one of your most valuable assets.

Know the Players at All Levels
Don’t just focus on the people above you in the food chain. Get to know key people above, below and lateral to you. Make sure you have a few good contacts in every business unit or corporate center. You never know who will emerge to champion a standards issue for you. The broader your network of contacts, the more quickly you can get important information to the right parties.

Your Rolodex Is Your Best Friend
Business cards are your links to people outside your company who can help you. Mark on the back of the card where you met someone and any important information about them, their position, or what you talked about. Periodically cull through your collection of business cards to make sure they’re current.

Facilitate Standardization By Bringing the Involved Parties Together
We talked above about facilitation being one of the key elements of a standards professional’s job. Critical to facilitation is knowing the right people in the right places that need to be brought together to address a specific standards issue. Your network of contacts should break down easily into sub-networks based on standards subjects: quality, safety and health, environment, electrical, composites, fasteners, etc.

Energize Everyone Around You
You’ve heard the old saying, “Hire for attitude, train for the job”? Well, in standards, as in life, attitude is everything. Working in standards means dealing with people, struggling to reach consensus or helping people to understand. You’re not going to be successful all the time. But more than whether you succeeded or not, people will remember your attitude and how you approached a challenge or dealt with a setback. Being a standards professional means bringing together people who don’t work for you and over whom you have no power, and inspiring them to want to work together on a standards issue.

Be the catalyst for change. You have the choice of whether to initiate change in a proactive manner or just waiting until you have to react. By being the catalyst you can help shape the future and ensure that standards and standardization are an integral part of that future.

And finally, the most important part of being a professional is mentoring the next generation. Throughout this series of articles we have focused on ways the individual can grow and be recognized as a leader in standards. But the single, most important thing a professional can do is to pass on their knowledge and skills. There’s a tendency to guard job skills, contacts, lessons learned, etc. as a form of job security. And while that may ensure that you’re the only one who knows how to do what you do, it also ensures that you can never move on or take on any new tasks because you’re stuck doing the same old things you’ve done for years. Think back on all the people, both inside and outside of your company who’ve helped you in your standards career. Now ask yourself: If I won the lottery, who could step into my shoes?

The true test of whether the work you’ve done and the processes you’ve put into place are well and truly integrated into the corporate culture, is if they survive after you’ve moved on. If processes are dependent on the personality of a single individual, they are not robust. Pass the excitement on to others. //

Copyright 2002, ASTM


Laura Hitchcock is senior standards specialist, External Standards Management, The Boeing Company, Seattle, Wash. She has over 20 years of diversified experience in standards, standards administration, and management. Hitchcock is a member of the ASTM Board of Directors.