Being a professional or being professional?

The questions conflate two ideas, one about 'being a professional' and the other 'being professional' (unfortunately the word 'professionalism' is used to describe both).  An exercise I carried out a few years ago with a group of mid-career doctoral candidates was to consider first what it means to be a professional, then secondly to be professional or act professionally.  The difference in the two lists was revealing. 

Being a professional suggests things such as being qualified (however defined) and practising in a definable area, having expertise based on a deep level of knowledge, and having a commitment to the area of practice - possibly (but not necessarily) through being a member of a relevant professional body.  This is essentially about  occupational identity and status.

Being professional on the other hand is about how one chooses to practise, and is about judgement, principles and ethics. 

Ideally, but certainly not always, the two things coincide.

  • I was trying to add this in as an overall comment, not as an extra category.  Essentially, I think there's one category about definitions - 'am I a professional, more specifically am I an HR professional?' - and another one about professionalism as I would use it, i.e. 'do I act professionally?'

  • It is hard to think of an example when it would be acceptable to be unprofessional from an individual's or end-user perspective regardless of professional status. Those acting judicially  in accordance with their principles and ethics may not consider themselves as being professional but being true to their own values.

  • Being professional is based on your on composure under circumstances in which your professionalist subject (expertise) tells you different

  • I think that the profession is still suffering from a lack of respect from other business people. Accountants and other business professionals must undergo stringent training and assessments in order to enter the profession, unfortunately that isn't thecase for many HR practitioners/ professionals. 'Being professional' will go a long way in helping HR people assert their presence and impact.

  • Both is very much required

  • I am not going to vote because they both work hand in hand, firstly being professional to me is more important especially in a service driven environment and obviously coupled with being a professional adds further weight when speaking to a client, but you can still have being professional without being a professional. For instance your receptionist will be good at being professional (1st impression of the business) and leave the being a professional to the qualified members of the business.

  • This may be controversial, but I will go ahead.

    As a career changer going into HR from being a "professional" businessman to entering a "profession" that really does labour on about being "professional" I have found that some in HR see themselves as belonging to an "exclusive" club that adds a very special value to business yet seem to continuously  fret about not having enough influence in it.

    HR needs to, in my opinion be much more outspoken in business, it seems that there is a laager mentality and too much emphasis on being academic and what letters you have after your name, necessary I agree but not the be all and end all , the reality out there is more and more line managers are being up skilled to take on the HR function, in large businesses at any rate and I do not see this going backwards. HR needs to be "professional" as in a business perspective, composed, self assured and who add  real punch to an organisation including in depth knowledge of their business and its financial operation.

    I see HR as the "conduit" between the hard decisions made at board level and the workforce. Selling in and engaging the workforce with these decisions puts HR an a powerful position to dictate how an organisation engages, learns and procures talent, it just seems that HR are too concerned about their professional qualifications and to what level, rather than being a dynamic and dare I say aggressive force in an organisation. Business is ruthless and no amount of fairy dust can change that fact and HR needs to get "business professional"  and stop bleating about not having influence because this is the phrase that I hear time and time again when networking in the industry. HR can make business seem less ruthless and this is good for business!

    Controversial perhaps?  My vote is for HR being "professional" from a business perspective.

  • Anonymous

    Nicholas, interesting to see your comments.   I agree that there can be a tendency to look inward and focus on credentials rather than actions, and I agree with what you say about moaning about lack of influence.  I work with various professional bodies and would say that CIPD hasn't really sorted out what it is as 'a profession', beyond representing  a mix of broadly related (organisational) functions.   I've just read the report 'from best to good practice HR - developing principles for the profession', which could be a useful starting-point to creating some sort of common ethos.  

    Stan (original poster - not logged in)

  • Unfortunately the latter is often under estimated and under valued.

  • There are some good comments in this thread.  Being a professional and/or being professional.......Ultimately I believe   'being professional' is more important - and specifically this manifests itself as the way we conduct ourselves in business - what we say, what we write, what decisions we make.  If we conduct ourselves to the highest standard - professional - then we as individuals and as CIPD members should expect integrity from colleagues outside the HR community.

    Nicholas - you make some interesting and bold comments.  Whilst I think we need to guard against HR being a 'closed shop' - I think that anyone should feel that they could have a career in HR if they desire; provided they are willing to invest their time gaining qualifications and taking responsibility for their own learning - I would doubt that many CIPD members view themselves as being part of an 'exclusive club'.  I agree though that as a business function, HR needs to be a conduit between organisational strategy and the workforce.

  • The ethical responsibilities of an HR professional are huge.  We are in the profession that needs to navigate the often competing demands of business leaders and employees.  Having a clear Code of Ethics from the CIPD would be a useful reference source from which HR professionals could assess themselves and help guide their decision-making.  It also makes transparent and provides a clear understanding of how 'ethics' translates to the work of an HR professional.