In The Professional: Defining the New Standard of Excellence at Work, Subroto Bagchi aims to answer the question: what makes a professional?
There has been an explosion in the world of professions, and yet there is still no system in place that can train people how to be true professionals. No matter how much education of training you have, there is no instruction manual that tells you how to approach every problem, communicate with different people, and respond to change. As a result, most of us simply bumble our way into the critical multifaceted understanding that separates a professionally qualified, technically competent individual from a handful of true professionals.
Bagchi defines a professional as someone who:
- can work unsupervised
- can certify the completion of a task
- behaves with integrity.
These, he says, are the difference between a professional and someone who is professionally qualified. Integrity is discussed at some length and Bagchi, who works for MindTree, suggests reading the MindTree integrity policy. Unusually, it includes examples of real people who have not acted with integrity and have been asked to leave the company. Having real examples in the policy makes it clear that MindTree takes integrity seriously, and also gives new starters clear guidance about the sort of company they are joining.
Bagchi goes on to discuss a number of other attributes shared by professionals. Professionals are:
- self-aware – don’t pretend to be an expert when you are not.
- not afraid to admit when they are wrong.
- willing to refuse to do tasks that do not fit with their personal or professional values.
- looking for the long term view.
- Authentic – insincerity is always found out, especially in today’s hyperconnected world.
- culturally aware and connected.
The last point, while probably true, felt a bit forced in the book, as if Bagchi was trying to make the concept relevant to the social media generation.
The book is a treatise on the nature of professionalism. In a year of phone hacking scandals, duck houses and tax avoidance, querying what makes someone professional is a good thing. “Posters, screen-savers and first-day orientations at work during which we hear corporate rah-rah by folks from the human resource department do not work any more,” he says. “The only option left for those in positions of leadership is to walk the talk and talk the walk.”
We all need money to live but Bagchi argues that there comes a point where professionals have to look beyond cash to a greater sense of meaning in their work. Making a difference to society, he says, is an often quoted goal that is really “false piety” and “empty desire”. Do something for your community or your profession, he suggests. Don’t worry about changing the world. Start small.
It is important, he argues, to keep your hand in. If you are a PMO Director, do some project management just because you can. Polish your professional skills.
“Every professional’s footprint must be larger than his daytime job,” Bagchi writes. “Our professional identity goes well beyond the employment badge we wear at work.”
He takes the long view, looking at what a professional can bring to their profession and themselves through personal growth, above and beyond just seeing a profession as a way to fund retirement.
Is project management a profession?
So has this book helped me establish if project management is a profession? Not really. “Every decade is throwing up brand-new professions the world over,” he writes. “On one hand, professionals are expected to be experts in their own disciplines, to understand its nuances, and at the same time, be able to work with their counterparts in other professions.”
He says that professionals regulate themselves. That’s a far stretch, I think, for the disparate project management groups that exist – it’s hard to regular something when a country has multiple groups all setting regulations on a similar theme.
Professionals also share a common set of values. Membership of a profession is a social thing – it binds you to others who share the same profession and excludes you from other professions. This is also problematic for project managers. Do you identify as a project manager before you identify as an IT professional, or a construction professional, or a healthcare professional? You can be a project manager in any industry – Bagchi says that the values shared by profession make the group cohesive and worthy of social respect. I don’t think project management is a strong enough bond to make practitioners give up their affiliations to other industry groups.
Bagchi argues that it is time to embrace the traditional meaning of the word ‘professional’ and apply it as a personal oath to do the best we can. We can certainly all do that.17/08/2012