Rethinking Professionalism: The New Standards that Really Matter

Today, business professionalism involves more than appropriate dress and a firm handshake. It is a set of characteristics, behaviors and values that fuel a culture of mutual respect in the workplace. The way we conduct ourselves in a work (and personal) setting makes a huge impact on our success as individuals and as part of a team.

Evolution of Professionalism

The definition and manifestation of professionalism have changed over the years. Joana Shevelenko of Forbes describes the evolution of professionalism: “Not that long ago, Silicon Valley completely disrupted [our] perception of professionalism. Rather than adhere to the traditional Wall Street perception of what a business professional should look like, they threw those notions out the window. They traded in fancy clothes and formal business approaches for novel ideas and innovation. Intelligence, collaboration and motivation, rather than what an employee wore to work every day, became the defining factors for what professionalism looked like.” This shift resulted in significant changes to brands and company cultures alike, whose values had moved toward cultivating a diverse, authentic and ethical workforce and clientele.

The evolution of professionalism progressed even further since 2020 as our work settings changed radically due to the pandemic. “Today, we’ve evolved even further into this new age of professionalism,” Shevelenko says. “Being a professional in today’s world means that our personal lives are intertwined, not separate or compartmentalized from work. At its core, this means we’re open and honest about what it means to work and succeed through transparency and trust with our peers.”

6 Characteristics of Professionalism

Companies valuing professionalism and making it part of their culture are more likely to attract and retain top talent. Here are six behaviors that demonstrate professionalism. These behaviors represent the foundation for creating an environment where individuals and teams thrive and flourish.

  1. Commitment. Commitment implies dedication, whether it’s to a personal goal or team effort. It’s delivering on a promise and demonstrating follow-through, dependability, reliability and respect. Examples include meeting a deadline, being punctual and maintaining a consistent degree of effort. Commitment also means going the extra mile to achieve the outcomes sought.
  2. Flexibility. In direct correlation with commitment, it’s also vital to recognize when a change is necessary and understand how to pivot. Adaptability is key to problem-solving, from small-scale, daily fixes to large-scale, global challenges. Flexibility allows professionals to enter new roles, learn new skills or discover new possibilities. These result in innovation and shared growth.
  3. Collaboration. Research shows that 97 percent of employees and executives believe a lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project. It’s important to participate in a culture of collaboration. A collaborative environment leads to the inclusion of diverse perspectives and the discovery of new solutions. Professionals who foster collaboration and teamwork demonstrate a comfort with compromise, negotiation, diplomacy, trial and error, constructive criticism and continuous revision.
  4. Communication. Being an effective communicator covers a wide range of talents including speaking, writing, presenting, facilitating, listening and summarizing. Effective communication requires the ability to synthesize what is being written or said verbally and non-verbally into what is most important. From there, effective communicators can integrate their own thoughts and ideas with the information gathered to clearly communicate the most valuable details in the medium that is most suited to the purpose.
  5. Empathy. Professionals who can be mindful of others and caring and considerate of their experiences and perspectives can greatly improve the quality and impact of their interactions. Start with “empathetic listening,” a term coined by Stephen Covey. Empathetic listeners go beyond the person’s words and seek to understand what a person is feeling from their perspective. Serial entrepreneur Deep Patel states, “Nothing is as mind-broadening as allowing yourself to really see the world from another person’s perspective. When you focus on the value you give to others, you start seeing other people’s needs more clearly.”
  6. Trust and transparency. According to Devon Maloney of Slack,In the past, transparency in business was a taboo concept. In today’s market, however, companies that jealously guard the secrets to their success increasingly may run the risk of producing the opposite effect, discouraging employee engagement and stifling their potential for brand affinity in the marketplace.” Employees and customers seek transparency. It builds confidence in what the company does, cultivates a brand founded on authenticity and facilitates trust.

The Power of Professionalism

Regardless of what industry or job someone works in, people need to demonstrate professionalism to succeed. As the “look” of professionalism continues to evolve, companies need to think beyond outward appearances and 40-hour workweeks. While every organization’s culture is different, companies focusing on communication, trust and transparency create environments where professionalism is the standard. When employees “show up” dutifully, work well with others, flex when needed, communicate clearly, demonstrate empathy and gain the trust of others, they represent the new ethos of professionalism that will ensure success both for the individual and the organization.



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Gerri Knilans

Marketing communications strategist. The right message. The right medium. Guaranteed.