A professional is someone who is engaged in a certain activity or job as a career, not just as a hobby or a past time. They have undoubtedly spent years in developing their education, and continue to pour time and money into maintaining certifications and licenses. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers typically come to mind when you think of what a professional, entering the ranks in recent years are technology and knowledge workers. Professionals focus on end results, solutions and innovative new ways to doing things. They take their careers and reputations seriously and are typically self-motivated and self-disciplined. They are great people to have on your project team.
Now, if you’ve never worked with professionals before, there are also some things you can do that will absolutely backfire and blow up in your face. The following are three things that will tick a professional off and leave you with empty seats to fill as the economy improves and it becomes easier for people to find work:
1. Butts in Seats at a Certain Time
One thing that will really tick off a professional is to require that they be at work at a certain time each day. For example, I worked for a fellow who would do his rounds at precisely 8:00 AM each and every morning. He would walk from office to office and then cube to cube, taking an inventory of who was and wasn’t there.
That may have worked with the less than dependable group he was used to managing. He used fear as a motivator to make sure they were all sitting down and ready to answer the phones at 8:00 AM sharp (he managed the call center previously). But, he had recently been promoted to a bigger position and failed to realize that he was now working with a different type of individual, the professional.
Professionals care about the results of their work just as much, if not more, than he could. Would they be 20-30 minutes late from time to time? Sure. Would they stay for an hour or two after work to finish something they started that day? Absolutely. But, he wasn’t walking around an hour or two after closing hours, he was only dinging them for not being there on time in the morning.
That’s insulting to a professional who basically works around the clock. When they are not at work, they are mulling over in their head how to solve a particularly troublesome problem. They’ll get up in the middle of the night and fire up their laptop to finish a presentation after they were hit with a great idea. You’ll get much greater returns from someone that you give a little leniency to about their work schedule than by demanding they have their butts in their seats at a certain time of day.
2. Where Are You?
There is an unwritten code of conduct amongst professionals that forbids you to ask where they are when they are not in the office. Here’s the scenario. A conference call is underway. Most people are in the conference room, with the exception of one team member, who dials into the call that day. The worst thing to ask this person (a professional, by the way) in front of the entire group is, “Where are you?”
As a project manager, that’s probably none of your business, and it’s certainly not the business of the entire group sitting there. They may have had an errand to run and cleared it with their functional manager. They may be at a doctor’s office and still decided to call in. Who knows and who cares. The bottom line is that they have made themselves available for the call and you must show a certain amount of respect for their privacy. If you absolutely must know, then take it offline with them and ask them in private.
I’ve seen this conversation go terribly wrong as well. I was sitting in a meeting in the conference room when the president of the company called in. He was usually there in person, so the project manager took it upon himself to ask, “Where are you?” Yeah, that didn’t sit too well with the president, who went on a three-minute tirade about how it was none of his business where he was and that if he valued his job he would never ask it again. Now, his response left some room to question his own professionalism, but as a rule of thumb it’s better to not ask in front of a group.
Micromanaging is enough to drive anyone crazy, let alone a professional. It’s also counterproductive on your part as a project manager. A company hires people for their brain, knowledge, experience, insight, and wisdom. Professionals are go-getters, self-motivated, and love to solve problems. Give them something to figure out or implement and then walk away. They don’t need you telling them exactly what they need to do, looking over their shoulder and checking every step along the way, and then providing recommendation after recommendation. You might as well do their job if that’s the way you operate.
A better approach is to provide the end goal or result that you are looking to accomplish. You can give them general guidelines on how to get there and how it would fit into the big picture of the company, but that’s it. Let them go at that point, and have enough trust that their solution will be exactly what is needed.
One caveat to ticking a professional off…these people do have to earn your respect. Just because they have Ph.D., JD, or MBA after their name doesn’t mean that they should automatically gain your unequivocal respect and admiration. I’ve seen plenty of professionals with impressive credentials that are absolute train wrecks. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of scrappy, street smart resources with limited formal education work circles around professionals.
Judge each person on their own merits and accomplishments; not by the initials after their name. As a rule of thumb, you can’t go wrong if you treat everyone as a professional. Those who are will appreciate it, and those who aren’t will rise to your expectations and appreciate the trust you have in them.