If I were asked, what is the most important Competence that is globally needed today, I would confidently say: Professionalism.
At the break of the Financial Crisis in 2008, all of us were eager to know what are the reasons behind this tragedy, why it happened so fast and who is involved? Many went the conspiracy theory alley. Others referred the crisis to unplanned market volatilities and unaudited deregulated economy. Still others associated it with the dynamics of a changing world including the rise of new economic powers, and the need to feed cash-hungry wars all over the globe. However, what many observers missed is that, regardless of market volatilities, and whether the Financial Crisis is a planned, semi-planned or an unplanned initiative, what really caused it is a Human Being (or Beings). The crisis was the outcome of wrong decisions (intentional and unintentional) made by people (competent and incompetent) both in the private and public sectors.
A lot would argue whether the chain reaction of wrong decisions was deliberately initiated or not, and whether it is driven by greed or by kind heartedness; this is a moral question that is out of scope here. Regardless of what were the reasons for letting the Crisis loose, somewhere somehow there was a consortium of unprofessional people who made decisions that had a Global negative impact.
Although a common terminology, Professionalism is the most underestimated and misunderstood competency in the realm of Business. Many understand Professionalism from a one-dimensional perspective. Some consider it to be associated with Consistency and Standardization; others look at it as the ability to speak business language fluently and to dress neatly and attractively. Still, many others interpret professionalism as Job Mastery and Experience.
None of the above interpretations is wrong, but neither is complete!
I have been into research on Professionalism for the past 15 years. I looked into the origins of the word, which obviously comes from the term ‘Profession’ meaning the job a person is trained or educated to do, and/or ‘proficiency’ meaning mastery and capability to do a certain task. With this, I settle for the definition that I believe is most comprehensive and straight to the point: Professionalism is an acquired personal trait of a person who is technically and behaviorally well trained and who can be depended upon.
‘A person who is well trained’ refers to having the right education and experience, someone who has had the time to practice and master a profession. This also implies that Professionalism is associated with age to a certain extent. Making correct decisions has to do both with logic and analytical powers, yet it is strongly related to experience and exposure as well.
‘A person who can be depended upon’ refers to consistency of behavior and credibility. Yet above all, it refers to Integrity, and this is where the real problem lies.
The World is not short of well-trained people. Decent Universities that outlived many generations are still delivering high quality education. What the World is actually short of are people who can be depended upon. It is the ‘Sense of Commitment’ that is most needed in the professionals of today. A weakening Values System and the dilution of the Taboo concept made a lot of unprofessional behaviors that were totally rejected previously, accommodated-for if not totally accepted today.
Further, with people becoming more time impoverished, shortcuts became most convenient, including shortcuts on one’s own relations, courtesy, professional mastery, and the like. Unfortunately, shortcuts are associated with convenience and practicality, which is absolutely true, yet, this should not happen at the expense of profoundness and authenticity.
Although this might sound preachy, but who can confirm that in the past 30 days he was not at all negatively affected by behaviors that were the result of shortcuts? revolutionary Technology, Telecom, and Social Communication tools made it easier for everybody to conduct business globe-wide. However, this also weakened the case for Professionalism. We live in a World where anybody on Earth can be your client. What took years to realize, in terms of outreach to new markets, is just at the click of a mouse today. Still, in as much as technology and telecom released unthought-of potential for business, it had – unfortunately – a painful downside namely the unintentional nurturing of Unprofessionalism.
With so many people to sell products and services to, two main perceptions were reinforced in the mindset of many business people. Those are: ‘Shortcuts’ and ‘Indifference’.
‘Shortcuts’ are associated with convenience and practicality. With so many clients to serve, many businesses faced a “capacity-to-serve” problem. How can a business cater to the needs of clients that have just multiplied overnight using the same human and financial resources? Even if a business hires new employee, it will not have time to groom them professionally, so you end up with lightly trained staff with minor experience unable to stand the test of Professionalism.
‘Indifference’ is associated with the feeling that with so many clients around, it is OK to lose some. It is the attitude of “If they don’t like what they see, let them go elsewhere, we still have 6 billion others to sell for”! I mean look at restaurants, hotels, car dealers, fashion shops, insurance, banks, and others; how much would you rate their quality of service and genuine concern to retain you as a client?! Rate over 10: ________!
These two ideas were the passports for many business people to unprofessional behavior, including those who made the decisions leading to the Global Crisis (by the way it is not only a Financial Crisis!). Yes, too many well trained people remained well trained, but they became someone whom you cannot depend upon, hence unprofessional!
Undoing this major drawback in our understanding of Professionalism requires immediate action before such practice becomes engraved in our human DNA. Principles of Professionalism being good education, profound experience and job mastery, consistency, etiquette, protocol, credibility, dependability, and integrity will soon fade away if we do not create a reverse momentum. We need to re-instigate Professionalism in everything we do starting by our educational systems, corporate training programs, governance policies, down to ourselves, the way we dress, talk, walk, work, think and learn!