Standards and Professionalism

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I will try to limit this essay to Standards and Professionalism as they relate to the work undertaken, day-to-day by SiLCs and other practitioners in related fields. These standards are, by and large, common to all professions and are the backbone to their historical and continuing success.

The reader may be a fresh graduate starting out, or they may be a person with several degrees, chartered, at director level who has been working for years, or somewhere in between. The critical common factors are agreed norms which must be maintained and improved, throughout our careers. These are the Standards and Professionalism I am promoting.

In public life we often hear about standards when they are flouted or transgressed in some manner. We read headlines such as – “Trading Standards prosecute shop owner”, “Negligence case raised because some organisation ignored the latest guidance”, “Staff suspended for breaches of codes of conduct”, etc. Is it that things are getting worse in the “post-truth” world of lies and fake news? Where even reliance on experts (that’s you and I dear reader) was made suspect even by the fickle Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. What is happening the rest of the time when we have no shock headlines, and all seems fine with the world? The answer; standards work!

In order to provide common ground for discussion, a web-search provided me with definitions of Standards which might reasonably be distilled thus: “A standard is an agreed way of doing something. It could be about making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials – standards can cover a huge range of activities undertaken by organizations and used by their customers.” In more specific terms a standard is something a person or organisation SHALL or MUST do; it is not optional. This is akin to a Statute or Law. Failure to comply could have serious repercussions. It could mean some form of disciplinary process, maybe being “struck off” or actual criminal prosecution if human life, the environment, property, etc. is put in jeopardy.

Defining Professionalism is trickier but yields the following salient items:
1. Specialised Knowledge. Professionals are known for their knowledge in a specified field;
2. Competent. Professionals get the job done;
3. Honesty, Integrity, Accountability, Self-Regulation;
4. Building Expertise; and
5. Developing Emotional Intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, motivation and empathy).

Having a relevant degree from a recognised university is a reasonable starting point covering Item 1 on the list – then what? Experience and the actual practice of those skills in the field, office, and through interaction with colleagues, contractors and clients will help to develop Item 2.

Many of us will have learned, from our parents and family, and peers, a strong sense of honesty and fairness which has carried us successfully through our lives with a solid set of moral and ethical values. However, in professional life these need to be written down to provide common benchmarks by which we are all judged. These will cover us for Item 3.
What about building on your expertise and developing the emotional and mental strength to exercise these skills? An excellent way to do this is to join like-minded individuals to develop common goals, standards of behaviour and engagement – if only there was something like that? Well of course there is.
I recommend that ALL professionals in all fields pursue chartership as a minimum. Your choice of chartered organisation may be governed by your degree, your job, your employer, etc. By joining such an organisation (you can join more than one if you are very keen), you will be welcomed into a fold including seasoned professionals, novices and people in between – people like you. You will have access to direct help (sponsors and mentors), resources (libraries, standard documents, codes of practice) and lots of advice on how to keep your skills relevant and how to approach various tasks and ways of working. This all goes towards your own continuing professional development (CPD) – Item 4.

This will help create a sensible balance between doing what our client expects and keeping within the standards. This has a bearing on Emotional Intelligence (Item 5) which is considered by many to be essential in respect of career growth, rather than only relying on Items 1 to 4. Humans have an innate drive for acceptance and a need to please others. Professional relationships can become one sided or stressed; there is a risk of falling foul of stepping over the professional line and offerring advice which is what we believe the client wants to hear and not what they need to hear. This points back to diligence, honesty, impartiality and most of all integrity. Professionals MUST be willing, in fact, are honour bound, to deliver bad news when necessary and say “no” to a client at times when the client would prefer a “yes”. In recognition of such rare stresses, with proper and due acknowledgement of mental health issues, chartered organisations provide support and advice in a caring and supportive manner.

This essay is just a taster to spark discussion and hopefully inspire you to become a better professional. Once you embark on a professional career the journey does not end with chartership; that really marks the start of your professional life. You may consider going beyond chartership and consider becoming a SiLC, to improve your professional standing. Ultimately, you only get out what you are willing to put in. The rewards and enjoyment you receive will be well worth it.

Article contributed by James Nelson, Associate Director of Discovery CE Limited on behalf of SiLC