By John Worne

Often as organisations grow, they ‘professionalise’. 

Bringing more outside expertise in key areas is often crucial as scale and complexity increase – in Finance, IT, HR, Estates, Governance, Legal, Security, Risk and the list goes on.

Very often incoming professionals have a difficult transition – especially when things in their new organisation aren’t up to the standards they are used to or they feel they stand for. 

This can be a positive tension – the new host organisation usually needs to upgrade, step up and improve. But if money and resources are scarce (and they usually are) then it can be hard to give a ‘professionalising’ function all it wants – and may increasingly loudly say it must have.

The best experts and professionals adapt; they come to appreciate the context of their new organisation. 

They raise standards – but accept the trade-offs and discomfort of not everything being as they’d want. They put their professional expertise to the service of what is unique or special about their new organisation and its mission.

But when it goes wrong, incoming professionals can behave and act in ways which disrupt, even disparage; distancing themselves to protect on their ‘professional reputation’ to the detriment of their employer, their people and the purpose they were hired to serve. 

It’s a natural response – we all need to maintain a reputation. And if your hinterland is ‘outside’ not ‘inside’, your career choices and priorities can be different. So what’s the answer? 

Specialist-Generalists need to help…

As I put it to a comparatively new professional leader today (who is getting a lot right) about a plan she has: 

Absolutely ideal I’d say – this will require convening people from different parts of the organisation with different wants, needs, knowledge/understanding and expectations (which you’ve done a good deal of already) making reasonable trade-offs and compromises, selling and fronting them as other people and experts pile in; and then making them work and coming to terms and living with them and their imperfections (and people regularly telling you about them all) in the months and years to come. 

That’s leadership in my book. 

And indeed it is.

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