Enhancing Your Role as a Standards Professional

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Courtesy of ASTM International

This article draws on and adds to previous articles in this series. Taken together, these articles describe how standards professionals can enhance their role and value in corporate planning and better address CEO needs. But what knowledge, skills and attributes/abilities, or KSAs, are required? How can you acquire or refine these, build your capacity to support standards work across your organization and even help prepare your own successor?

Knowledge can include the understanding and application of factual or background information supporting a task or function. And skills are generally considered to be learned versus abilities and attributes, which may be innate (but still refined through experience and training).

Standards Professionals and KSAs

KSAs for standards professionals working in a corporate setting fall into three interrelated categories; these can help identify related training areas.

General, non-standards and non-company specific:

  • Ability to recognize and assess drivers of change;
  • Tolerance for ambiguity;
  • Leadership skills;
  • Negotiation skills; and
  • Formal and informal cross-cultural communication skills.

Standards work specific:

  • Ability to define which standards impact planned operations and how;
  • Understanding of varied standards development structures, rules and processes;
  • Committee leadership and consensus-building skills;
  • Ability to form a bridge between technical and strategic perspectives;
  • Awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses;
  • Ability to be assertive as well as patient;
  • Standards committee work and white papers to build reputation;
  • Ability to engage and share information but avoid revealing company strategy or technical secrets;
  • Skill in recognizing and challenging assumptions;
  • Tolerance and appreciation for technical detail in standards; and
  • Writing skills.

Company specific:

  • Ability to gain critical input from across organization (and beyond) to define evolving needs and competitive positions, including existing and evolving alliances;
  • Capacity to define what to track, how to deal with varying players and which initiatives to support;
  • Deep understanding of the company’s products and technologies as well as legacy systems with inherent standards;
  • Skill in negotiating in one’s own organization;
  • Authority to participate effectively in standards development work; and
  • Ability to recognize and accept restrictions.

The chart, “Knowledge and Skills: Application to Tasks and Standards Work,” summarizes KSAs and tactics in these categories by task; it also indicates resources and approaches to enhance KSAs, discussed further below.

While all of the tasks are critical, here I will expand on KSAs associated with participating in standards development before considering resources for enhancing KSAs for all tasks. I will conclude with comments on building the standards function in your corporation.

Knowledge and Skills: Application to Tasks and Standards Work

Task

Support/assert role in strategic planning (roadmapping, scenario planning, etc.); apply input from across organization

General

Identify dynamic operating environment needs and technical drivers; identify and assess technical alternatives and paths

Standards Work

Define underlying standards and issues and effectively communicate across functions

Company-Specific

Understand and assess products and technologies

How to Gain or Enhance

  • In-house training and initiatives
  • Commercial roadmapping training
  • Relevant technical events (or be informed by attendees)
  • Interact regularly with personnel in relevant corporate functions
  • Select appropriate standards committees in which to participate
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology industry-university strategic standards management workshops

Task

Review current relevant standards and gaps; monitor relevant standards development initiatives; select committees and extent of participation

Standards Work

Understand standards development organizations, consortia, national, regional and international processes

Company-Specific

  • Understand dynamic corporate needs and positions as basis for committee selection and strategy; apply inputs enabled by tactics covered in previous articles of this series
  • Negotiate internally for resources enabling appropriate participation in selected committee(s)

How to Gain or Enhance

  • Participate in standards development organizations and in SDO industry-specific and broader standards training
  • Work with standards databases
  • Review industry roadmaps and reports from industry associations

Task

Participate in standards development

General

1. Negotiation KSAs

Knowledge of company requirements, strategic position, pre-established relationships, products and technology, what can or cannot be shared, priorities — what is critical and what can be given up now and across negotiations:

  • Skills/attributes, including cross-cultural communication, rapport building
  • Assertiveness (with constraint)
  • Ability to listen and learn
  • Assess underlying concerns of others and challenge assumptions

2. Leadership KSAs (committee)

Organization, training, team building, dispute resolution, drive consensus

Standards Work

Variation from “normal” negotiation pushes additional KSAs, including:

  • Knowledge of standards setting rules and processes
  • Bridge technology and strategy
  • Wear multiple hats
  • Deal with highly mismatched parties
  • Teach (raise level of understanding of technology in others)
  • Informal and formal communication
  • Writing skills (wording is critical)
  • Tolerance for tedium and nuance
  • Need to build reputation

Company-Specific

  • Select appropriate company reps
  • Negotiate internally for travel/ participation budget (cost, time required and expectations)

How to Gain or Enhance

  • Work through experiential simulations
  • Take general negotiation and leadership training (recognizing standards variation)
  • Experience (on the job training)

Task

Support/build standards function within corporation

Company-Specific

  • Hire staff with appropriate aptitudes
  • Use “Rockwell” style committee participation requirement
  • Pursue tactics noted in earlier articles in this series to build recognition of value and participation in planning
  • Work with supervisors to define interim job performance measures/indicators that recognize that standards work contribution can be along multiple subtle dimensions and take time

How to Gain or Enhance

  • Review how other companies do standards work
  • Encourage participation in standards development organization training for broad spectrum of company, particularly those who are engaged directly or indirectly with standards work
  • In-house simulation work
  • Hire students who have taken university standards courses and have combination technology/strategy background

Overall, standards professionals must be proficient and comfortable in both the worlds of technology and strategy, bridging these generally disparate functions and disciplines, perspectives and knowledge bases. Selecting committees to join (within the allocated budget) requires understanding the changing interplay of technologies. The work may require participating in a group or standards development initiative that is not the highest priority for the company but which helps build reputation, alliances and experience.

Standards negotiation is challenging because of the complexity and dynamics of the environment that standards address and the variation in process participants. Rapid changes in technology, emerging new technologies, and the need for responsive and potentially anticipatory standards development require standards professionals to engage in methodical and open domestic and international committees as well as industry-focused and proprietary consortia while keeping abreast of and understanding corporate positions.

You must be able to balance multiple “hats,” including that of industry representative, since the ultimate success of standards development goes beyond the negotiation table to the acceptance and application of the standard. The standards professional must be sensitive to varying starting points and understanding of targeted technologies. You may need to engage representatives from other countries and companies and help them better appreciate the technology and your company position.

Leading committees and working groups requires conflict resolution and team building skills across highly mismatched participants. You must go beyond your own company’s perspective without compromising the company’s needs and your position in other negotiations.

Enhancing KSAs

Developing and enhancing the required KSAs is not easy. General KSAs, including basic negotiation and leadership skills, can be learned through readily available university courses and commercial training programs. Scenario planning and roadmapping training programs are also available (such as the roadmapping courses conducted by the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing Center for Technology Management). Industry roadmaps may reveal trends and issues.

The variations noted for standards work, however, are rarely covered in such courses. SDOs, including ASTM, offer training specific to their standards development processes, but of course softer skills are required for actual negotiation or other standards work and attention to interplay with strategy.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has sponsored industry-academic workshops that put standards in the context of pressing strategic issues. Some university standards-related courses also introduce standards in broader contexts. NIST also supported the establishment of a website hosted and run by Northwestern University that covers strategic standards management.

Some would argue that subtle standards-related KSAs can only be gained through years of hands-on experience, but simulation work may partially address this need. Several examples are available, including materials developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a commercial “Setting Standards” negotiation role-play exercise (and now some shorter exercises) developed by Delft University of Technology and United Knowledge (and used in some U.S. government training programs).

Northwestern has a standards negotiation simulation that assigns participants to country “roles” with varying characteristics and goals to address an emerging technology; it is available on the Northwestern website noted above.

Building the Standards Function

As suggested in the chart, Rockwell Corporation in Wisconsin has an unusual approach that may be worth emulating. The company stimulates awareness of the importance and complexity of standards across the organization and supports identification/self selection of new standards professionals with desired aptitudes by requiring all incoming engineers to serve at least briefly on standards committees.

Defining interim performance measures appropriate to the nature and complexity of standards work will also be important to maintain corporate support.

It is hoped this series of articles can enhance the position of standards work within the organization and ease connection across the organization for new personnel. Hiring personnel with the attributes noted above along with the needed range of academic preparation, encouraging their exposure through in-house and external programs, and mentoring by seasoned standards professionals can go a step further.

At Northwestern University for 31 years, Jeffrey Strauss is acting director of Northwestern University’s Center for Technology and Innovation Management within the university-wide Buffet Institute for Global Studies where he develops programs targeting cutting edge industry problems. He is particularly active in Northwestern initiatives supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that enhance attention to standards in business and engineering curricula. He has taught undergraduate, graduate and executive education courses on related subjects. Strauss serves on multiple standards education committees and is vice chair for the Americas for the International Cooperation for Education about Standardization. He will be lead instructor on an online course related to standards education for IEEE next spring.

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