Most people with a chosen career path tend to think of themselves as working in a profession. The word “profession” includes the root word, “pro,” which has many uses. Think about it. An excellent workplace usually employs people who are professional, proactive, productive, proficient and profitable. I happen to believe that if people want to be considered pros in their workplace, they should strive to be all these things.
With that in mind, allow me to examine some ways to improve your “pro” file (pun intended) at work.
Professionals need to be trained for their position. This means more than just sitting through a series of classes. I’m talking about true education, which means choosing to embrace the learning. A professional chooses to absorb knowledge and actively looks for relationships between and among those pieces of knowledge. This kind of learning provides insights that others may miss, and when you can apply those insights to your work, you stand apart from people who merely possess a series of facts.
One person I know completed her master’s degree in a particular field and then sat for the certification testing mandated for people entering her line of work. Afterward, she talked about how difficult the test was and how she wasn’t sure she passed. However, when her results came back, it turned out she’d achieved one of the highest scores in the history of people taking that exam. Why did she think she did poorly? Because the computerized test was designed to measure the full extent of one’s knowledge. If a person was answering questions correctly, the program switched to more difficult questions. If the test-taker continued to answer correctly, the questions became even more difficult.
Because my friend was answering so many questions correctly, the questions became increasingly difficult – hence her perception that the test was tough. It was! But, because she had studied hard in school, she had acquired knowledge far beyond the basics. She truly understood the concepts and how to apply them. She aspired to be a professional, and it showed.
Another facet of being a professional is being proactive. If “pro” means “in favor of,” we’re talking about someone who is in favor of activity. Said another way, someone who is proactive does not sit around and wait for someone else to issue work assignments. On the contrary, a professional person is upbeat and takes initiative.
Proactive people look ahead on the calendar, thinking through what needs to be accomplished and then scheduling their work so things get done that need to get done, and nothing falls through the cracks. As an employer, I place a high value on employees who demonstrate this skill. Trustworthy and professional are those who don’t need to be told what to do at every turn. Such people anticipate what is needed and they move to make things happen.
Another aspect of being professional that often goes hand-in-hand with being proactive is being productive. It means being focused on the expected end-result, and managing whatever resources are available in order to get there.
Productive people set goals and deadlines. They coordinate and cooperate with others to meet those deadlines. Progress is assessed in both quantitative and qualitative ways, and they learn to say, “no” to activities that distract them from their goals, no matter how fun those activities might be.
Productive people do not have to be work-a-holics, but they do need to stay focused and industrious when at work.
Professionals also strive to be proficient. Frankly, proficiency often results when one is striving to be proactive and productive, but I think it also requires an amount of adeptness that comes from experience. It means recognizing the best action to take in a situation based on lessons learned from successes and failures in the past.
The emphasis here is on gaining wisdom from past events. Quite literally, the word experience does mean having lived through something; it includes the concept of learning along the way. A little background may help.
In ancient Persia, there were stories about malevolent spirits. If someone were to encounter one of these spirits, something very bad could happen – even death. An evil spirit was known as a “peri.” That word jumped over to the Greek language, and then to Latin. Today, the root “peri” forms such English words as peril, perish, expert and experience.
When we dissect the word “experience” into its specific parts, we get the following:
- Ex = out of, or from
- Peri = test, or danger
- Ence = action, or condition, or quality
Thus, etymologically, the word experience means to get through a dangerous situation. With that, an “expert” is not someone who has merely accumulated a body of knowledge (which is a common mis-use today), but rather someone who has accumulated wisdom from having faced, and more importantly, worked through, difficult situations in a field of study.
With true experience, a person can make a wide range of difficult decisions quickly and thus be efficient, even when the going gets tough. To put some shoe leather on this, when people are seeking to be professional, they do not shy away from difficult situations.
All organizations, even nonprofits, must operate in the black to stay viable. Therefore, a true professional considers how he or she can provide high value to the organization. If a person’s position is pure overhead, it means minimizing one’s financial footprint. If the position earns money for the organization, it means seeking ways to maintain an attractive margin. No matter what one’s role in the organization, a true professional takes into consideration the costs of doing business in his or her daily routine.
The bottom line in all this? A professional, proactive, productive, proficient and profitable employee is someone I want to keep around, plus one I will often promote. As for your situation, perhaps the above can serve as a reference for gauging your workplace profile.
– Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a certified behavioral analyst, a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. He loves working with teams and individuals to help them achieve workplace excellence. Reach him through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com, or 208-375-7606.