Because professionalism matters

I've written before on the subject of the CIPD principles, in a post on my own blog.

Now that the CIPD has published its principles and is plugging them to high heaven, I thought I'd do another one - not necessarily a sequel, instead consider it a reboot.

So I'm exploring the concept of professionalism and building on the CIPD principle that ‘professionalism matters’.

Anyone who knows me knows that there were only two things, two professions, I wanted to do when I grew up:

1. Professional footballer
2. Professional wrestler

Now, as I enter my early 40s, I think one of those careers is gone for me, but I might still manage the other. But at the moment I'm a professional HR person, so there's a bit of a conflict.

And there's my first point. There's not even an agreed way of referring to ourselves. Professional what, exactly? I'm in HR, or L&D, or OD, or people, or maybe even personnel, but there's no catchy title like Professional Wrestler or Chartered Accountant. Surely professionalism starts with an identity, something that we all agree describes us?

We don't even have that.

My second point is that I have been an amateur footballer (and a bad one at that), and an amateur wrestler (and, frankly, I was awesome at that) but I haven't been an amateur HR person (so say I, but others may differ). The difference between amateurs and professionals in both football and wrestling, and many other professions too, is that the latter get paid for it, and have had to pass some kind of test or qualification to be granted professional status (and presumably things like insurance cover too). You wouldn't want an amateur surgeon doing your brain surgery, you'd want someone professionally qualified and well paid and adequately insured. But in HR, there's no such distinction - professionalism matters, yes, but as echoed in my first blog post, you can be in HR without taking the professional qualification (and many would rightly say this doesn't matter either, as was pointed out in response to my first blog post). I'm sure you can also be in HR without being paid for it but who in their right mind would do that?

I applaud the CIPD for putting its principles out there, but there's a long way to go before these see widespread acceptance, or before the entire profession (see, there's that word again) views the CIPD as the guardian of such things and the upholder of all things professional in the world of HR.

I just don't see how we can call ourselves a profession when there's no universally agreed definition of professionalism or a way to assess this. So that's why the CIPD principles are a good start and I look forward to the day when they're integrated into the CIPD professional qualification AND when this qualification is revised in such a way that we all agree it adequately manages and confers professional status on those working in HR.

Because professionalism matters. If we are to be seen as equals to finance and law in the corporate world, we have to up our game. If we are to develop ourselves as guardians of people and work, we need these principles to be fully embedded. If we are to embrace all the different disciplines of HR, including those at the fringes, we need some common language and frameworks that don't alienate people and which recognise their unique talents. If we are to be a career choice for those growing up (no-one ever spent their school years saying that they want to be an HR Professional, but they SHOULD, because it’s an awesome career), then we need something more meaningful and powerful than the underpinning knowledge in the CIPD qualifications.

Because professionalism matters. To you, to me, to the people we work with and to the organisations we work for and with.

Because Professionalism Matters.

By Gary Cookson
HR Professional - actual
Professional Footballer - tried but failed
Professional Wrestler - not giving up just yet

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  • I am particularly interested in HR's desire to do things right without proper consideration for doing the right thing. I can see a day when an HR professional causes a major incident after successfully making redundancies without tribunal, because inadequate manning levels and a lack of oversight created a risk which subsequently caused harm on a Seveso scale.  There is some fabulous research on this topic.


  • I don't think HR as a profession is as undefined as this article implies. The CIPD qualifications are a meaningful sign of professional status and competence. Yes, there are as still wild differences between one professional and another but so there are with accountants and lawyers. I have worked in many HR teams and companies and there is a common language and frameworks. Sometimes those alienate people, when we use them as jargon and don't interact with people on a human level, but so for sure do the languages of law and accountancy!