Recently I’ve been talking with people about what it means to be a professional – and what it means to have a job. Here are some of my thoughts. (What are yours? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add your comments to this blog.)
For me, a professional and a good employee are the same in many ways. And first, this is about behaviors. Of course, skills matter, too. But it’s actually kinda easy to learn skills. You can get trained. But behaviors, that seems to be another matter entirely.
The first behavior I expect is etiquette. Sounds weird, eh? This isn’t Emily Post’s white gloves and hats. But it is Emily Post’s family franchise about etiquette. My partner Tom heard Peter Post (a grandson or great grandson) speak once. And Peter said that etiquette is about anticipating what would make life easier for someone else. That’s all. That’s it.
Etiquette…customer-centered…donor-centered. They’re all the same. It’s what Dale Carnegie, 1930s self-help guru said: “You’ll have more fun and success when you stop trying to get what you want and start helping other people get what they want.”
Courtesy…etiquette…customer-centered…donor-centered…centered on the other, not yourself. Hmmm…Think of your supervisor and your staff colleagues as customers. Yes, they are your customers just like the other customers. You serve them and they serve you.
Work is work. This is your job. This is not some extension of your family. Sure, colleagues should be supportive. And humor and fun are important at work, too. But work is work. This is a job. There are requirements that you must fulfill. This isn’t friendship, even if you’re friends outside of work.
This is work. Behave accordingly or lose your job. Most employers don’t have the resources to compensate for your misbehavior or lack of skills.
So what kind of behaviors do I expect you to have – right away when I hire you? Things like:
— Displaying a professional demeanor…and that includes cleanliness and proper attire for your worksite. Behaving pleasantly towards others including courteous greetings, a smile, an upbeat and welcoming manner.
— Arriving to work on time, based on the negotiated time for arrival. Working diligently during your time at work, because you owe that to those with whom you work and to those paying you. You use your work time on behalf of where you work. Enough with the personal email and the visits to You Tube and Face Book. Sure, if your job includes social networking assignments, you may be on the Internet. But you and I both know that you don’t belong there that much.
— Professional behavior means you figure out how to manage your own workload. If you’re having trouble, you talk with your supervisor. You get help to manage better or you ask to reduce your workload. Perhaps you don’t have the skills to carry out a reasonable workload. Then talk with your supervisor about skills development; maybe that’s available for you. And if your supervisor expected you to have the skills, then you’d best acquire them on your own time. Or find another job. Yup, this is tough love.
— How about meeting deadlines or letting the deadline person know that you are going to have trouble? (And you let them know in advance because the deadline doesn’t go away, but how the deadline gets made could change.) How can you just blow off a deadline? That isn’t courteous. That isn’t paying attention to others. And it is about as dumb as you can get in business. Missing a deadline is unprofessional. You might cause your organization to lose money. Or you might alienate a donor or volunteer. Your job is to make deadlines. Your job is to anticipate that you are having trouble and then let the key person know. Your job is to renegotiate the deadline or, with help, figure out how to make the deadline.
— Professional means adhering to the values and performance expectations articulated by the employer. If those aren’t clear to you, then ask. Suggest that all employees meet together and define what professional means.
— Professional means asking questions, not just “how” but also “why.”
— Professional means taking pride in your own work and making sure things are correct, legible, clean, safe, whatever.
— Professional means remembering to turn out the lights and lock the door; replace the toilet paper and paper towels in the bathroom if you used the last; alert the right person to the last of the pens in the supply cabinet; make sure a problem you discovered is fixed. (Yes, I’ve heard all these complaints about employees.)
— Good behaviors include anticipating challenges and opportunities, communicating clearly with colleagues, sharing information and ideas.
— Professional means holding yourself accountable and holding others accountable, too.
— Having a job / being professional means you are reliable. But are you? Can I trust you to honor your commitments, meet deadlines, do quality work? Can I count on you? Are you reliable?
You know what else I expect of an employee? A general interest in and awareness of life and others. I expect you to know enough about what is going on where you work — and in your community! — that you can carry on a conversation with almost anyone. I expect you to know a bit about what’s happening in contemporary events in your community (and that means more than your town, how about your state, your country, and the world).
Knowing a bit about what’s happening in contemporary life and current events suggests that you are aware, that you care, that you connect. Too insular and internally focused suggests you’re selfish and uninteresting. Is that how you navigate life?
All these behaviors are part of life, and learned through living. Your job site cannot be responsible for teaching you these. You come with these, or not. You’ve learned these through life experience, or not.
And I’m telling you, if you haven’t acquired these behaviors, you’d best get them fast. Because employers cannot afford you any longer. Not in this day and age. You cost too much, no matter how much you’re paid. You require too much time to supervise, remind, check in with, and hold your hand. You’re too frustrating and demoralizing for the others in the office.
Employers cannot afford you anymore, no matter how much you’re paid.
So take a look at yourself. Is this you? Do you demonstrate the proper behaviors?