The Value of Professionalism

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Imagine if you went to your doctor for a regular checkup. On the counter next to the receptionist is a stand full of brochures advertising a new prescription drug called Saccharum® (Official Slogan: ‘At last, a placebo that really works!™’). You notice the brochures, but don’t pay much attention to them.

At the end of your examination, your doctor says ‘Everything seems in order, but I’m a bit concerned about your blood sugar levels. They seem to be a bit low. Fortunately, there’s a new prescription drug called Saccharum® available. I’ve read a few research papers, and it appears to be remarkably effective. You’ll need to take it daily, and it costs about $ 150 a month. I’ll write you a prescription.’ At that point, it would be very difficult to believe that your doctor was unbiased.

The value of professionalism is in receiving impartial advice. A professional places your interests first and foremost, knowing that their reputation depends upon the quality of the service that they provide. In my experience, I have regularly observed self-proclaimed professionals placing their own profits before their clients’ interests. This is one example of where I’ve helped a customer save tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses.

The Problem

I was contacted by a client who had attended a seminar that I had delivered at a conference. The customer was a charity who published a monthly newspaper. They wanted me to review their publishing workflow to see whether some improvements that they were planning would be suitable for their purposes.

We arranged an initial visit for me to evaluate their existing workflow and to analyze their proposed improvements. During that visit, I discovered that they had already called in someone else, who had recommended that the charity install and maintain a content management system. The system was expensive, and required a maintenance contract that would coincidentally be fulfilled by the same consultant. He had also recommended that the publication staff and IT personnel receive training and backup support.

I sat down with the charity’s staff and examined the proposal. We calculated the estimated expense, and it totalled tens of thousands of dollars per year. This was a budget that the organization was willing to consider, but it would come at the expense of other projects that they had been planning.

The Solution

Whenever I work with a customer, I use a simple method to determine whether I am working in their best interests. It’s something that I call the ‘Three Es’: efficacy, efficiency and economy. Although it sounds like a tired cliché, it’s a remarkably useful tool to keep one on track.

Firstly, any solution should be effective. If it doesn’t work – or is either inadequate or inappropriate for the purpose – another option should be found. At a minimum any solution should be as effective as what it replaces. And it shouldn’t introduce any unneeded complexity where not required.

Secondly, any solution should be efficient. Ideally, anything that makes a workflow and the people who use it more productive than before should be seriously considered. Thirdly, economy is critical. Any solution should either save money immediately, or produce a long-term savings after an initial investment.

After considering the proposal for installing a content management system, I quickly concluded that it wasn’t necessary. The organization’s existing file handling processes were more than adequate, but could be improved by some slight streamlining that required no investment in additional equipment. The addition of a CMS into the charity’s workflow was an excessive step, and far too complex for their needs.

Although a CMS may have allowed for greater productivity in a larger environment, the charity’s publication staff was small enough to allow for direct collaboration. Adding a CMS into their publishing workflow would have added an extra layer of file management obligations, wasting time better spent on other tasks.

Furthermore – the expense of the system itself, and the costs of training staff and paying for long-term maintenance was too high. The charity had more important priorities. Consequently, I recommended that they reject the CMS proposal entirely, because it was ineffective for their needs, reduced their efficiency, and was economically irresponsible.

During the course of my evaluation, I had noticed a few issues with the charity’s publication workflow that were reducing overall efficiency. In one case, staff were typesetting text manually, unaware of the advantages of using style sheets. In another, files were occasionally being mislaid as layouts were moved between computers. And some of the staff were interested in learn some image editing skills, which would allow them to also publish photographs to their website.

I therefore recommended a few customized training sessions covering structured page layout, file management and image processing. By improving the publication staff’s existing skills, it was possible for the charity to increase productivity and save money with relative ease. I delivered the training onsite, working with the staff on an individual basis in familiar surroundings. We completed the project in two days.

At the end of the training sessions, I recommended no further action. My responsibility as a professional is to work in my clients’ best interests – that includes not wasting their money. In this example, my client avoided the significant expense of an unnecessary piece of technology. And their most important asset – their own hardworking staff – received the training they needed to improve their overall productivity.

Doing anything more might have been personally enriching, but professionally irresponsible. My customers have come to rely on my professional impartiality, because it saves them money in the long run.