What does it mean to be professional?
I think that we can all agree that being professional is a good thing. That it is something to strive towards, something that is an ideal in our work life and also in aspects of life outside of work.
This was brought up for me when a colleague in a Volunteer project had a public (within the project) rant about the lack of professionalism being shown in getting things done. I was singled out as being an example of amateurism.
Setting aside the obvious issue of such a public rant being the antithesis of professionalism, there is obviously something for me to learn here if I have upset someone so much.
So I started with what my definition of professionalism is… and realised that might be my problem.
I believe that being professional means being clear about the responsibilities of your role.
This means knowing what you are responsible for delivering by the end of the project, and equally what you are not responsible for. It means that you then take responsibility for delivering your outcomes. No excuses. No equivocation. You make it happen.
Now in my mind your level of professionalism is the degree to which you can deliver your outcomes and at the same time support colleagues in delivering their outcomes. -But in my mind, the focus is definitely on your own outcomes.
Of course there is often compromise in delivering your outcomes. We live in the real world and a lot of things happen that are beyond our control. But I go back to: No Excuses, No Equivocation. You Make it Happen. -At least; as close to the ideal outcome as possible.
Now that still sounds to me like a pretty good working definition for professionalism.
But obviously there is a flaw here, because in this case me adhering to my personal version of professionalism has resulted in lowering the overall professionalism of the project.
So let’s look at what happened:
- I set some clear plans for achieving the outcomes I am responsible for nine months out.
- Close to the last minute of a particular event someone suggested a change so that they could meet their responsibilities.
- I saw this change threaten to impact on my ability to meet my responsibilities, so I first vetoed the change, then compromised so that some of their responsibilities could be met.
- At this point I assumed they would then follow up to meet the remainder of the task as it falls within their responsibility.
- Evidently they assumed I had taken on the additional responsibility of this task that serves their outcome..
When the delivery of their outcomes were put in jeopardy because this particular task had not been done, they were understandably frustrated. They were upset with me because they believed I was responsible for that task.
Meanwhile I was blithely unaware of the issue. As this task had no impact in my sphere of responsibility, I deemed it unimportant, and was focused on the more important milestones I had to meet.
So what is the lesson here? What can you and I both learn from this?
1. Assumption is the devil’s word. Whenever someone assumes anything trouble follows. But it is important to note that assume and assumption are always talked about in the past tense. They are not obvious in the present tense, so we need to be very vigilant about trying to see what our assumptions are right now. Today.
2. Responsibilities need to be clear and explicit. I was clear on what my responsibilities are in my own mind. But I don’t suppose anyone else really was. If all of us on the project had clear responsibilities that we communicated to the entire team, then gaps could be identified, and tasks would more logically fall within different team member’s area of responsibility.
3. Better Communication could have solved or avoided this issue. This is obviously something I do need to work on to improve my professionalism. I have a tendency to assume (there’s that word again) that people know what I am doing and why I am doing it. I need to take the time to express what and why more explicitly to lubricate the whole machine.
So that is my lesson for today. I will be contemplating it this week to make sure that I implement it in the work I am doing.