How mediocrity has gradually killed professionalism

Thursday, July 27th, 2023 01:00 | By

The terms ‘professional’, and ‘professionalism’, are the most contested words in human resources. Apparently, lack of the two HR requirements in achieving desired results in the workplace have been blamed for falling standards, from top management to the lowest cadres.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a profession as, ‘a calling requiring specialised knowledge, and often long and intensive academic preparation’. Professionalism, therefore, becomes the adherence of the foregoing principles in undertaking tasks that have predetermined outcomes.

After recruiters establish a candidate’s potential for excellent performance, they may buttress the technical knowledge of a position’s terms of reference with soft skills comprising emotional intelligence. This incorporates soft skills like love and empathy, among other human values.

A professional is a master of the game! He knows his art backwards. He pushes boundaries by seeking to know more and do more. He constantly acquires and applies his knowledge to inform the solutions he offers in addressing various challenges. Due to the ingrained culture of corruption in all sectors, there is a growing dearth of professionalism in Kenya.

The situation is so bad that the society of professionals organised the first Inter-Professionals Summit a couple of years ago to address the fast falling standards across the board. The theme of the summit held in Mombasa was, “The Future of Professionals”.

If the current trend continues, professionals will have no future on this side of the world. Indeed, no professions have been spared by influx of the so called quacks. What are some of the factors destroying professionalism here? First is poor remuneration of professionals in public service, and wide discrepancies among those doing the same job in the private sector and civil society. Employment is about livelihoods, not sacrifice.   

Sour grapes aside, no one can deny the fact that the old boys club, and ‘tall uncles’, are facts of life in apportioning opportunities and favours globally. Unfortunately, our version actually shuns brilliance through nepotism, cronyism, ethnicity, and outright corruption.

Now, imagine both the attitude and performance of the person who unethically assumes a position. Of course, the result is a deadly mixture of incompetence and mediocrity. That is why customer service has become so crude, and delivery of services even worse.

Once someone takes a job through the ‘back door’, he or she is not motivated to excel. Survival to keep the undeserved job becomes his or her preoccupation. Think of our politicians, who bribe their way to electoral office. The result is the grand corruption, misgovernance and general malaise we are suffering.

We have also sacrificed capability and capacity on the altar of representation. For instance, unreasonable quota dictates for gender and regions have spawned a cadre of employees that pays homage exclusively to patronage. These form the backbone of notorious cartels running amok. Those who have been victims of mediocrity know what I am talking about! Ingenuity and creativity count for nothing. Blind loyalty overrides everything else, no matter the opportunity cost.

To remedy this situation and strive for merit requires a bold human resource regime that is blind and impersonal to extraneous factors that add no value to performance. It is a tough call in a world where image seems to be everything, but there is no other means to organisational development.

Meanwhile , I recently had a conversation about the current state of politics with close friends. My opinion was that we should avoid being fanatics of politicians because the day they close ranks, we will be left holding the baby.

The Wednesday message by President William Ruto to Opposition leader Raila Odinga as the former left for Tanzania should have been a red flag to those who think they know politicians. We are out here fighting in the streets, while these guys (sic) are simply sparring, like we see in the American choreographed wrestling matches. 

— The writer is a PhD student in International Relations

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