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The Essence of Professionalism: Will it make a difference in your IT career?
by Pete McGarahan and Ric Mims

Tribal Stories
At the beginning of this year, Ric and I attended an HDI Faculty Forum in Colorado Springs. The Forum brought together some of the service and support industry’s best instructors. It was great to see old friends and make new ones. As always, we capitalized on every opportunity to share experiences, opinions, and “tribal” stories centered on a variety of topics, including the need for professionalism. This topic was also discussed at a recent Support Center Director’s course in Washington, D.C.

At both meetings widespread disappointment was expressed by attendees at the lack of professionalism displayed by team members and other IT professionals, which damages the function’s reputation and credibility within the business. It’s one thing to be occasionally rude and/or indifferent; it’s another thing to take pride in this type of behavior and attitude. Would business training help? Does it trickle down from IT leadership? Moreover, how can we bring attention to the lack of professionalism in our industry, and do something about it?

Remember When?
There is something nostalgic about the concept of “professionalism.” It used to be that professionalism was a key requirement for success in any business. Given the visible degradation of professionalism in today’s workplace, I wonder if people still hold such a quaint notion in high regard.

Is professionalism still important today in conducting day-to-day business with customers and peers? How many IT professionals care about courtesy and respect in their dealings with clients? Do they take pride in their appearance, their work ethic, and the quality of the work they do?

In simpler days, professionalism had everything to do with customer service, relationship building, and creating the foundation for effective, persuasive communication across all levels of the organization. In our formative years with Fortune 500 companies, it was a compliment to be known as being a professional. Sadly, Ric and I have witnessed significant changes in culture driven by Generation X, the “dot-com” birth/death cycle, relaxed dress codes, the “GEEK Squad” attitude, eroding company loyalty, and leaders casting a shadow of non-professionalism.

An IT Makeover
The IT industry shifted dramatically in recent years, from a focus on technology to a focus on supporting the business function and corporate culture. The ITIL process framework, along with recently developed quality assurance and continuous improvement programs have been widely adopted in many IT businesses to deliver measurable, predictable and repeatable outcomes. Many IT forums and conferences continually evangelize the need to run IT as a stand-alone business, and the concept is gaining steam nationwide.

Years ago, IT professionals took pride in their own oddball culture. We were different than the rest of the business professionals. The business needed us and was willing to overlook our quirks if we just continued to make things work and fix them when they were broken. It was good to be the IT king because we owned the data; we could afford to live in our own world and occasionally treat the business and our customers irreverently. But this also created a negative perception of our function – and deservedly so. One of my first CIOs, Susan Cramm, said that she could walk into any company gathering and within seconds identify the IT clique.

But times have changed, and for the better. The business is now driving the bus and taking IT with it, to more cost-effective service delivery, greater fiscal knowledge and accountability, and creating business value from IT-enabled business initiatives and innovations. Now we need to bring professionalism to the forefront of the IT makeover.

The Essence of Professionalism
Professionalism isn’t your appearance and your aptitude, it’s attitude: knowing what to do, and doing it with passion and purpose. In your passion you demonstrate your work ethic, your determination, and your brand pride. In your purpose you show your technical knowledge, business savvy, maturity, innovative nature, and analytical decision-making ability.

Professionals channel their energies and skills toward the betterment of other people, services, and products. Professionals are people-oriented and task-driven, and are adept at both. They relish challenges, attacking problems confidently and optimistically. They have a high level of personal responsibility and respect for other people, always taking the high road. Class and character, behavior and attitude are their most valuable assets.

Establishing a Business Presence
As IT leaders, we have the responsibility to always act in a professional manner; we must lead by example for the next generation of IT professionals. We can start by examining and continuously improving our attire, attitude, communication, relationship-building, networking, business/financial skills, and our desire to continuously educate ourselves.
We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard in the way we relate to one another and to our customers. If we are to bridge the gap of respect and credibility with the business, let us start by building meaningful relationships based on professionalism and a common pursuit of doing what’s best for the business to create value.

Ric Mims, President, SupportCenter Global Technologies, Inc. has over 18 years of experience in Help Desk management, consulting and operations.

Peter McGarahan is the founder and president of McGarahan & Associates. Pete is also the acting Chairman of the IT Infrastructure Management Association, a sister organization to HDI.

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