Increasing the speed of standardization

Interview with Jan-Henrik Tiedemann

Jan-Henrik Tiedemann, IEC Community Manager, an architect and civil engineer as well as a self-proclaimed coffee enthusiast, was in a leading role on the first day of the SESKO-IEC Workshop 2017. Why does the IEC hold these workshops in cooperation with the national committees and what is their purpose? I met him to find out.

The SESKO-IEC workshop took place in Helsinki, Finland

Jan-Henrik Tiedemann started work as the IEC Community Manager in 2011. A seasoned standardization professional having already worked in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and in the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) before this role, he knew what he was getting himself into: “When I came to the IEC, we noticed that a lot of national committees had participants who were not fully aware of all the processes in the IEC.” This is how the idea of the workshops started. Procedures needed to be explained and supporting documentation renewed. Tiedemann took what had been used before and created the new programme for the workshops.

The first four workshops were in China in 2012 where the new structure was an instant success. With the learnings from the first four, the workshops were modified slightly and breakout sessions were added where attendees could actively participate in answering the question ‘If I were in charge of standardization, what would I change?’ “We could collect ideas directly from the people who do committee work and report directly back to Frans Vreeswijk, the IEC General Secretary and CEO. We gained a lot of knowledge for other projects from this too. For me it was at least 50/50 teaching and learning which is very important.”

Sharing knowledge and good stories

According to Tiedemann, the workshops aren’t just about people learning to use the IEC tools and to work with the IEC but the long-term aim is to increase the speed of standardization, get people to work more openly together and to increase the outreach. Different countries get a different workshop package depending on their needs: “For today in Finland or for China, it’s always completely different. I don’t want to do a ‘PowerPoint karaoke’ just reading slides, rather the workshops are about motivating people and building a community. It’s motivation, showing that a complex field can be fun, showing that people can make a difference, teaching rules and procedures but in a way that people remember them, and it’s about best practice.”

The information Tiedemann hears in the workshops gets reused immediately. Forwarding knowledge and good stories helps people remember what they’ve learned: “The benefit of a workshop is that people have a real person in front of them so there’s a much closer connection. It’s much easier to talk.” Tiedemann thinks that getting the participants to dedicate time for the workshop is important: “I do workshops and webinars and can clearly tell the difference in the attention span. In a webinar, you might have sent out the invitation to 1 200 people, you have 25 people signing up, 12 participate and three are listening. This would never happen in a face-to-face meeting.”

Also, the people who come to workshops don’t have to do other tasks: “If you’re in a webinar, your ears are occupied but you will start writing emails, you start doing other things. Here it is full dedication.” And the full dedication has two effects; the participants have Tiedemann’s time and they also know that they have an obligation to report back to their peers. This way the knowledge sticks and the participants forward the knowledge to others as well.

Standardization is a community

Tiedemann believes that the one-to-one talks in the workshops are invaluable. The participants are building their network and they form a community: “Standardization is community based exchange of knowledge and you can’t form a community in a webinar.” If you really want to get the knowledge to stick and you want to bring some enthusiasm about standardization, then a workshop is the way to go.

“Having said that, I believe in blended learning.” By this Tiedemann means that when you learn in a workshop, your knowledge increases very steeply. Then once you go back to your day-to-day life it disappears. The best practice would be to reach the same people multiple times – follow up the initial workshop with web meetings or webinars to make sure the message stays with them.

Global project

Since starting them in 2012, Tiedemann has given workshops in 35 countries with 1 300-1 500 attendees annually. Depending on the country, the number of participants in a workshop varies greatly: “It’s no problem to get 400 people in the room in China but if you get 50 people in a room in Finland it’s the equivalent of more than double that of China.” The competence of the people also varies. In China, there are a lot of people who are new to standardization so the IEC must do more of a promotional event first and then follow it up with expert calls. In Finland, there are beginners too, but also more seasoned experts involved, which makes a big difference.

Having people with different amounts of knowledge in the room makes workshops more interesting and also challenging for the trainer. “You have to give some very detailed information but concisely, you have to give some very basic information but in a way, that keeps it interesting for seasoned experts. It’s not easy. You have to let the experts talk about details because it’s important that you learn something and they have a need to discuss it, but of course you know that at the same time a person new to IEC standardization might think ‘oh my god, I will never understand this’. It is a continuous negotiation and a challenge I enjoy.”

Tiedemann always keeps the agenda for a workshop as flexible as possible. “I’m always 100% looking at the people. I want to make sure that this really works out for both of us so I try to give them all the information they need to make the most of the time we spend together”.

Finnish workshops

Tiedemann has done a workshop in Finland once before. According to him, this time people were asking questions and were a bit more open than in the last workshop in 2014. He has also learned that establishing a personal connection before you start is vital: “It helps a lot if you talk to the people when they come in. If you do that and then start the workshop, you’re just continuing the conversation which is a lot easier than if the person has never seen you before.”

He also noticed that there were more new people in attendance than before: “I think there were 2/3 of new people here. Younger people as well which is a good sign. For Finland, it was a fantastic participation. I think Sinikka (Hieta-Wilkman) did a great job here as we had people from legislation, we had people from industry, we had really the whole field and it was very positive.” “And today was the first time I had a dog in the workshop which had a very positive effect on the participants”, Tiedemann smiles.