What does it mean to be professional?

When companies don’t know how to act, they choose to be “professional”. It’s assumed that we know both what this means and also that it is the correct way to act.

When I hear this word, the speaker usually means something else. It’s a lazy word, used when the reasons have not been fully thought out. It’s a word that needs to be expanded upon. Often it only means to act seriously, with serious intent. It is not childish, it is not fun. It indicates to others how seriously you take things. Companies that try to be professional without first figuring out what exactly that entails quickly become companies where it is not fun to work.

The idea we have in our heads of professionalism is a group of signals that indicate that someone can be trusted. But like any easily replicated mark, it’s not reliable. It’s just as easy to be taken in by someone in a t-shirt and jeans as someone in a suit.

Trust and reliability are built up over time, there is no shortcut. So think about what you are sacrificing when you try to be professional.

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