Is “professionalism” something that is in the eye of the beholder or are there basics that all professionally managed organizations have in common?
I believe most owners and managers would like to think their organizations are “professionally” managed and that their customer contact personnel treat their customers in a “professional” manner. But, my experience is that many managers don’t take the time to ensure that their people understand what is professional behavior and what is not.
I hope the following examples will provide some insight into professionalism:
Communication: Professional organizations strive to provide their people with clear communication. Managers owe it to their people to let them know where they stand, especially in areas surrounding performance. Employees should never have to guess what their supervisor thinks of their performance. If an employee has a shortcoming, communicate clearly what the employee must do to turn the liability into an asset.
Don’t talk behind people’s backs: It is unprofessional to “bad mouth” your boss or for supervisors to bad mouth their people behind their backs. If you don’t have something good to say about a fellow employee, say nothing at all. If there is something that for the good of the company management needs to know about, ask permission to speak to the manager privately. Make it your policy not to criticize an employee to your coworkers, which will earn you a reputation as a “gossip.”
Communicate detailed information in writing: The human memory is often convenient. Try to never communicate prices, specifications, numbers or detailed instructions verbally; put it in writing.
Close the loop: Make it a policy to ask customers, suppliers, service providers, coworkers, etc. to confirm they have received your messages. Don’t assume!
Follow up: If you promise to get back to someone—especially a customer—by a specific time, set an alarm and communicate at or before the time you promised to get back even if you don’t yet have the information the customer is looking for. The professional rule is call the customer before the customer calls you, even if all you have to report is that you don’t have an answer yet.
How to earn an “A” Grade: Do all employees in your company know what they must accomplish to earn an “A” Grade? The “professional” rule is to communicate to each of the people in your company what they must accomplish in measurable terms to get a raise, earn an A Grade, receive a promotion, etc. Examples are: Complete some advanced education, reduce operating expenses in your area of responsibility by 5.2%, complete the Dale Carnegie course “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” complete an estimating workshop, etc.
Establish conditions of employment for each employee: In a professionally managed company, all employees should know what they must accomplish at a minimum to keep their job. And like earning an “A” Grade, management should make every effort to express conditions of employment in measurable terms. I like the words “Conditions of Employment” because they tend to get employees’ attention. We’re not talking about suggestions here, but something far more important.
Respect lines of authority: Managers in a professionally managed organization will not answer sensitive questions from workers who report to another manager. It’s okay to listen to a question an employee asks, but at the point you realize you would be violating lines of authority if you were to answer the question, respond with something like, “… it wouldn’t be fair to Bob if I were to answer that question. Let me suggest that since Bob is your immediate supervisor, that you run that question by him.”
The discipline to professionally manage your organization will pay handsome rewards in the areas of employee turnover, employee morale, ease of recruiting, and your ability to consistently achieve higher levels of productivity