14th November 2019

Indicators of the unprofessional [Work in Progress]

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At the current juncture I provide my services as a third party, often I work around other third parties and have, over the years, probably seen more than my fair share of client employees and other freelancers. During a recent lunchtime discussion I started to reflect on some of these individuals and started to muse about the common traits which occur in those I concluded are of lower quality.

A low quality professional can’t be identified by a single trait, so if you prefer a high level discussion then more power to you – I’m sure you’re great and it fits your approach. This list, which is likely to remain work in progress just aims to share some traits I’ve found to be common in those who I’ve not rated as highly as others.

They are reluctant to talk in a team environment: A lower quality professional may employ a divide and conquer approach and attempt to discuss things one-to-one to avoid the conversation getting away from them. There’s often a sense of over-preparedness to these meetings.

Professionals are able to adapt and will generally relish the opportunity to get involved at short notice on a range of topics.

They needlessly talk at a high-level: The need to indulge in deeply technical discussions at some point or another is inevitable. I’m yet to see a ‘innovation workshop’ or ‘high-level discussion’ actually deliver a project, for example. At some point you need to sit down, jump into the data model, talk about the indexing problem which is killing your reports or deep-dive the disk performance of your SAN to actually make some progress.

The high-level talker wants no part of this, despite their role clearly requiring it. When the going gets tough they’ll use phrases like ‘understand the needs of the business’ or ‘develop a strategy’, often in a forceful way. The high-level talker is an experienced hand at deploying smoke and mirrors and if he/she does their job well, you’ll leave the meeting with no idea of what the next steps are.

They may fear-monger: In order to side-step deficiencies in their own abilities, doing things correctly, or participating in the wider technical community where there’s a greater chance of their shortcomings being discovered the fear-monger will form a close bond with non technical individuals, often part of the Project Management office.

Abnormally close relationships with Project Managers, Programme Directors or Heads of Departments are all decent indicators of this trait. Often they’ll run out the clock on the project and leverage those relationships to send a PM into battle on their behalf to force the organisation to make a choice between a late project or an imperfect technical implementation.

They often show a lack of pragmatism: Good professionals know how to read the organisation around them and understand their real world limitations. An individual who lacks pragmatism probably lacks a certain degree of experience and compensates through the rigorous implementation of text-book logic.

… or not. Your mileage may vary. Irrespective of the traits you identify in people, it’s important to make an effort to understand those around you and start to build a picture of what motivates them.