By JoAnne Robinett, MSA, SNS 2016-11-17 10:45:53
EVER ASK YOURSELF, “IS THIS GOOD ENOUGH?” “Is this nice enough?” Are there times when you’ve said something at work that you later wished you could take back? Ever had a coworker or your boss give you “that look” after a remark you made or something you did? Are there occasions where you’ve lost confidence or feel you aren’t measuring up to the expectations of others? From time to time, we all wonder if we’ve missed the mark with the work we do, the way we look or act or something we say. Sometimes, it’s just our insecurities chattering away, causing trouble. But might there be some truth feeding those doubts? Perception is reality. We are how others see us. Are they seeing our professional best? This month, School Nutrition offers suggestions designed to help each of us—at every level in school nutrition, cooks, cashiers, directors and supervisors—to improve our professionalism. To be perceived by others as the passionate, committed, accomplished experts that we are, we may have to polish the rough edges a bit. It is not really as easy as ABC, but we’re using the alphabet to organize our recommendations. Keep an open mind about how one or more of these may apply to you, and if they strike a chord, promise yourself to invest a little time and effort in making changes. A) APPEARANCE. We can agree that it’s what’s on the inside that truly counts, but appearance has a role to play. It can influence everything from whether you get hired in the first place, get promoted to a job you want or even the tasks that are assigned to you. Appearing professional might sound like wearing the right clothes at work, but it is so much more! It is also about Appropriate behaviors and Acceptable Actions. Unfortunately, there are few hard-and-fast rules about these. What you might consider appropriate in your appearance might not meet the expectations of your supervisor. Actions that might be acceptable at home might not be welcome at work. The key is to pay Attention and Ask for Advice and feedback. B) BASICS. There are certain things that are basic to presenting yourself as a professional, no matter what your particular job might entail. Basic courtesy. Basic cleanliness. Basic work ethic. Basically, you need to nail all of these! C) CRITICISM. We need to be able to give and accept constructive criticism with grace. When a supervisor determines the need for a Critical Conversation with you about, say, appropriate appearance, such chats are a Challenge, no matter which side of the desk you sit. Sure, it’s no fun for you, but it also no picnic to be the professional supervisor, attempting to change your behavior while reassuring you of your value to the team. Because, she does value you. She hopes you can accept that the criticism she’s offering is intended to help you improve. She wants you to succeed here. She wants you, only a little more professional. That’s why professionalism is also about the Courage to give criticism, rather than letting a problem continue to fester and hold someone back. It’s about doing so in a Constructive manner that builds up, rather than tears down. (“I see an employee with so much potential. But this [area of concern] is standing in the way. I am not here to insult you; I am here to help you polish yourself and grow in ways that will make you a better member of this team.”) D) DETAILS. Once we get the basics down, the next step is to focus on the details. Look around. Is there someone else on the team, someone in a job that is similar to yours, who stands out in a good way? What is it about that person and what he does that makes him Different? Put on your Detective hat and engage your powers of observation! Does he respond with kindness when asked to help? Do her clothes fit well? Does he make you feel welcome when you are around? Does she accept suggestions gracefully? Does he know stuff? Does she use both hands to improve efficiency for a certain task? Paying attention to those details is the first step to adopting them as a model. E) EXPECTATIONS. We all have expectations at work. Some of these are common practices of any work environment, while others are spelled out in specific rules, policies and standards. The point is that we need to honor the expectations of the workplace, even if we don’t like or agree with them. Every time you are given a document detailing written expectations, you should read it. If it applies to you, whether you like the content or not, read it again to be sure you understand the instruction or requirement. The expectation should be crystal clear. If it’s not, ask questions and get clarification. Managing and meeting professional expectations in the workplace is also about having some fundamental trust. Rules aren’t created to be a personal hassle to you, even if they feel that way. There is a reason. Maybe you don’t fully understand that reason, even when it has been explained. This is not license to think you can just ignore it or determine that it doesn’t apply because you disagree. If the rule is “no fingernail polish for staff with certain job responsibilities,” and that describes you, then it means you are not allowed to wear fingernail polish. Period. Being a professional means recognizing that you sometimes have to meet expectations you don’t like. F) FOCUS. It is often easier for us to recognize unprofessional behavior than it is to grasp the concept in the abstract. It’s one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it things—especially when you see it in someone else. When that happens with a coworker or an employee, we can judge harshly and/or we can get drawn into a confrontation and find ourselves making things worse. Try to keep in mind how hard it is to see unprofessional behavior in yourself. Focus on standing in another’s shoes. Think about when you see someone lose their temper and use inappropriate language, for example. You cringe. Now, think about when you lose your temper. You’re angry, frustrated and not thinking straight. This is not an excuse, but it’s a reminder that we are humans. Don’t Feed into the situation. Think First. Avoid saying something that you will regret and have to Fix later. Instead, try to be Fair and Flexible, even if you think you are the only person who is “rising above.” Learn from the bad examples of others, making mental notes not to do things you think are inappropriate. G) GROW. Becoming more professional is a journey. You will feel yourself inspired to travel a little further, polishing yourself a little more or finding you want to take a side trip into an area you never dreamed was for you. At the beginning of the journey, you might have set a goal you felt was “good enough,” but as you shine brighter, you’ll want to be even better. Growth is Good! H) HYGIENE. It doesn’t get any more basic than this. Bathe. Shampoo. Repeat. Wear clean clothes. Brush your teeth. Use deodorant. Visit a dentist regularly to guard against teeth and gum problems. Good personal hygiene isn’t just an essential aspect of professionalism. In school foodservice, it is a requirement of the job, an important part of food safety. You must practice basic personal hygiene every day. I) IMAGINATION. Imagine you, the wonderful, thoughtful, dedicated person you are—only a bit more polished. Imagine you, taking the Initiative at work rather than waiting to be told to start the next task. Imagine you, having a smile for each student, a kind word for each co-worker. Imagine you, going through an entire day without muttering a complaint. A little imagination is the key to professionalism. J) JOY. Remember how happy you were when you were first hired? You called your mother and your sister. You did a little happy dance because you were going to get to work at the school! Rediscover the joy. Show up with some of that same enthusiasm tomorrow. Be there a little early. Smile at everyone. Get your whole Job done, and do it well. No shortcuts, today! Be the person who offers to help, not the one who needs more help to get finished. It is your job. Rock it! K) KNOWLEDGE. Do you have the knowledge to do your job in a way that will meet— or exceed-- expectations? A professional isn’t satisfied with doing the bare minimum or waiting to be told what to do to improve. Instead, a professional keeps seeking opportunities to learn more. You may need to study up on food safety or the meal pattern or your culinary skills be the best you can be for the children you serve. L) LISTEN. If your professionalism needs a little work, people may be dropping hints. If you’re not hearing their message, it may be because you aren’t really listening. For example, have you given any thought as to why Mary has told you, “I use a baby wipe to clean my shoes”? Maybe she’s trying to alert you to the fact that your shoes are dirty, but she doesn’t want to insult you. She’s trying to behave in a professional manner. It’s up to you to listen—not to just the words people say, but also to what they don’t say. This is how you can Learn. M) MOTIVATED. You have to want to be More. If you do, try this: Find a coworker you trust and admire and share with her or him your desire to be more professional. Maybe you can motivate one another. It might be as simple as improving your good Manners. Please. Thank you. Sorry. These are Magic words that let others know you are polite, considerate and professional. Whatever area you choose to focus on, remember that while others may support you, they cannot do it for you. N) NEVER. Never, never, never lie! Never take something that is not yours. Never gossip. Never fudge a timesheet. Never treat anyone—student, coworker, building staff, parent—differently than you would want to be treated. O) OWNERSHIP. If you messed up, admit it. When the truth comes out—and it will—nothing looks more unprofessional than being caught in a lie or having tried to shift the blame to someone else. Own up to what happened. If you broke the equipment, just say so—better to get it fixed right away than it not be available when next needed. If you burned something, ’fess up now and prep more. If your cash drawer did not balance, report it. If you forgot to order something, let someone know. Mistakes happen to everyone. Pretending that you are perfect does not make you professional. P) PRIDE. For a real professional, the job is the Priority, not the paycheck. Do you need to realign your thinking about the reasons why you are working? Q) QUIT. Quit making excuses. Quit blaming others. Quit complaining. Quit comparing your workload to that of others in the kitchen. But don’t quit caring about being the best you can be! R) RESPECT. A professional shows respect to others—and that means everyone! Of course, you show respect to the principal and the boss. But do you show that exact level of respect to your coworkers? How about other building staff? The students? A respectful attitude means being polite. It means listening without interrupting or being abrupt. It means patience. It means tolerance of others’ customs, expertise and opinions—even if you disagree. Everyone deserves respect! S) SELF-CARE. Be intentional in making healthy eating choices, following medical recommendations from your healthcare provider (including remembering to take any medications) and getting regular exercise. Indulge in some daily “me-time,” but be mindful about too much “screen” time. It’s also important to get enough Sleep. Most school nutrition jobs require an early wake-up time. Lack of sleep make can you grouchy and unfocused, clumsy, forgetful and more inclined to get sick. Need another incentive? New research indicates insufficient sleep can even lead to weight gain! T) TEAM. In the school environment, we all work toward the same goal: serving kids and helping them to succeed. How we meet that goal should never be an “us vs. them” division. Sure, sometimes we have more immediate goals or needs that conflict with those of others. And sometimes it seems like “the boss just doesn’t understand.” But within these conflicts—as we seek to resolve, understand or clarify—we should remember that we are all on the same team, working toward the same ultimate goal. Accomplishing the miracle of feeding meals to so many students in such a short amount of time means that each person must contribute to the team. U) UNIFORM. What do you wear to work? Your cafeteria might require a specific uniform or have a formal dress code. Some schools have neither, but still have expectations on clothing and appearance. Being a professional means complying with these rules or expectations. We are lucky to live in an era of easy-care fabrics, but these still need some attention. You might not have to iron your clothing, but you should try to hang or fold it immediately after drying to ensure a neater look. Even T-shirts, if permitted, need some TLC. Make sure they aren’t wrinkled or have tears. They also should fit properly and be free of inappropriate messages. In the absence of written guidance, you may have been told you can wear anything. But they probably didn’t mean literally anything! There are certain items of clothing that are considered unprofessional no matter your title or responsibilities. These include sweat pants, revealing clothing, workout clothes and visible underwear. V) VARIANCE. This is a synonym for diversity and it’s important to Value differences. Our workplaces are melting pots of generations and cultures. Be open to learning how others are both different from, and similar to, you. There is a richness of knowledge when we can see an “old” way and a “new” way to do the same task—as well as a “my” way and “your” way. A professional knows that there is always more than one way; always more than one right answer. W) WORK. Work is work—it is not social time. You might love to talk with your coworkers, but if you cannot talk and work at the same time, then save your catch-up conversations for the end of the work day. Give your employer a full day’s work in exchange for the full day’s pay. X) XEROX. Sure, this is an odd word to include in an article about being professional, but we need to be a little creative within the confines of the alphabet! The Xerox machine was invented to reproduce things, and it’s important that you keep reproducing your efforts to improve your professionalism every day. Make the new behaviors a habit. When something becomes a habit, you barely think about it—you just do it. Y) YOU! You are important here. You do so much for students, yet, you can be more. You can be better. You start by paying attention to the nuances of the workplace. You can follow the model set by those who seem to have it all together. Z) ZONE. When you keep working on this, you’ll be in the zone! Just remember that you can’t get there all at once. When you climb a flight of stairs, you don’t leap from the bottom to the top, right? No, you take it one step at a time—maybe two, if you feel energetic. Focus on one area where you want to improve and work on it step by step. Then you can tackle the next one. Consider this quote: “Change enough of the little pictures, and you will find you have changed the big picture.” Z is also the end of the alphabet. But when it comes to working on your professionalism, remember that there is no end. You can always keep improving! You’re a diamond—let yourself shine! JoAnne Robinett is owner of America’s Meal (www.americasmeal.com), providing training, speaking and consulting services in school nutrition. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.