It was a privilege to review the second edition of Performance-Based Certification by Judith Hale. Hale is an icon for performance improvement specialists and much of her work on certification process has spread across the globe to more than 90 countries. Her expertise in designing certification processes has benefited the fire service, emergency medical service providers, customer service industries, human resources, training and development professionals, financial institutions, and educational institutions from the elementary level to institutions of higher learning.

I reviewed this book through the lens of more than 37 years in emergency services, specifically the fire service. Certifications are a significant part of the fire service, as opposed to degrees from institutions of higher learning. Hale’s book hits a home run by providing us with a long-awaited reference book about the nuts and bolts of performance-based certification. Her unique approach of tying together certification with performance goes a long way toward helping us refine our mental models of such important work. The performance-based approach presented in this book has the potential for taking certification beyond simply being certified or getting a credential to the matching of core competencies to the work being done. Hale’s consistent and thoughtful way of linking performance-based concepts of data-gathering, measurement, assessment, and evaluation provides us with valuable tools for success.

This book makes certification make sense and encourages the reader to think about building the certification around the real competencies that are necessary for success and to achieve the desired outcomes of any certification or credentialing process. The author does not present a one-size-fits-all approach to certification. She helps the reader identify if certification is a good idea or not–does it add value to the organization and to the work?
You need this book on your desk

Performance-Based Certification is much more than a one-time good read! Hale brings the subject of certification to life by bringing together her many years of experience, rich content, a plethora of examples, checklists, and web resources, which makes this book a must-have desktop reference. Every mid- to top-level manager, CEO, training and instructional specialist, or even a credentialing agency can frequently use Performance-Based Certification to validate already in-place certification or credentialing programs or design new cost-effective and value-adding programs, which is the ultimate goal of any credible certification or credentialing process. The guidelines for every aspect of a credentialing process are well documented and easy to reference quickly because of the book’s layout and consistent sections such as Missteps and Oversights, Tips, Summary, Where to Learn More, and Notes. Hale’s knowledge and experience in evaluation is visible throughout the book. This discussion of evaluation is one of the many knowledge-nuggets found in Performance-Based Certification and is vital to updating or designing a solid certification program.
A clear perspective

Hale presents a clear perspective of certification or credentialing concerns, issues, and solutions throughout. She takes a fresh look at the history of why organizations need certification and why many use it today. She supports her findings with real-life examples and cases, many of which she has been intimately involved with either as a designer of new or a problem solver of existing processes. Her use of examples, life experiences, and case studies throughout the book enhances the legitimacy of certification as a way of applying system thinking to our performance improvement efforts.

I would like to spend some time talking about Chapter 2, The Business Case. Chapter 2 is worth the cost of this book. Hale presents two key pieces, which if not ignored will move any certification or credentialing process closer to the designer’s expectations. Hale’s unique discussion of hypothesis, premises, and best guesses is genuinely a perfect starting place for talking about building the business case for certification. The necessary building materials of metrics or key success indicators as related to economic and non-economic metrics are very helpful and powerful. She follows with a very useful Tips section, which if put into practice will put the certification process on solid footing by making sure everyone is on the same page and headed in the same direction. The information provided in the Tips provides important talking points that challenge the reader.

Hale lays out the challenge of building a business case and that it is the core issue for getting the process off the ground. The business case must be clearly stated and discussed if there is to be buy-in from the organization and the individuals who would be seeking certification. Hale points out from her experience that this step is often overlooked.
Chapters 3–8 focus on the process for developing, designing, and implementing a certification or credentialing program. Hale’s discussion follows a logical flow for the process of identifying the requirements, answering such questions as:

• Will the certification be used for screening?
• Will it be for identifying levels of competency or capabilities?

In answering these questions, Hale discusses that the next logical steps would be to develop the standards and the various tools and or methods that will be used to bring people through the certification process. She also provides strong examples of data collection techniques, and the web tools round out this important discussion about standards and importance of data gathered.

Hale brings a high level of experience to the subject that makes her a certification expert in her own right; she has an uncanny ability to blend her professional experience into the subject matter of Performance-Based Certification.

There were several breakthroughs for me in this book. First were the logical chapter sequences, which help build the mental maps of our ability to diagnose performance problems, interventions, and the dynamics of behavior change. For example, the placement of Chapter 6, Governance and Administration, and Chapter 7, Recertification and Maintenance, before Implementation, Chapter 8.

This sequence reinforces the need to have these issues addressed before the certification program is rolled out.

Governance and administration is an often ignored subject and can lead almost instantly to program failure if those in these roles do not know what is going on and are not brought in at the conceptual phase. Senior executives or boards can feel the heat if they are left out of the loop at any stage. They must be informed and patiently brought in or they will not be able to provide the support for such a huge undertaking. They are sensitive to the sometimes very subtle negative effects as well as the positive results for customer service, employee stability, and the bottom line, all of which can be greatly affected by a solid certification process as Hale clearly demonstrates.

Chapter 7, Recertification and Maintenance, is also critical because it determines the longevity and vitality of the certification process, specifically pointing out that people need to know up front what is expected of them to recertify and maintain their certification. Hale helps focus the questions about who, when, how, and the why of recertification for those who were either by desire or mandate required to participate in the certification process.
A novice or well-seasoned performance improvement specialist will find this book not only interesting but necessary for them on his or her journey of performance improvement.

Kevin Wilson, MEd, CPT, is a retired division chief after 40 years, first as a volunteer and then 35 years for Poudre Fire Authority in Fort Collins, Colorado. He received his BS in Adult Education and MEd in Human Resource Development/Organization Development from Colorado State University. He has been providing educational opportunities to the fire service through the Round up Your Knowledge Conference (RUYK), which he started 18 years ago. In his retirement, Kevin is directing the RUYK Conference for Cheyenne Fire & Rescue, which is now being held at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne Wyoming. The RUYK Conference is cosponsored by ISPI, Laramie County Community College, and Cheyenne Visitors and Conference Bureau. Kevin is also the owner of Whole Elephant Consulting located in Fort Collins, Colorado, specializing in organizational performance improvement, group relations, evaluation and needs assessment, and accreditation through coaching and through search conferences. The company facilitates getting the whole elephant in the room to help organizations move toward their desired future and beyond. Whole Elephant Consulting has worked with family-owned businesses, with local governments, and in education. Kevin is a lifetime member of the International Society for Performance Improvement, a senior member of the American Society for Quality, Future Search Network, and Organization Development Network. He serves as a member of the Emergency Management Team and on the Accreditation Subcommittee.