What is professionalism? Is it just jargon, a fancy ‘buzzword’ or something useful we can use to grow our business and enhance our reputation?
There is little point in talking about the importance of professionalism in a business, or how professional you are, unless the whole team is invested in meeting the same standards.
In my experience, the term ‘professionalism’ can mean different things to people—even among those in our own bookkeeping teams.
To some, it’s about showing up on time and doing good work. To others, treating our clients and co-workers with dignity and respect. Or just behaving ethically.
Do you see where this is going?
Confused interpretations of professionalism in our workspace can unintentionally lead to inconsistent service. That is, how we serve our clients and support one another.
As human beings and fellow consumers, we’re hard-wired to fear inconsistency, aren’t we?
Inconsistent service makes us anxious and mistrustful because we never know what we’ll get from one contact to the next. Whether it’s your hard-to-reach telco, always-late tradie, or unhelpful workmate.
Questions for the team
You can help yourself and motivate your team by jointly defining the professional standards of behaviour you expect of each other in your roles.
To begin, ask your team: What are the practical standards of service our clients should expect of us? And what service standards should we expect of each other to do our jobs well?
Here are some areas you might focus on.
Someone who arrives on time shows respect for others.
This is more than just getting to work on time. Punctuality includes being at your desk ready for work and on time for client appointments and staff meetings. And it’s about managing your available hours so that tasks get done on time. It’s also about honoring each other’s time.
Ponder point: Showing up late may make people think you procrastinate or are lazy or disinterested.
Looking the part
How you present yourself says a lot about your professionalism.
While everyone has a personal style, there are standards for most work situations.
Grooming—hair and makeup—should reflect good taste. If a uniform is required, it should fit and be clean and ironed to present a neat appearance.
If you work from home, you may prefer to dress in casual, comfortable attire but still want to feel like you’re at the office. Just be mindful of unexpected drop-in visitors.
Loyalty to the business and the team
Loyalty is an essential character trait in an employee…
More than staying in a job for a long time, loyalty is about being a good ambassador for the business—in and out of business hours. Is your whole team invested in the vision?
That includes respecting clients’ privacy and confidentiality, not undermining ‘the boss’ with co-workers and strangers, and never gossiping about workmates.
And as their employer…
When your team feels trusted, respected, and well looked after, they perform better, experience less burnout, and stay in their jobs longer. They are also more inclined to ask for time off rather than call in sick unexpectedly.
Support of co-workers
We all know that when we help others, we feel more fulfilled, happy and motivated.
Helping our co-workers builds a stronger team in which everyone can and wants to succeed. When team members feel comfortable approaching each other when there is a problem, high productivity and morale ensue. And any ‘cruisers’ among them—those who do just enough to get by—are quickly challenged by their peers.
Telling the truth
Trustworthy professionals don’t make excuses or act like a victim.
In business, as in life, we need to take responsibility for the situations in which we find ourselves. That means owning up to mistakes rather than attempting to pass the buck or lie. ‘It’s my client’s fault, It’s my partner’s fault’, and ‘It’s my co-worker’s/boss’s fault’ are dismal excuses that undermine team harmony and the quality of the work.
If a client complains or the work falls behind, honest team members promptly address the problem and look for a solution.
Professional team members know when to get to work.
It’s okay to allow team members a certain amount of personal time during work. But taking longer than they should enjoying coffee and talking to workmates, surfing the net or taking personal calls and texts during the day can quickly disrupt workflow.
So, dear colleagues, what marks would you give yourself and your team in the above areas? And, in what other ways could you serve your clients and each other better?
Having decided acceptable standards of professionalism for your business, sometimes, as manager, you must take individual team members by the hand and coach them in order to get the performance you expect. I’ll talk about how to do it in our final article.
Meanwhile, over to you.