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This was the most intense, deep-listening summer in our firm’s history of 39 years and more than 40,000 meetings with boards of directors and staff-driven project teams.   Take a few minutes to explore what we discovered because it will be worth your time.

Have you ever experienced a quest?  It’s an adventurous journey that asks many questions in order to get to the truth or the core of an issue so big it doesn’t go away.  Usually, it takes months, if not years.  Our quest started about a year ago and got super serious and focused in recent months. We have been searching out and keeping track of the big issues that seem to bother our cohorts, clients, and colleagues in credentialing communities and professional development.  For the past year, we’ve asked a lot of people to come clean, come forth, and tell us in confidence, What is your burning platform issue?These kinds of issues are systemic and impact all staff and many members, customers and investors (sponsors).

What we learned will either delight you or change the trajectory of your current course.  This means we have more than enough new insights and fresh material to share with you, one issue at a time, every week in our newsletter, Credentials Leaders News, and in frequent blog posts, here in Certification Journal, for the rest of this year and most of 2019.

Whether or not it provides an impact to others, I will continue the quest and writing this blog.  Because it has impacted me in a way I could not have imagined.

How Do You Know Yours is a Burning Platform Issue?

First, let’s make sure we all know the difference between a burning platform issue and something that is just concerning but not enough to make you stop everything you are doing and focus on the one big thing.

I come by this naturally because my father was an oil well equipment sales manager for U.S. Steel Corporation and his customers were mostly Texas oil barons.  Growing up, that was our social circle and the conversations we overheard as children taught us a lot about people, business, and great thinkers.  When the oil field you are drilling is in the ocean, you have to put all of the equipment and people on a platform.  If something goes terribly wrong, you have an explosion and monster fire.  All of your energy and focus from that point on is about taking the right action. Nothing else matters. Do you stay on the burning platform and hope that somehow you will still live? Maybe someone else will swoop in and rescue you? Do you jump off the platform, into the water, with the sharks and hypothermia and hope that somehow you will live?   No time for apologies or excuses because it’s time for action and the decisions of your life.

Our Findings Made Us Think Differently

The deeper we searched, the more we listened and asked further questions to make sure we were getting to the good stuff, far past the surface rhetoric.

First, a story.

Our quest started 8 years ago and became so valuable we gave it a name: The Quest for Issues That Matter.   The spark for this quest came when we were heading up quarterly meetings for the Certification Network Group and insisted on different.   In order to get a lot of people to leave their offices, spend a whole morning and end up saying “This was the BEST experience, ever” we had to identify issues that were “killing us” but not being discussed at any of the membership dues-based organizations we belonged to.   It worked and the effort was worth it because that was the year the group went from 250 to more than 1000 actively engaged certification-passionate professionals.

Fast forward to 2018.  The Communicators consultants continue the quest and strike gold when we actively dig for the core issue, the root issue, not the symptom.  Everyone has a burning platform issue and that surprised us. Some are really good at hiding it or acting like nothing is weighing so heavy on their mind, but it is.

Eventually, the truth comes out.  We noticed that far too many think that nobody has the exact configuration of the issue that they do.  That means they think their burning issue is so unique to their association, their profession, their culture, their business model that nothing will have the relevance and impact they need.   Still, they remain  curious enough to see if something comes really close or seems like it might just work, if tweaked.   And that’s enough hope to let some light shine in to your hiding place.

We then started to validate our findings by studying the program booklets for conferences, workshops, and multiple learning events, both in-person and online.  The “problems” that we saw in many program descriptions and announcements were either 1) Someone’s commercial, that is, they have a “solution” and they are hoping someone in the audience figures out a connection (If you are a hammer, you’re thinking or hoping everyone is a nail.), or 2) The same program topic we’ve seen before and every year and usually by the same person, which means that is their shtick and without much updating.  Instead of addressing an issue, the program is about concepts, without ever naming specific situations where their concept was applied.

The more we listened and sorted out the burning platform issues from temporary concerns, we conducted our version of the Harry Potter sorting hat with this criteria: Is this a new Issue that Matters?   Or is this a variation of something already on our list? Does it pass the four-way test or standard for making it onto our list of Issues that Matter?

It Sorts Out To 13 Burning Platform Issues

What started out as a list of more than 100 issues sorts out to 13 burning platform issues and everything else is a symptom or imitator of The Issue That Matters.

In the remaining months of 2018, we will invite our clients and most trusted colleagues to take a look at each of the burning issues and help us with scoring.   From all of that unique and private data, we may end up with an entire book or some kind of First Ever Scorecard for Issues That Matter for Credentialing Enterprises and Professional Development Providers.

If you want to be invited into our scoring of burning issues, send an email to Georgia@nullCommunicators.com with the subject line: Scoring That Matters, then include your name, email address and direct phone number in your message.    We will present one issue at a time and ask you to score it.  Your quality of response tells us if you get to see the next issue.  This is a conversation and not a research project so that means we may keep you in the scoring team through all 13 major issues.

We’ve created a four-point scoring system that gets past all excuses and finds the truth.   For example, here is the first point in the scoring system:  “This issue appears in the strategic plan or business plan we are implementing now or must do something about it this year.” To see the other three scoring points, we have to admit you into the Scoring Team.   We would like to have about 30 people with Issues That Matter join us in this scoring conversation.  Go ahead and show your interest so we can start scoring this month. We’ll consider you for the next scoring team if you don’t make this first group.

Here’s one of the 13 Issues That MatterWe say we know our universe and our market and that’s not true. In a world of big data and predictive analytics, we still lack useful, current data about the individuals who are customers or self-identified prospects for your credentials or certification services.  How would you score that issue?  More importantly, would you like to know how many others actually have the same burning issue you are holding so close to your chest?

Sorting Issues from Symptoms Takes Practice

If you want to join this quest, we’d love to hear from you. For the past year we have challenged our team, here at the firm: “Find something original. Look for the authentic.Go beyond the symptom and find the root problem. That’s where the good stuff is.”

For example, if people are getting out their mobile phones while you are presenting or during a board meeting, what is the problem? If you say the problem is we need a policy to turn off your phones or leave them at the door you’d be dead wrong.  The problem is you are boring. The root problem is you are not paying attention because people in the room are telling you, clearly, that you have to be more fascinating and maybe more creative and entertaining, for them to take ONLY the emergency call from a family member….and blood is involved.  Indeed, this is what we tell people before we start the dialogue. “If someone tries to call you during this meeting and you feel that you MUST answer, ask first if this is an emergency and if there is bleeding involved.”   Otherwise, chances are high this is another time-sucking interruption that will take you out of the room and out of the mainstream of some really great stuff going on or coming down.

Clients ask for things they can never have, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.  Most of all, they ask us to tell them the secrets, solutions and budget details that they cannot find on the Internet and hope we might divulge.  They know we have helped hundreds of organizations succeed with speed, zoom around the competition and “go big or go home” but they don’t know how to tap into that mojo which others experience.  When we explain that we are under the same confidentiality and ethics agreements we signed with them—also our clients, they get it.

This means it’s time to think differently about ways to help our clients and cohorts in this marvelous niche we serve—the best of the leaders in credentials and workforce talent advancement—to help them get to the root of the issue without betraying any trust or exposing secrets. That was our inspiration for the Issues That Matter quest.