Alisa Shabanova

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How to make professionalism come back?

Over the recent years I observe the same trend in recruiting. On the one hand, there are a lot of applicants for every position I have, and candidates literally attack me every time I post a new one in the Internet. On the other hand, it’s impossible to chose someone from this crowd, someone who matches with a candidate’s profile even for 50%. Rare professionals who have solid experience and mature reflection are worthed their weight in gold. On the assumption of how the average doctor treats, how the average manager sales, or how the average consultant helps I realise that this problem is actual not only for my firm.

Why? I think that the professionalism as it is somehow lost its value for people. Nowadays everyone wants to make a vertical career - as soon as it possible, as successful as he could. It means that when a minimal set of experience and skills is collected, a person tries to get a position at the next level - position, where he will be able to get a completely new experience, not just to perfect his professionalism. Yesterday’s specialist who hasn’t become a good specialist yet sends his CV to the position of a Manager, yesterday’s Manager - to the position of a Director. To become a professional you need to work out the same moving for years and just this way scares away the vast majority of modern specialists.

Jaspers and Fromm would tell us that professionalism is an attribute of Being while careerism - attribute of Having. Our culture drives people to take more and don’t think about how to do things better. Therefore a huge number of people who are not professionals at their places manage all basic processes in our life (treat, teach, organise etc).

I don’t know how to manage this situation. Do you think it’s possible to bring professionalism into fashion again?

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    May 17 2011: i don't know, but some thoughts on related or not so related things.

    1. maybe it is not the candidates, but the requirements? maybe requirements went up, and education failed to follow? maybe not possible to follow, as the progress is too fast?

    2. i had a theory back in my 20s that a person ends up one level above his capabilities, because people ascend until they fail. so we are doomed to fail. but then i realized that it is actually good. suppose a person can create 100 units of profit on Level 2 with 100% accuracy, and 200 units of profit on Level 3 with 80% accuracy. it is still a gain to promote him to Level 3, even if the work he produces will be less than perfect. we might not like it, but we benefit from it.

    2b. there is a distribution of talent. as you give up small amounts of your requirement, you will find exponentially more and more appropriate candidates. it is actually good for the sociaty to employ less capable people, as they are many more, and the total output will be better.

    3. the same thing can be observed about web pages. majority of web pages are next to unusable. i have some sense of ergonomics, and i could make a long long list of design errors of virtually every major websites. but using principle 2b above, we would have much less web pages, which is an overall loss. even if we would have more fun using those much fewer pages.

    so my point is, maybe the "right man for the right task" principle is not violated, but on the contrary, optimized in the last decades. maybe we have a new professionalism that says "good enough is preferred over perfect".

    wait, i have even more associations. your office building is priced well if you have vacant offices. if all offices are sold, you might underpriced them, huh? in the same way: if your employer never makes a mistake, you gave him too easy tasks.

    okay, getting derailed, so better stop here.
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      May 18 2011: Krisztián,

      some of your thoughts are very close to me and one is insightful. One level above - it's Murphy's law about incompetency (smth. like 'everyone reaches the level of his incompetency'). It's funny but it's true. 'Too easy task' - it's important remark because everyone who wants to learn need challenges on his way to improve his level.
      But your simple arithmetic (100 units*100% less than 200 units*80%) is amazing. I don't like it but it works!
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    May 17 2011: Hi Alisa!
    Your question is a valid and challenging one. I think that I would have to put it back into the laps of not only HR but of upper managment. I have a year of post grad HR studies although I have never practiced but it was enlightening. It has been proven that there is no correlation between how well someone interviews and their ultimate skill in the job. Further, I think it is important for companies to meet people half way and lay out the expectations, criteria and the company ethos so clearly that there is no confusion and then for the company to not only stick with hiring according to those guidlelines(as long as it might take to get the right person) but to reward 'professionalism' everywhere it occurs. Most companies that are great to work for have people clamoring to get in. That should be seen as a compliment. Companies have to start doing something that goes against the current of our society and that is not only reject the idea of climbing the corporate ladder but flatten the heirarchy so that there is almost no ladder to climb. That way we end up with area specialist who are recognized and rewarded for excellence. Any other approach is like complaining there is no harvest when you only just raked and tilled the ground.
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      May 17 2011: Thank you, Debra. I think you are right about two key abilities - to meet people half way and to reward professionalism. It's not as easy as it sounds but it's about the professionalism of HR :-) and about the readiness of shareholders to invest money in people or to charge them with things they have never done before. May be it's the best and the only possible way to grow professionals into the company and to grant them for things that are important for the company. For instance, for professionalism.
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    May 17 2011: Alisa: There are so many flaws in your assumptions, I don't know where to begin to respond.

    Dean Marc has given a good overview of the current reality. It is complex, constantly changing and very difficult for anyone to gain a foundation which could be called a "profession". Becoming a 50% match to a job description is tough because the job descriptions keep changing.

    Good specialists aren't necessarily the best candidates for managers. They are different skillsets.

    In the end, all people respond to the opportunities that are presented to them trying to adapt to the environment the best they can based on their personal disposition. We each struggle to get ahead the best we can. When the world changes as fast as it is, it is difficult to become established as an expert in any field. And equally difficult to stay an expert.
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      May 17 2011: I don't think that our reality is too complex for true professionalism. Sometimes I meet people who are great professionals in their fields without any excuses like 'everything changes too fast'. Of cause, it's not true for IT where everything really changes too fast but it's true for other billion professions.
      You are absolutely right - professionalism for managers is not the same as for specialists but it doesn't matter that a manager doesn't need some experience and personal maturity to be a good manager. He certainly does.
      I think that your sentence that 'all people respond to the opportunities' is true and it's the main subject I worry about. May be we need pay more to professionals, not to managers? Or give them more non-financial support? Or write books and articles, glorifying the professionalism (it's a joke, of cause, but the subject is still serious).
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        May 18 2011: I'm curious Alisa - how do you define a "professional"? And can you name a couple of fields where things are not changing rapidly?
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    May 17 2011: Dilemma is always there everywhere to different extent.Job seekers says its' very difficult to get job while employers says it's difficult to find right person.

    To solve the equation many employers are now giving high importance to employee retention and talent development, so that can be solution of developing professional from an organisational perspective.

    Real talents are really a rare breed.

    From a fresher who applied for entry level job employer shouldn't look for professionalism , as that is not taught in our education system I feel.
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    May 17 2011: Hi.

    I have several thoughts on this matter though I am sure if I can articulate everything in one post or reply.

    Maybe most people approach their careers in terms of hierarchies, which is perfectly understandable.

    To think in terms of a matrix where you have breadth on one axis and depth on another is key to understanding. It has to be understood though that this does not necessarily lead to assurance of effectivity.

    Having this breadth and depth matrix may be misleading at times though. This profile matrix should be grouped into fundamentals and specialization(s) to better bridge industry needs and staffing strategies.

    What I see though over the years is that the group in your matrix relating to fundamentals (not just necessary soft skills) are becoming more and more complex for one to be truly effective especially in leadership and thought-centric work.

    I also mention specialization with an S. With the progress of better and better tools and technological abstractions, and the demands of modern businesses to be more productive, it can get crazy just keeping track, staying ahead of the curve and still have some sense of mastery.

    Coming from a relatively poor country and working in mainly technology and thought oriented industries, it gets really tough to even remain employed or contracted. You need to be open to anything (not necessarily take on everything at once though), otherwise, you end up with nothing or with mediocre opportunities for survival, much more to improve.

    In the end though, given the circumstances, professionalism, mastery, and flexibility requires sacrifice. If the environment and work work circumstances will not allow someone time to improve, they have to take it into their own hands to keep learning.

    Perhaps the capability to effectively manage and juggle numerous thoughts and concerns (though counter-productive in many cases), is a skill that is honed that helps one learning personal resource prioritization and management.
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      May 18 2011: What does it mean - to be professional in the field of complexity and multitasking? Yes, it's interesting question. May be we observe the making of new concept of professionalism where the axes (breadth and depth) are reversed or substituted with something completely new, where the main skill is fast switching...