Professionalism: The ABCs
This book presumes that you know, without a lengthy explanation, the difference between professional and unprofessional behavior on the job. In trying to define pornography and what constituted it in a legal sense, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once said, “I know it when I see it.” Most coaches say the same thing about professional and unprofessional behavior; they know it when they see it.
Nevertheless, in this era of a general coarsening of our lives, the line between professional and unprofessional behavior in business has been blurred, just as it has everywhere else.
The professionalism that you insist on as a coach, and as a leader of men and women, defines the overall work habits that reign in the office, and hence, the end results. When your employees function in their jobs as true professionals, a positive and productive work environment is the inevitable byproduct.
Understanding What Is and Isn't Professional
Professionalism gets to the heart of right and wrong; what's ethical and what's unethical. It can't be easily measured because it often involves attitude and certain behaviors, and not hard, quantifiable results. For instance, monetary objectives produce quantifiable results — they're either met or they're not met. But how one achieves these monetary results — and all other results in business — is just as important as the results themselves.
This statement might come as a big shock to some businesspersons. However, the ends do not justify the means in any organization that puts a premium on fairness and on the integrity of its personnel.
For example, Ed, in sales, may be a wizard in finding new customers and pumping up orders. But if his selling tactics involve deceit, or browbeating his coworkers to generate more of this business, then his inflated results are not something to laud or reward. Professionalism on the job encompasses how the job is done. It's about the methods that employees use to go from point A to point Z and accomplish what they were hired to do. It's also about their interactions with others, be they on the inside (coworkers) or the outside (customers).
The corporate world is awash in overambitious men and women, some of them seemingly successful if measured by their 401(k) plans. But this measurement of their success is meaningless if the road to their ever-increasing riches is littered with unprofessional actions.
How Your Team Mirrors Your Professionalism
You need to measure the professionalism of your team because it is the ultimate reflection on your leadership. Problems, and the importance of addressing them early and at the source, often mean confronting the unprofessional attitudes and behaviors of some of your employees. And although unprofessionalism covers a wide array of poor attitudes and behaviors, it is nevertheless important to stress that no manifestations of them should be permitted to take root.
Negative outlooks, actions, and work habits disseminate more easily and freely than do positive outlooks, actions, and work habits — another unfortunate but important fact of life that coaches need always remember. There are the people who think, “John uses a lot of people for his own ends and cuts a lot of corners — and nobody notices or seems to care. So why am I being conscientious in my work and doing all these little extra things, when it doesn't seem to matter?”
You may have the most knowledgeable and skilled employees in the world, but if they don't exhibit the professional work habits to match their get up and go and know-how, you might not get the results you expect and desire from them. Solid work habits fuel talent and permit genuine expertise to shine.
This kind of chain reaction mentality is commonplace. Poor attitudes and bad behavior spread like a cancer if the unprofessionalism of one employee is ignored or in any way tolerated or condoned. This is why the ethical boundaries and work ethic that you establish at the core of your coaching must be defended as well as declared. You must insist that the proper ethical attitudes and behavior be adhered to faithfully on the job. By requiring anything less, you render such behavioral standards frivolous.
Your employees must never be permitted to regard professional behavior as some vague or nebulous textbook stuff. They've got to see ethics on the job as something living and real, as something that matters, and as something that is faithfully guarded by you, the coach, without exception.
The Minutia of Professional Behavior
The movie classic Love Story gave us a haunting melancholic theme and the oft-repeated platitude, “Love means never having to say you're sorry.” Well, coaching means never taking anything for granted — anything at all. So don't fall into the trap of taking on-the-job professionalism for granted.
Don't assume that all the men and women who work for you fully grasp the ABCs of professionalism. This is a roundabout way of saying that you are going to have to teach some of your employees these essential ABCs. Some of them will need more help in this area than others. A few unrefined employees may even fall into the Ernest T. Bass (boorish to the core) category, but most will be reachable and teachable.
In your initial orientation and training of new employees — high-octane coaching — your job is to make known and abundantly clear the basic ways the office functions, including the specific expectations you have for each one of your staff members. Don't neglect to mention here that a professional demeanor is something that every employee of yours, regardless of job description or role, is expected to maintain at all times — without exception.
Some managers inculcate their employees with performance expectations ad infinitum, and focus on bold goals and growth opportunities, while giving short shrift, or ignoring completely, the professional attitudes and behavior behind these performances, which are equally, if not more essential.
Can you impart professionalism to the uncouth employee? In the classic sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, Sheriff Taylor failed to impart refinement to Ernest T. Bass, but Bass was as crass as they come. As with so many lessons, learning is entirely up to the student. A receptive student can readily absorb the important tenets that characterize professionalism. But just as in the earlier discourse on motivation, it all boils down to the particular individual's willingness to move forward and better him- or herself.
Nevertheless, you've still got to unequivocally define for all of your employees what professional behavior means in the workplace. And you've got to hold them to the standards of this exacting definition. And if any of your employees repudiate professional behavior, and refuse to make the necessary adjustments in their work habits, then you don't want them on your team. Period.