Wright, N. (2002) ‘Six Pillars of Professionalism’, Training Technology & Human Resources, Institute of Training & Occupational Learning, November-December, p18.
The term professional is used so widely these days that it risks losing any sense of distinctive meaning, especially in an HR culture dazzled and preoccupied by task-competency frameworks and personal development. Perhaps it’s time to renew our sense of professional ethos and vision?
I was called in recently as trouble-shooter for an action learning group of HR practitioners. The group was struggling and evidently polarised between those who were prepared to commit if it provided immediate benefit for them and those who believed they had a responsibility to the development of the group as a whole.
This encounter challenged me to articulate my own beliefs about distinctive professional characteristics that should extend beyond natural talent, technical competence and personal experience alone:
Advanced studies in his or her professional field in order to grow in external awareness and ability to critique/apply alternative models and approaches.
Active membership of an independent, national/international body (e.g. institute) that is committed to establishing, maintaining and developing standards of good practice in his or her professional field.
Active commitment to representing, upholding and outworking the values and standards of the profession in the role and place of work in which s/he is employed.
Active commitment to the development of knowledge, capability and good practice within his/her professional field by contributing ideas, expertise and learning to others engaged in that profession.
Active commitment to working under supervision with openness, integrity and transparency in order to ensure appropriate accountability.
Active commitment to his or her own on-going learning and development in order to continually enhance his or her professional knowledge, capabilities and value to others.
Certain members of the group reacted to this characterisation with personal anxiety. The prospect of being considered ‘not professional’ raised connotations of un-professional; i.e. ‘of inferior quality’. I will comment further on some practical ideas that I offered the group to address this anxiety below.
The second concern expressed was that sharing expertise could cause a conflict of profession/employer interest if such sharing undermined competitive advantage. This is a valid point and one that signals the need for appropriate caution. I do believe, nevertheless, that our default orientation should be towards the sharing of learning unless there are very good reasons not to do so.
The third concern was how to balance commitment to one’s professional community with that to one’s employer, especially if ordinary work pressures restrict possibilities for active wider involvement. Again, this is a valid point but I believe our default-orientation should always be towards professional engagement, even if at a very low level.
I will close with some practical ideas:
If you haven’t studied in your professional field, could you sign up to a part-time course or explore possibilities for distance learning? Some employers will provide study leave and grants – have you checked with yours?
If you aren’t a member of a professional institute, consider joining one that represents your professional field and provides useful services (journals, magazines, newsletters, networks etc). Some employers are happy to pay staff membership fees – have you checked with yours?
If you’re not sure how to contribute to your wider profession, contact your institute for ideas. Academic and practitioner articles are often welcomed and taking part in an active network is an excellent way to meet other professionals in your field.
If you struggle to stay up-to-date within your profession, consider subscribing to a journal through your library, finding a mentor, joining an action learning group or attending short 1-day courses.