Why Professionalism …

’Professional’ is not a label you give yourself – it’s a description you hope others will apply to you.

These are words of David H. Maister, a leading author and speaker on the management of professional services firms, as noted in his book, True Professionalism.

Too often, especially when working primarily with technical topics or inanimate objects, like keyboards and websites, we slip into a “technician” mindset, just dealing with the problem in front of us. Not that there’s anything wrong with a single-minded focus, but there can be so much more to a  job … if it is done as a “professional”.

What makes a professional? David Maister suggests that great professionals:

  • Take pride in their work, and show a personal commitment to quality;
  • Reach out for responsibility;
  • Anticipate, and don’t wait to be told what to do … show initiative;
  • Do whatever it takes to get the job done;
  • Get involved and don’t just stick to their assigned role;
  • Are always looking for ways to make things easier for those they serve;
  • Are eager to learn as much as they can about the business of those they serve;
  • Really listen to the needs of those they serve;
  • Learn to understand and think like those they serve so they can represent them when they are not there;
  • Are team players;
  • Can be trusted with confidences;
  • Are honest, trustworthy and loyal; and
  • Are open to constructive critiques on how to improve.”

Perhaps the single attribute that I see missing in many of today’s “technicians” is that they fail to “take pride in their work and show a personal commitment to quality”. While they do get the job done, that pride in doing-the-job-right (the first time) is largely absent. Their work products may include the right numbers but their sentences include misspelled words and lack references explaining the details behind the numbers. Respect for the reader (and really their own work) is just not demonstrated in its delivery.

Our educational system commonly views “C” work (a 70% score) as passing. In business, especially in consulting, anything short of 90% is looked at as being somewhat-less-than-acceptable, “un-professional”. That 100% grade is the hard target, but should never be seen as an unattainable goal to be considered later.

Think of how you view a work piece (a document) produced by someone else … Is it clean and well organized? Does it include the simple basics (headers, footers, page numbers) that makes it easier to reference? Are the fonts and styles consistent? Does it deliver the required content without distractions of misspellings or incomprehensible sentences? Does it look “professional” or does it look like it was thrown together at the last minute?

The quality of a delivered document that you produce says a lot about the importance you place on people who read it.

Similarly, the way you perform your job [paraphrasing Maister] is critical:

  • Reach out for responsibility;
  • Anticipate need … don’t wait to be told what to do … show initiative;
  • Do whatever it takes to get the job done;
  • Get involved!

A “professional” steps up and takes on problems, looking for solutions, instead of taking a not-my-job route. While issue escalation is important when working on a team, so is showing the initiative to look ahead and try to solve or avoid an issue before it happens. A professional gets involved in the solution instead of just reporting a problem.

A “professional” is focused on the client, the customer. [again paraphrasing Maister] A “professional”

  • Is always looking for ways to make things easier for those they serve;
  • Is eager to learn as much as possible about the business of those they serve;
  • Really listens to the needs of those they serve;
  • Learns to understand and think like those they serve so they can anticipate [their direction] when they are not there;

That customer-focus allows work to be done-right-the-first-time. It allows greater understanding of what is needed and desired. It provides added-value without significantly increased efforts. It shows that you really care about their business and the assigned project.

Finally, a “professional”

  • Is a team player;
  • Can be trusted with confidences;
  • Is honest, trustworthy and loyal; and
  • Is open to constructive critiques on how to improve.

The end result of the team is what is important to a professional, not the delivery or “success” of one individual. That is reflected in conversations and reviews, as well as in work tasks. If the team is successful, then the individuals on that team were all successful. The professional looks to continually improve and to help others in their efforts to improve. The professional looks at “our” instead of “mine”.

Can a given job be done effectively by either a technician or a professional? Sure … but doing a job well, THAT is what a professional does.

Professionals do their “best” as a matter of self-respect. Having self respect is the key to earning respect and trust from others.

Especially for people starting out in a career, Maister stresses,

If you want to be trusted and respected you have to earn it. These behaviors lead to job fulfillment. … If someone takes a job, or starts a career worrying about what’s in it for them, looking to do just enough to get by, or being purely self-serving in their performance, they will go nowhere. Even if they manage to excel through the ranks as good technicians, they will not be happy in what they are doing. The work will be boring, aggravating, tiresome and a drag.

So step up. Being a professional may look like more work, but the outcomes make the “extra” work well worth the efforts.

++++++++++++++++++++

Material included in this blog was reprinted from davidmaister.com
© Copyright 2001-2012 by David Maister

[David Maister has written on a wide range of management and personal excellence topics. I strongly recommend visiting his site and reading some of his books.]

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