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CMA Ontario: The Dollars and Sense of Assessment

This is part of a special advertising section highlighting case studies featuring successful strategies in HR technology.

Thursday, June 2, 2011
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The Certified Management Accountants designation represents leadership, innovation and strategic focus. Built upon three foundational pillars -- accounting, management and strategy -- certification candidates are assessed based, not only on their credentials and professional accounting experience, but also on the personal attributes that distinguish CMAs from others working in accounting and finance-leadership roles. Because of their competency-based approach, CMA-certifying bodies require an assessment mechanism that goes beyond the traditional knowledge examination and evaluates individuals against CMA competencies.

One of the distinctive elements of the CMA assessment is the third-party validation required by Practical Experience Validators. Typically a supervisor or manager, this third-party validator provides first-hand verification of a candidate's reported work experience.

In order to operate at maximum productivity, efficiency and responsiveness, the Certified Management Accountants of Ontario identified the need for a more streamlined and cost-effective assessment process. Until May 2009, CMA Ontario used a paper-based system to collect and assess candidates' education and experience. This process was not only expensive and time-consuming, it was challenging for candidates to interpret and complete. The system encouraged little uniformity among applications, and made validating individuals' experience very difficult. In addition, the tracking mechanisms employed were cumbersome, requiring significant manual intervention at each stage of evaluation, and communication between candidates, assessors and third-party validators was laborious at best.

The Strategy

In moving to an online system, Janet Pierce, vice president of professional programs at CMA Ontario, worked with HRSG's competency experts to design a customized process within HRSG's i-SkillSuite competency-management and assessment tools, thus automating the entire process from application, to third-party validation, to assessment. What CMA Ontario needed was an online tool that clearly defined the competencies assessed; provided secure, reliable and defensible assessments; and, enabled electronic dispatching of assessments to candidates and Practical Experience Validators.

To provide clarity on the assessment criteria, the CMA competencies were defined by HRSG at four proficiency levels, each with distinct behavioral definitions. The scaled competencies include behavioral indicators, providing clear direction to assessors and clarifying expectations for the third-party validators.

"A key criterion when selecting software is the security; because we are assessing individuals, privacy is a big issue," says Pierce, "HRSG's i-SkillSuite provides the infrastructure we needed to ensure not only the integrity of the assessment, but individuals' private data."

Communications protocols were established according to the CMA Ontario workflow, and the reporting capabilities already available in i-SkillSuite allowed for improved tracking, accelerated response times and greater customer service.

"Working with an established HR vendor ensured that we implemented a solution that met the needs of all CMA Ontario's stakeholder groups. The solution was easy to use, streamlined and cost-effective. This translated into significant savings of both time and money," says Pierce.

Since implementation in 2009, CMA Ontario has been able to increase the number of applications processed per year without adding additional bodies to manage the greater load. Automation of email communications has significantly reduced time staff spent on communication, equivalent to as many as two full-time staff members, and assessors have also experienced time savings by using templated information that can be quickly inserted into the assessments. The process of reviewing and rewording the competencies to clearly reflect behaviors exhibited at work was also a key and unexpected benefit.

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Once successful implementation was demonstrated by CMA Ontario, other CMA jurisdictions also implemented i-SkillSuite, including British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

Key Outcomes

* Eliminated risk of liability in the application and adjudication processes through objective, validated and robust assessments;

* Increased consistency and transparency, making the process easily understood by candidates;

* Simplified tracking and reporting, and put it in real time;

* Improved client service at an affordable cost; and

* By maintaining costs while application levels continue to grow, CMA Ontario experienced improved productivity, membership growth and an exponential increase in quality of assessment outcomes.

HIGHLIGHTS

Organization: Certified Management Accountants of Ontario

Headquarters: Toronto

Primary Business: CMA offers strategic and financial management professionals who combine accounting expertise with professional-management skills to provide leadership, innovation and an integrating perspective to organizational decision-making.

HR Technology Challenge: CMA Ontario needed to decrease staff workload thereby saving time and money and eliminating subjectivity on the 1,000-plus applications assessed each year.

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