How Professional is Your Organization? (4 Tips for Being Regarded as a True Professional)
We stood there, dumbfounded…
Recently, while attempting to make an airline connection in Brazil, my girlfriend (Maggie) and I took our paper tickets to the counter to get our seat assignments. As we approached the desk, the clerk, “Mariana” had her head down and was carrying on about her weekend to the person on the other end of the phone. When she finally looked up, we were greeted with a half-smile (no words – she still had the phone held against her ear). For the next 31 minutes (we timed it), Mariana continued with her personal phone conversation and occasionally pecked at the computer keyboard, never really telling us what she was doing. Maggie and I just kept looking at each other, as if to say, “I can’t believe this is actually happening.” We felt like we were interrupting her personal life.
You might be thinking, “But Steve, why would you put up with such behavior for 31 minutes? Why didn’t you say something?”
There’s more to the story; in effect we were between a rock and a hard place and needed her help. We had been led to believe that she could help us with a situation stemming from an overcharge. As it turns out, she couldn’t and we only ended up at another desk with more “can’t doers.”
While this sounds like an extreme case of unprofessionalism (new word), it seems to be the norm these days. Did you know that we experience 1/20th the number of human interactions today, as compared to 20 years ago? While this is certainly startling, there’s also a clear reason as to why it’s so true.
It’s sometimes difficult to define professionalism, yet we know when it’s there, and when it isn’t — when we’re experiencing it, and when we’re not. You can think of professionalism as setting a standard below which you will refuse to go, and not compromising that standard, even if others around you compromise theirs. (Think about the (very professional) band on the sinking ship in the movie Titanic). I invite you to consider the following:
1. What Distinguishes You From The Pack?
What makes you and/or your company different from the competition? It seems to me that the folks who are doing little or no complaining about our current economy and its effect on their business are often the same ones who best exhibit the qualities we associate with the sometimes elusive quality of professionalism. These companies and their employees are perceived and regarded as competent, and capable and present themselves well. This quality must exist on all levels of your enterprise and be expressed in everything you do. Professional relationships must exist within the company just as they must exist between the company and its clients. This doesn’t mean you and your staff shouldn’t be having any fun – that would be awful. It just means that you all must set a standard, below which you will refuse to go.
2. You and Your People Are Always “On Stage”
Have you ever noticed how interested people are, in the behind-the-scenes of your operation? Many reality shows have been created to satisfy this curiosity, which seems to exist inside so many of us.
Here are a few more examples: You’re at the doctor’s office, the hair salon, the DMV. Your head is down and you’re reading a magazine. But you’re still aware of the employees and how they are behaving; interacting and representing the organization. Or you walk into someone’s office, only to find them rushing to close a window on their computer screen. We are always on stage, within our company and in the eyes of our clients. What statements along the lines of “We always …” and “We never …” have you adopted/developed for yourself and your team?
3. How Professional Are Your Words; Voice Tone; Body Language?
A popular study conducted by UCLA reveals the three components of communication (specifically as it pertains to likeability): words, voice tone and body language. When I work with teams of employees, we spend a lot of time honing communication skills. Not only do words create our world, they imply certain things to listeners. Choose words carefully when speaking and writing. Be conscious of your tone of voice and your body language – especially when you are face-to-face with others.
4. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right – and consistently. Consistency falls under the umbrella of professionalism in a big way. Think of some of the professionals you most respect, and identify some of the best practices they deliver on a consistent basis. Twice a year, clients on my physical mailing list receive a postcard reminder to change their clocks. I’ve been doing this for more than a decade, consistently. If I missed one “Fall Back” or one “Spring Forward,” I’d feel less professional – and might even be perceived that way.
Consistency means presenting neither employees nor clients with “surprises.” Inconsistency is unsettling, while consistency is comfortable and familiar – and puts those around you at ease.
“Professionalism is knowing how to do it, when to do it, and doing it.” -Frank Tyger