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Diploma (3) - Using the knowledge

The steering committee put a great deal of work into shaping the key features of the new diploma, as Alex Money reports.

A particular challenge in framing this Diploma was in ensuring its fitness of purpose. The steering committee for the Diploma project agreed from the outset that the Diploma in IR was not to be another threshold qualification of competency in investor relations. That function is very well fulfilled by the CIR, which is a respected benchmark and has now been running for over 10 years. Rather, our objective was to frame the Diploma in ways that would be interesting to experienced practitioners who wanted a way to demonstrate (and differentiate) their abilities to manage the nuances and complexities of investor relations at the most senior levels of the profession.

It was important to us that the Diploma was inclusive of those working – or aspiring to work – in advisory and consultancy roles, as well as in senior in-house IR roles. While no qualification will, of course, eliminate the emphasis that employers rightfully give to specific experience, personal chemistry and so forth, a core purpose of this qualification is to provide employers with an independent and objective indicator of a candidate’s suitability for some of the most demanding roles within IR.

Having identified our target audience for this qualification, the steering committee then focused on the framework for delivery. As a part-time research and teaching academic, I have some experience in this area, particularly in terms of the design and development of executive education programmes. It was important that we were clear and explicit about the intended learning outcomes of the Diploma. Specifically, what was it that holders of the Diploma should be able to legitimately claim as a result of their qualification, and how could the Society ensure that these outcomes could be delivered consistently, given the broad range of experience that we anticipated candidates to have?

We reviewed various formats of examination, including multiple choice, short answers, essays, and a combination of written and oral examination. Each approach has its own merits. Multiple choice is most commonly used and is the simplest to administer; while oral examination could provide a closer proxy to the actual working environment of many candidates. However, we felt that multiple choice did not offer sufficient flexibility to meet the Diploma’s objective of demonstrating the discursive abilities of candidates to capture nuance and balance. And while an oral examination component was attractive, it was considered impractical from a delivery and administration perspective. Having reviewed and discussed the various options, the steering committee settled on an essay and short answer format of examination.

More than theory
With regard to the content of the examination, the papers were framed to enable candidates to demonstrate their knowledge of both theoretical and applied aspects of IR. This is particularly relevant to an industry where a strong understanding of the principles is as important to the day job as dealing with its practicalities. For each paper, the committee determined that candidates should be able to demonstrate domain understanding of their specialist areas (examined as options), in addition to core knowledge.

Ultimately what differentiates this Diploma is that it is not just about what candidates know – but also, how they demonstrate this knowledge. The most valuable asset that a senior IR professional possesses is their ability to communicate. To borrow from Lord Reith, their mission is to inform, to educate, and – if not to entertain as such – certainly to engage. The open-ended structure of the Diploma’s essay questions allow and encourage candidates to demonstrate their capabilities. Our hope is that suitably prepared candidates will relish the opportunity – and perhaps even enjoy the examination process!
There are challenges to be overcome, of course. We have been collaborating widely to ensure that the Society is well positioned to provide the teaching and training necessary to deliver and examine this programme. It is also important that we sense-check our objectives with Society members, to ensure that what we’re proposing meets an actual need. Few people complain of not having enough to do at work, and success in the Diploma requires candidates to set aside precious time to prepare.

That said, in these particularly uncertain times, the return on investing effectively in professional development has probably never been higher. Our hope and belief is that in the months to come, the Diploma in Investor Relations (DIR) will join its CIR sibling as a benchmark industry qualification, attractive to candidates and employers alike.

Published: 7 October, 2016