A couple of years ago I was attending an escalation meeting, where a manager demanded clear steps being executed by an external service provider who had failed to complete a solution. It was a very straight speech with a short list of to dos and a sharp deadline in the end. Things were agreed upon, and while everybody was preparing to leave, one of the employees told the service provider’s delegates that it would be OK to deliver the top three items out of five, and it would be good enough to deliver a couple of days after the deadline his boss had set a couple of minutes before.
In another occasion, I was part of a group of IT managers traveling to Scandinavia. We had intense discussions around a major contract that should be finalized. At one certain point, our negotiation partners had a major disagreement within their party, and they started to emotionally debate for more than 15 minutes in their native language, while all other attendees sat and waited.
It is usually very easy to figure out when somebody behaves unprofessionally at work. While the above mentioned examples are pretty obvious, there are other moments when individuals register a lack of professionalism:
- being disrespectful towards others by picking on their mistakes, interrupting them, or being late/unprepared for meetings
- being ignorant about the limits of somebody’s own abilities and refusing to seek assistance
- being reactive instead of proactive, not anticipating what the requirements of their peers may be and focussing on what they are obliged to do based on their job description rather than what needs to be done (aka “Dienst nach Vorschrift”)
- evacuating rather than executing, letting others do the work or leaving a huge gap between announcement and delivery
- seeking only short-term wins and immediate actions rather than working towards a long-term goal
- spreading rumors by mixing up biased information, confidential issues, and private opinions
- inability to deal with constructive criticism, both giving and taking feedback
- avoiding transparency by making massive use of the BCC: field in e-mail headers, or by refusing to measure easy-to-capture KPIs
- undermining decisions that were made by constantly putting them into question
In this post I want to describe what I think demonstrates professional behavior. This topic is so important to me because professionalism is the fertile soil of a transformation. In some cases, companies issue a dress code, enforce a clean desk policy, or require to pick up the phone after it rang only once. This clearly depends on the context you work in. In my opinion, professional attitude goes way beyond compliance with the rules.
It all starts with respect for yourself and for others. In an environment where teamwork is essential, a lack of honesty and respect can ruin literally every spark of team spirit. Being courteous and fair at all times is simply necessary, and this includes that you practice self-control.
Professionalism also requires the ability to express yourself in such a way that others can understand your language and follow your thoughts. While in many cases a local idiom can be charming and is broadly accepted, this can change dramatically when you collaborate with people who have a different mother language. Humor is also closely tied to a persons linguistic background.
Being professional means to stand by your commitments, apply an analytical approach and act quality-oriented. If you don’t want your name on every single deliverable, something seems to be really wrong.
And ultimately, professionalism is about learning and teaching. Pros attend seminars, build networks inside and outside the company, and invite feedback and suggestions. If possible, take on apprentices or trainees.
I have assembled my personal list of strong indicators of professionalism at work:
You are pros when you and your co-workers…
- strive to be proud of every work item you deliver
- permanently aim to give the best you can
- are honest and reliable
- don’t let small problems get in the way of delivering results
- constantly try to improve yourselves even in areas of expertise
- display ownership when mistakes were being made
- confront people in a respectful manner whenever necessary
- face changes and challenges with an overall positive attitude
- improve communications by strengthening your own listening skills
- use your resources in an optimal way
- try to keep distractions of your colleagues and yourself to a minimum
Professional behavior is for professionals. And it is rewarded with success.
Please let me know what you think.