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by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM | January 24, 2014

Apple’s products have a lot of loyal fans. How many companies can say they have people waiting in line for days to be one of the first to claim ownership of a new product? And yet, within that fan base, each time a new iPhone is released there are people who rant that it wasn’t necessary/better, this isn’t what the user said they wanted/needed, or that it changed too much/not enough from what we already had. Apple has learned that the more attachment customers have to a product, the more intense their reaction will be when it changes. They’ve also learned they have to identify what the customer wants — and often before the customer does.

The recent changes to the CMM (Certificate in Meeting Management), the certification offered by Meeting Professionals International for its senior planner members, remind me of those lessons. I certainly didn’t expect when I wrote my previous blog post [read it here] that so many people would still find topic of the revamped CMM program dominating their conversations. Yet, if anything, the subject is more on fire now than when the new program was first announced in December 2013.

By way of recap, MPI announced via press release on Dec. 19 that the CMM was being rebuilt as part of a limited partnership formed with the Global Business Travel Association. With this revised iteration of the program, various elements were going to change to support the rapidly changing business environment the certification is intended to serve, and to build consistency and reputation for the brand that is CMM.

Those of us who already hold the CMM as it was delivered up until now in both Europe and North America were quite surprised to hear this news. Many — though not all — consider our CMM education experience one of the best of our careers. And, just as importantly, we strongly identify with one another as a CMM community and brain trust. As I wrote in this space previously, I’m still cautiously optimistic about the changes. But an informal observation of my CMM peers tells me that I am in the minority.

It’s true that some of the changes being recommended were needed for the program to continue to succeed. For example, the education presented was sometimes inconsistent, the final project required for completion of the CMM didn’t always resonate with employers supporting the program, and the time and money commitment to complete the program was prohibitive. These factors, and more, likely resulted in the CMM not yet achieving the level of brand recognition it probably deserves.

Adjustments are being made to address these issues in the CMM program to come. At the same time, new issues have been created. Among them:

1. The letters “CMM” will no longer stand for any specific words, but rather, will be used as a standalone trademark to represent the achievement. I’m struggling to come up with any other professional designation that can claim to have done this successfully. Other designations certainly have broad understanding of what they mean, but in every case that understanding was leveraged from having actual descriptive verbiage that the letters represent. And I expect it will be very difficult to convey this to a global audience. This one decision strikes me as the biggest problem with the new CMM program.

2. MPI did not formally engage the majority of their current CMM community to help develop the new program. The eight-member CMM Program Educational Advisory Council making the recommendations included only four people who currently hold the CMM, and it was chaired by one more. While each of these individuals is highly qualified, I don’t think they represent enough of the vast talent pool available among CMMs, which now number more than 900.

MPI seems to disagree: During a conversation I had with senior staff, I was told they didn’t believe the outcome would have been significantly different whether they had been guided by four people or several hundred. They also said the decisions were made based on information collected from “myriad data points,” but were not specific about what those were, other than an email survey that was sent to MPI planner members approximately a year ago. From what I have been told, no formal data was collected from a specific CMM pool, from non-MPI members or from supplier members. This process caused MPI to lose many voices of support they could have had from those groups, especially the current pool of CMMs, who in turn would inject the very passion and insight that has brought the program this far. MPI identifies CMMs as their most senior, business-minded group, and thus a logical source to draw upon for guidance. That would have been a helpful element toward gaining acceptance of the revised program.

3. Partnering with a top-tier business school (in this case, the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business) will ensure consistent educational product delivery, and their faculty will deliver the program. If MPI needs to go to outside professional educators in order to create a consistent, top-notch program, what does that say about their ability to deliver it in any of their programs? Agreed, MPI isn’t an educational institution, nor does it need to become one. But I’m struggling with the assumption that giving it to someone else to handle means, by definition, that it will be better.

I think the debate around the new CMM program demonstrates a larger issue facing MPI regarding member services. The organization has struggled in that area, as well as with effective member communications. The process of revising the CMM has not really been handled differently than it would have been by the association’s administrations of the past, where MPI acted like the unimpeachable original source of all decisions rather than as a representative body in service to its 21,000 members.

Even with all this in mind, I am still very much looking forward to positive changes in the CMM program that lies ahead. I, along with other current CMMs, stand to benefit personally from the improved brand recognition, if it comes. For that reason, I will work hard to see that it does. I believe in offering solutions when I identify problems, so I hope to be able to contribute there as well. But most of all, I want our industry to have something that it can say is the best of what can be found anywhere for professionals in the field. I want the CMM to be the iPhone of the industry.

What are you still thinking about this topic, readers? Have your reactions changed since the announcement a few weeks ago or not? Please comment below, email me at LizontheBiz@gmail.com or tweet me at @E_Zielinski.