Is that professional? Featured

9:01pm EDT October 31, 2011

A quick scan of today’s headlines tends to send up red flags about the amount of trust individuals place in businesses. Author and management consultant Bill Wiersma theorizes the root cause of this state of distrust is a lack of professionalism. In his book, “The Power of Professionalism,” Wiersma explores the definition of being a true professional. In this interview, he discusses how companies can encourage professionalism from the point of hiring, why success should not be achieved “by any means necessary” and the critical importance of being a part of something bigger.

One of the main arguments you make in the book is that people don’t perceive themselves as professionals. How have we gotten to this point?

It’s a little ironic when you think about all the professional development that occurs in organizations and associations. I’ve just found that people haven’t really adopted being a professional as part of their identity. They certainly identify with their title. They certainly identify with their education or degree or if they have a prestigious license of some type. But in terms of being a professional, it’s just not emphasized very much.

The book discusses the point that business education has become overly focused on technical expertise and less on character. What can businesses do to reverse this trend during the hiring process?

It’s important for the company to look well beyond the individual’s technical expertise and focus more on his or her human characteristics, such as character and judgment. In terms of running an organization, I would be emphasizing to new hires during orientation that the company is committed to running its operation as a professional organization and that each person is a part of that goal. We expect you to be professionals, and we will work with you to develop you as professionals. The employer needs to make sure that the employee has this as an expectation. A lot of new hires will have this idea as an implicit expectation. But higher education, as well as many corporations, haven’t been explicit about what it really means to be a professional.

You wrote, ‘You can have consistency without trust, but you cannot have trust without consistency.’ How can leaders demonstrate trustworthiness?

I argue that one of the simplest ways to generate trust is to have a foundation based on professional ideals. These ideals, by default, build trust in an organization. If you have centered your culture and your values around professional ideals, a lot of the work takes care of itself. However, I’m not suggesting that this is easy to accomplish. The gaining and maintenance of trust challenges us. Having a culture built around professional values means you’re able to approach a colleague about a subject to which he or she is sensitive. It’s about going the extra mile when you’re already fatigued. It involves doing the jobs that aren’t much fun, but define how a professional ‘shows up.’

Taking those actions builds trust in an organization.

One of your ‘Seven Mindsets of Trusted Professionals’ is that professionals have a bias for results. There may be executives who misinterpret this as, ‘by any means necessary.’ Tell us the true qualities that make a bias for results.

[Author and human resources consultant] Dave Ulrich discusses the importance of not only getting results, but getting results the right way. We’ve all seen organizations that get results and have a bottom line that looks good, at least, for a short season. But they’ve either cut corners or haven’t been completely transparent and they inevitably take a hit. You need to ensure that your organization achieves its gains in a way that builds trust and is unassailable by others, be they competitors, customers or internal resources.

“The Power of Professionalism: The Seven Mind-Sets that Drive Performance and Build Trust”

By Bill Wiersma

Ravel, 350 pages, $32.95

About the book: “The Power of Professionalism” provides readers with author Bill Wiersma’s seven mindsets to increase trust and drive workplace performance. The book emphasizes the importance of developing and maintaining values on a personal and organizational level. Featuring insight and interviews with leaders such as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers, Vanguard Group founder John Bogle and global management authority Marshall Goldsmith, Wiersma’s book is a critical step in righting the wrongs of the past decade in business ethics.

The author: Bill Wiersma is the founder and principal of Wiersma and Associates LLC, a management consulting and training firm providing services to Fortune 500 companies and to the professional services sector. He previously held executive responsibilities as a director in a Fortune 200 company.

Why you should read it: Wiersma’s book provides needed reminders of the basics of business ethics, but more important, it demonstrates the positive results that a commitment to values, transparency and credibility generates.

Why it’s different: Wiersma assembled a panel of contributors that avoids the usual suspects from the technology and academic circles. A great example is his inclusion of Kathy Ireland. Though many readers will recall her days as a model, Ireland founded Kathy Ireland WorldWide, a design and marketing firm with an estimated $1.5 billion in annual sales. Ireland had to fight through several business failures and constant preconceived notions about her abilities as a businessperson. Wiersma uses her experiences to demonstrate one of his seven mindsets, “Professionals Know Things Get Better When They Get Better.” Wiersma’s strength as an author is the ability to balance great stories from his contributors with his own thoughts on professionalism.

Can’t miss: “Mind-Set 2: Professionals Realize (and Act Like) They’re Part of Something Bigger than Themselves.” Readers would be amazed to discover the amount of isolation felt by many workers. Leaders have an opportunity to generate a more solid organization, but only if they’re first able to help themselves see their role in a greater cause.

To share or not to share: “The Power of Professionalism” should not be placed on a shelf. Its message of transparency and credibility make it a book that should be required reading for entire teams and organizations.

How to reach: For more information on this book, visit www.Summary.com.