May 23, 1994

Anyone in the business of planning, architecture, land surveying, consulting engineering, or environmental consulting knows it’s tough. It’s hard enough just to survive, much less make money. The same goes for our business. We provide professional services, just like our clients. And just like our clients, we have to work hard every day to make our numbers and enhance our reputation. No one would disagree that in any professional service business, you must have a quality team— one that acts “professionally.” But not everyone agrees on what the term “professionalism” means. To some people, it means going to professional society meetings or writing technical papers. While those kinds of activities may be a part of it, there’s much more that being professional means to me. Here’s my idea of professionalism: Always doing what you say you are going to do. Missed deadlines because you did not work hard enough to meet them or did not plan ahead is B.S. Rarely is there ever an acceptable excuse, and professionals know that. Working hard. Professionals put in the extra effort it takes to do quality work (and lots of it). Yes— that means hours. Hard work is essential to being successful. It’s just like getting in shape physically— simply wishing for a hard body won’t make it happen— you have to exercise. The same applies to a profession. You won’t be a professional if work is just a nice place you go for 40 hours each week. Never misrepresenting yourself or your company, and not making promises you can’t keep. Professionals should never feel the need to lie or oversell. When it comes to keeping a client happy, nothing is worse than an unkept promise or unmet expectations. Being honest and trustworthy. Professionals working in A/E and environmental consulting firms don’t attempt to sell their clients anything they don’t need, nor do they ever violate their clients’ trust and confidence. Clients should know that, at all times, it’s their best interests the professional has in mind. Keeping focussed. Every profession exists to fill a need in society. Every company exists to fill a need in some segment of society. Every employee of a company exists to fill a need in the organization. Professionals fill the need and don’t get sidetracked. They don’t create “busywork” for themselves. Growing personally. Your clients, as successful people in their own fields, are interested in personal growth. That means they are learning new things and improving themselves. Long term success in the professional service business requires personal relationships. Personal relationships are based on mutual growth. Clients get bored by professionals who do not grow along with them. Enhancing your client’s self-image. Good professionals understand that their goal is to help their clients feel good about themselves, yet some professionals do the opposite. They think the way to make themselves look good is to show a client how much smarter they are. Enhancing your own self-image. Doing the right thing is the best way to feel good about yourself. Helping others feel good helps your self-image, too. Telling other people what you like about them every once in a while versus tearing them down is one way to enhance your self-image. Feeling good about what you do. Fortunately, architects, engineers, and scientists are not parasites. Your role is absolutely essential. You do have the power to help your clients. You can impact a lot of people in a positive way. And the truth is, there aren’t many businesses (or professions) that can honestly claim that. Having the self-discipline to do what needs to be done even if you don’t feel like it. That happens one day at a time. The real professional understands that cleaning up the aftermath of failure is far more painful than just doing what needs to be done each day. Not B.S.’ing anyone— ever. Clients aren’t stupid. They know when they are getting crap. To me, “crap” is excuses, cover-your-butt communication, using big words to sound smart when a smaller word would do, poorly thought-out work, shoddy work, false praise, or lousy advice. Always looking for new opportunities to sell. Professionals know that they can’t practice their profession without having the work to do. They don’t push their clients into anything they don’t need, but they will gladly sell them anything that they know will help them. In a professional service firm, those who sell will get ahead. Nothing happens without the sale, and professionals aren’t afraid to sell. Thinking. Professionals are constantly asking themselves if what they are about to do is the right thing for their company and for their client. And if it’s not the right thing, they’ll take responsibility for convincing their client to let them do something different. Not making a lot of mistakes. These days, it seems like every manager likes to say he or she encourages mistakes. Mistakes are okay if they happen once and no one gets hurt. But the same mistake, repeated over and over again by someone who is supposed to be a professional and know better, is just plain dumb. It’s unacceptable and inexcusable— in a word “unprofessional.” Originally published 5/23/1994

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.