The seven golden rules of professionalism

"I run an independent estate agency with four members of staff. Occasionally, I cringe at their behaviour and appearance. I feel they fall short of professional standards. I find it hard to define what I mean. Without constantly moaning, how can I get them to up their game?"

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I was recently reminded of the critical nature of ‘professionalism’ in business when I won a big training contract. I was advised by the client that the largest factor in winning the contract was my ‘professionalism’. Nice to hear, but it is a word banded about often without true understanding. To display it, one first needs to understand it…

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Julian O’Dell is Founder of TM Training & Development

Professionalism can be defined as, “the combination of qualities connected with trained and skilled people”. Its origin relates to ‘the professions’ – careers that require education and relatively strict entry criteria; however ‘professionalism’ is now more broadly applied to a worker’s general conduct in jobs. Thus admin staff, junior employees, manual workers and waiters/ waitresses can still be ‘professional’ despite the fact that some occupations require only training.

Estate agency remains an easy career to get into, yet a tough one to excel at in the longer term. Conversely, people who might be assumed to be ‘professionals’ – teachers, architects, lawyers and engineers are not necessarily always shining examples of ‘professionalism’. So how can you and your staff display professionalism?

Professionalism is not a label you give yourself – it is a description that you hope others will apply to you.

A few golden rules:

Be great at what you do. Obvious, but the true professional will always deliver on their promises, go above client expectations, constantly seek ways to develop skills and knowledge, whether through training, online materials or simply reading the right books.

Look the part. Always take pride in your appearance. Stick to the type of clothing your employer prefers. Customer facing staff should always adopt a risk-free approach to appearance to minimise any likelihood of being seen as less than professional from the clients’ perspective. I see agents look like a bag of washing despite wearing supposedly appropriate business attire, ill-fitting, unclean or un-ironed. Footwear is a giveaway – grubby old shoes reflect a potential lack of care and pride in yourself and the work you do. A simple mantra might be to dress for the job to the same standard as you did for your interview.

Be cheerful and positive. Problems at home should stay there! If you feel below par, it’s not an issue to share with colleagues and customers. People want to do business with enthusiastic folk. Enjoy what you do or do something else. Moaning brings everybody down and erodes morale and team spirit. If things are not right in the workplace, approach your boss tactfully with positive potential solutions.

Be punctual. Lack of punctuality for work-related activities – meetings or just the start of the working day, shows lack of self-organisation and lack of respect for others.

Mind your language. The subject of swearing and bad language provides an interesting point. Many say that such habits are taboo. It is, of course, tough not to utter (or occasionally roar) an expletive when a buyer pulls out the day before exchange or a potential vendor instructs your rival. If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t say it in the workplace.

Further to this, addressing clients and customers as ‘mate’ or ‘buddy’ is not advisable and should be replaced by using their title and surname until you are invited to address them otherwise.

Be a great teammate. A genuine professional will spot when a colleague is struggling to meet a deadline for a task and will assist their teammates accordingly. He or she is happy to share superior experience and knowledge, or just give time for the greater good of the team.

Be honest. We have all worked alongside people who we sense are not being completely truthful, whether they have engineered a meeting close to home at 4pm on a Friday or “tried to phone a client without success” when in reality they forgot to. Perceived lack of honesty does you no favours if you are seeking to be considered as professional. In my experience, folk who lie are nowhere near as good at it as they believe and are seen through quite easily. So, those are seven golden rules to follow on the path to professionalism. Share them with your staff. You might also want to remind them of the words of David Maister, who said “Professionalism is not a label you give yourself – it is a description that you hope others will apply to you”.

Julian O’Dell
TM Training & Development
07718 634235

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