Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Professional Mandate: Don't repeat Known Mistakes, yours or anyone else's.

[Full post on other blog.]

My formulation of the Professional mandate:
It's "unprofessional" to repeat or allow, Known Faults, Failures and Errors.
That sounds complete, perhaps obvious, but let me unpack this some more...

What's "unprofessional"?

If you're a cleaner, mower mechanic or dish-washer, i.e. not someone held to the highest Professional standards, then it's probably "skiving off" or doing a dodgy or substandard job. It might get you reprimanded if detected and if its your normal mode of work, in most places it'll get you fired. But only if detected, and that's only going to happen in better run organisations that routinely check work.

If you're someone who holds other people's lives in their hands, especially in a Profession that owes a profound Duty of Care to them, like Aviation and Medicine, then you should be held to a much higher standard.

Which leads to two questions:
  • In this, the Internet Age, can a Profession even call itself a "Profession" if it doesn't detect all deliberate or unintended errors of commission or omission and impose Professional Penalties on organisations and managers responsible for allowing preventable harm, injury or death to those for whom they were responsible, as they unequivocally fail the "Professional mandate"?
  • What should now constitute Criminal Action or Criminal Negligence by Professionals and their managers/organisations when they deliberately, or with "wilful blindness" or disregard, continue with, or allow harmful Professional behaviour?
And a bigger question:
Are "high standard" Professionals liable for Errors and Injuries directly attributable to poor management decisions or yielding to "management pressure" to perform unsafely or continually at unsustainably high levels of 'commitment', either excessive hours, excessive supervisory load or "above my pay-grade work", i.e. substantially above their Professional level of competence?
I argue that Dr Brent James' notion of "Professionals owe a Fiduciary Trust to their clients" (and in return are given the right to Professional Self-Determination) applies. Managers, especially if current or once practicing Professionals, should not, either knowingly or not, put those they direct in these invidious position, in effect putting them in a "Conflict of Interest" situation: chose between your employment or career and the safety of those clients or the public for whom you are responsible.

The Nuremberg Defence, "I was just following orders", is as unacceptable and specious, especially for high-standard Professionals, now as it was 6 decades ago. Professionals are solely responsible for their actions and must be held to account for them, in the same way that Managers can't transfer their Responsibility and Accountability to the Professionals that they direct.

Which creates another addendum to The Professional Mandate:
It's unprofessional to accept, or allow, tasks and responsibilities beyond your, or others, competence level or act whilst notionally or practically impaired, incapacitated or impacted by external factors. If you can't competently and adequately do the job before you, you should not be doing it. If others put you in the position where you feel you cannot decline a job/task/role outside you ability/competence, you are obliged to report both your own action and the situation, before, during or as soon as practicable after the event.
Specifically, I reject the widespread notion or "meme" for mangers deliberately demanding unprofessional conduct:
"You're a Professional, you have to 'do whatever it takes'" -  especially to fulfil roles, responsibilities or deadlines/commitments that you yourself did not commit to, but were imposed externally on you.
Any Professional who makes an explicit, not tacit, undertaking to deliver a Professional outcome should reasonably expect to be held to that Promise. Attempting to flip Accountability and Responsibility from Management to Professionals is a variation of this "Blame Assignment" technique and should result in personal liability for those attempting to assign blame.
The resulting Corollary is:
Professionals don't just have an implicit Right, but a Professional Duty, to refuse directions, including work rostering, that may, or will, result in unsafe Practice or a failure in their Professional Duty to clients or the public.
Or more simply: Professionals reserve the right to say "NO!", and make it stick, to unreasonable or unsafe management direction and be protected against reprisals, harassment or recriminations for such action.

Doing The Right Thing must be rewarded, never penalised.

Elsewhere, I've attempted to layout the context of Professional Behaviour within Professions. It isn't just about not doing the wrong thing, but also doing the right thing.

How a "professional" gets to know "What Works and What Doesn't" is another beyond this, "the Professional Mandate".

The critical insight here is that there are two sides to improvement:
  • What not to do,
  • What to do.
So my rubric must be extended to include something like "and practice What Works (ie. proven)".

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