OK when’s the last time you came to work planning to be unprofessional? Maybe spoiling for a fight with a co-worker? Armed with sarcastic statements to hurl at customers? Water balloons with the CEO’s name on them?
OK, I’m assuming the answer is never. People don’t – I hope – consciously set out to damage their careers and threaten their organizations through purposeful unprofessionalism. But it happens, for whatever reason.
- A businessman climbs the ranks of corporate America, all the way to the CEO’s chair. But his climb, it turns out, was boosted by a lie about a degree not held. Unprofessional.
- A mail carrier is a popular, familiar figure in a small Midwestern town. Until, it turns out, he wasn’t really delivering all the mail he’d been given. Surprisingly unprofessional.
- A priest manages to embezzle nearly $7 million from two parishes over the course of several years. Wholly unprofessional.
- Firefighters who start brush fires to get overtime cash; teachers who sell grades; journalists who make up sources; newspaper publishers who report false circulation figures; doctors who commit insurance fraud; etc., etc. etc. Criminally unprofessional.
Those are just the dramatic examples, all actual events. They’re all bad to be sure, but these extreme acts of unprofessional behavior aren’t likely to cause your organization pain. Here’s what will:
The customer service person who acts perturbed when a customer calls.
- The sales rep who can’t remember any information about a client and his/her business.
- The executive who doesn’t have to be right … as long as everyone else is wrong.
- The professional at any level who risks his company’s reputation in order to pursue his/her own social or political agenda.
- The teammate with a disruptive attitude; the one who calls in sick at every light sneeze; the one who believes it’s better to give (as little as possible) in order to receive (a paycheck).
So what’s the point? I tell you that to tell you this: I’ve just read a short book that The Goals Institute has released, “Professionalism is for Everyone.” The quick read is pretty interesting, setting out a five-point plan to keep everyone on their best behavior, and providing some do/don’t lists to support that plan.
I won’t steal their thunder, since that would be unprofessional, but here are the five keys to being professional:
- Character: As the book says, “do what is right and project a professional image.”
- Attitude: “Professionals have a professional approach and a positive, serving mentality.”
- Excellence: “Professionals press for excellence and continuous improvement.”
- Competency: “Professionals understand their job and develop their skills.”
- Conduct: “Professionals do everything with style and class.”
Not to be unprofessional, but I dare someone to argue any of those points with me. I’m sure we could do it with style and class, but I’m not sure any reasonable objectives exist.
So why is this something to talk about, write a book about, debate publicly and privately? Because when it comes to professionalism, sadly “do as I say not as I do” is often the guiding principal. It doesn’t have to be that way though. The Goals Institute book also shares 10 Rules of Professionalism that I know you’ll all agree with as well:
- Make a commitment and be professional.
- Do and say what you believe is the right thing to do or say.
- Look and act professional.
- Take pride in your work.
- Learn your craft and teach it to others.
- Be accountable and responsible for your actions.
- Do not tolerate mediocrity.
- Do whatever you need to do whenever you need to do it.
- Do something useful to serve others.
- Invest continually in your own professional development and growth.
Is professionalism the panacea for your business, the cure-all solution you’re waiting for? No, of course not … there has to be a “there” there in order for the professionalism to matter. But certainly it’s a skill, a style, an attitude worth developing in your learners and teammates. And when properly managed and rewarded, it becomes a self-perpetuating approach that can become the hallmark of your corporate culture.
So let me end with the obvious question I can’t answer yet: Why is it happening? The problem seems universal and with no disrespect to the book authors, the solutions seem obvious. So with the solution so clearly tied to the problem, why are we still talking about this?
Because we have to, of course. Maybe we even need to. It’s like any other issue … the more we identify and face the problems dividing us, the smaller those problems become.
So tell me, what’s happening in your world in regards to professionalism? Any horror stories you want to get off your chest? Even better, any solutions worth sharing?