Professional versus entrepreneur

Whether a lawyer, accountant, junior doctor or professional coach, the definition of professional work is transient and depends on the challenges and make-up of the groups and a detailed analysis of professionalism and power. When examining the relationship between professionalism, knowledge, the state, social stratification, organizations, bureaucracy and social power (Abbot, 1988; Hanlon,1993; Macdonald, 1996; Aharoni, 1999; Ciancanelli, 2002) it was found that the role of knowledge informs the debates about the future of the professions. It was useful to note that authors often cite the profession of accountancy (Broadbent, Dietrich et al. 2002, Brock, Powell, et al. 2006, Cooper & Robson, 2006), where challenges were faced during deregulation, and in contrast to the professional ethos of a decade ago, the emphasis for accounting firms is now firmly on being commercial and performing a holistic service for the customer. The emphasis on fraternity and collegiality has reduced in professional firms, and e.g. there is competitiveness within accountancy firms as partners have to cultivate business connections and bring in clients (Aharoni, 1999; Ciancanelli, 2002).

Accountants are retained and/or promoted according to their ability to raise revenues and increase profitability, and are tightly controlled through cost control, personal supervision and quarterly appraisals. This process appears to fit with the accounting mind set of measurement, control and return on investment and I wonder how well it sits with the ‘helping professions’ of junior doctor or Coach?

The emergent characteristics of the new firms and people within them need to be understood (Mayson, 2007). Professionals such as lawyers can reach a point of career stagnation and lack of entrepreneurial behaviour and can make their firms increasingly similar as they try to change them.  A natural selection occurs as those who are less fit for purpose are weeded out and the more powerful people in the successful organisations end up controlling the professional system e.g. being advisors to the Law Society, adding to the similarity and explaining why many firms end up having the same structures even though they have evolved in different ways (Di Maggio & Powell, 1983; Greenwood & Hinings, 1988; Greenwood & Hinings, 1993; Di Maggio & Powell, 1994).  Brock, Powell and Hinings (1999) summarise much of this previous research and conclude that the classic models of bureaucracy and professional partnership no longer fit the changing and dynamic environment of professional firms. As a result, they will need to restructure and possibly refinance to consolidate, to recruit, train and promote sensibly, and to engage in even more sophisticated systemic strategy and management (Chellei 2009). This is an interesting concept as the Personal Development Professionals are already at the newer end of the continuum and need to reverse to learn the basics of running a commercial enterprise.

The developing notion of professionalism and its contradictions develops the fragmented professions into the two separate segments of specialist and entrepreneur (Hanlon & Shapland ; 1997; Brock, Powell and Hinings, 1999; Broadbent, Dietrich & Roberts, 2002) and  suggests whilst the concept of profession will not disappear, plans for the future cannot be based on the behaviours of the past.  This is a fundamental step forward as e.g.  the legal profession is possibly the last bastion of specialist professions to be deregulated and the most traditional.

Previous research about the professions (Larson, 1977; Di Maggio & Powell, 1983; Greenwood & Hinings, 1988; Greenwood & Hinings, 1993; Di Maggio & Powell, 1994; Brock, Powell and Hinings, 1999) is 10 or more years old now and is still consistent with what is happening, demonstrating the very slow pace of change in the professional and suggesting that there may be much to be gained by paying attention to similarity and incremental change as well as variation in structures. There is interest in defining the norms and standards that shape and channel behaviour e.g. in individual competences, as resiliency and adaptability have become more important than organisational commitment, and individuals are still following traditional career paths because job security has decreased (Vockell, 2006).

There is an increased lack of interest from many in working with organisational structure, design and development and no understanding of timing of critical interventions (Empson, 2007). Decisions are based on previous evidenced learning and experience although, these are so embedded, the information is processed very quickly so professionals may not be consciously aware of most of the things they perceive; only becoming aware of them if they consciously direct their attention to them. For professionals to become entrepreneurs they must get over the conflicts of change and risk aversion, and learn to experience and action new structures and ways of working very rapidly (Vockell, 2006; Gladwell, 2007, 2008; Sullivan & Baruch, 2009).

More enlightened firms are including financial and technological acumen, leadership, communication and business awareness in the competence framework and development activities, so broadening the skills and knowledge of individual leaders. Many could learn from other professionals who have de-regulated and diversified. (Craswell, Francis & Taylor, 1995; Brock, Powell & Hinings, 2006)  e.g. the engineering industry have researched into the need for ‘T’ shaped engineers, who are highly specialised technically, yet also broad generically (Carter & Mueller, 2007; Oskam, 2009). Conversely, the new personal development professionals can do the generic work and need to focus on gaining specialist skills and qualifications to justify their place at the table.


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