What Does It Mean To Be A Professional?

The other day a car salesman boasted to me that he was a consummate “professional,” and that he always did his job in a “professional” manner. I asked him how he knew that this was so, and he engaged in a long-winded conversation about satisfied customers, pleasing the manager, and being able to sleep at night. I listened carefully and wondered how he was so certain that he was meeting “professional” standards.

He was in a hurry so I didn’t bother to explain to him that there really is a technical, traditional definition of “professional” status, which includes three criteria: 1) specialized knowledge; 2) group identification and membership; and 3) agreed-upon education and training, including ethics training, certification by examination and continuing education.

While he might have met the first two criteria, I wasn’t sure that he could meet the third. To attain professional status, someone selling goods or services must be obligated to follow certain, written ethical standards of practice. This allows individuals in a specific industry to maintain specific behavioral expectations amongst themselves as well as toward their target consumers. Without a written code of ethics, standards are nebulous and therefore cannot be formally learned or enforced. This breeds moral chaos.

In contrast, with written moral standards, certification and training, individuals have a real opportunity to develop clear expectations and trust amongst themselves and consumers. In this case, they could actually become professionals.

The Value of Having a Fiduciary Duty

One of the earmarks of being a professional is that an individual has a fiduciary duty to each of his clients that is clearly spelled out in a written code of ethics. Two good examples of professional status are lawyers and Realtors.

In contrast, non-professionals are workers who do not have a fiduciary obligation toward the people with whom they do business. The extent of this individual’s ethical obligation is usually delineated by contract (which also makes it a legal obligation), informal standards of the industry, or traditional expectations of the company for which he works.

Two good examples of non-professional status are courtesy clerks at grocery stores (formerly called “boxboys”) and haybailers (usually young men who stack bales of hay onto flatbed trucks). More specifically, having a fiduciary duty requires a professional to never put his own interest above the interest of his client. It requires the highest good faith and fair dealing, which often requires the sort of guidance a parent provides to his or her children.

Professionals who carefully abide by their fiduciary duties consistently and fully create trust in consumers and in potential customers. This is good for business. Without this fiduciary duty carefully delineated in a written code of ethics, it is much more difficult for a group of individuals who work in a service industry to create trust amongst members of the public.

Dr. Kevin Boileau is CEO of BPI Consulting Group and co-executive director of Ethical Lending Foundation

Common myth about architects dispelled
Top reasons for hiring a professional to design home

Thanks to the old stereotype of the architect hunched over a drafting board, T-square in hand, many people still think that an architect’s main purpose is to draw “blueprints” (nowadays more properly called working drawings).

The trouble with this romantic notion is that it suggests that architects are paid to draw, when in fact, they’re paid to think.

In truth, producing working drawings is a tedious but relatively incidental aspect of the architect’s charge. It’s roughly analogous to taking a novel that’s been written in shorthand and typing it into a computer. The essential creative work–if it’s been done properly–is all but finished, and only the mechanics of formatting remain.

Alas, this preliminary thinking, which is the real kernel of the design process, takes a lot of time and effort and yet may not yield much of a tangible product until much later. Considering this dearth of physical results, it’s gratifying that many people nevertheless perceive why spending 15 percent or so of their building budget on architecture might be a worthwhile investment.

Still, there are also lots of perfectly intelligent people who are mystified, annoyed or even angered that a few sheets of drawings should take months to complete, cost them many thousands of dollars, and further delay them from getting their project under construction. These people quite reasonably reckon that all that money spent on mere paper could buy them a bigger Jacuzzi or a fancier front door.

I can only counter such reasoning by pointing out that architects provide a service, not a commodity. To say that your architectural investment only buys you a few sheets of paper is like saying that the cost of a Harvard education only gets you a lousy little diploma.

There are plenty of familiar arguments for hiring a licensed architect, most of them having to do with the technical side of the process. For one thing, the high level of detail found in a good set of working drawings–far from scaring off contractors as some people fear–actually makes the bidding and construction process easier and more accurate. For another, an experienced architect can help circumvent building-code booby traps that can make for nasty (and costly) surprises during construction. These services alone can save thousands of dollars in lost time and change orders. Hence, that seemingly extravagant 15 percent fee can repay itself quite rapidly.

Beyond these cut-and-dry reasons for hiring a professional, however, there’s one more–perhaps the only one that architects care passionately about—and that is the pursuit of good design for its own sake. Obviously, there are cheaper ways to get plans drawn than by hiring an architect, and no doubt there are times when a design that’s merely “good enough” would probably suffice. But from this architect’s perspective, at least, there can’t be much magic in this kind of undertaking. After all, humanity’s rise over the millennia has come, not from doing things well enough, but from doing them as well as we possibly could.