Exporting the professions

A Management Today round-table with some of Britain’s top professional bodies may have identified a post-banking crisis, post-Brexit success story for UK PLC – promoting our coveted skills and standards overseas

A couple of weeks ago, together with colleagues from respected business media brand Management Today, we invited a group of chief executives from leading British professional bodies to a wide-ranging breakfast round-table debate on the health and future prospects for the professions. It became a fascinating, surprising and, indeed, uplifting session.

In the room were representatives of a large swathe of British business: Peter Cheese, (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development), David Noble (Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply), Sean Tompkins (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors), Ann Francke (Chartered Management Institute), Chris Daly (Chartered Institute of Marketing), Ray Perry (British Institute of Facilities Management), Paul Morrell (former chief construction advisor to HM Government and senior partner at Davis Langdon), along with myself and the editor of MT, Matthew Gwyther.

An evolving role for professional bodies

Paul Morrell played devil's advocate, and challenged the group that professions, post-Lehman Brothers, are no longer revered or even trusted in the way they once were. Indeed, in a world of ubiquitous ‘Google knowledge’, they are no longer necessary in order to get on in one's career.

This elicited a swift and unanimous response, and although the group recognised that in the recent past some professional member bodies perhaps focused too much on being member services organisations, the mood and positioning has now changed. 

The professions are about setting and maintaining the highest of professional standards and holding members to account in demonstrating their application of these standards. They are about continually adding to an actionable body of knowledge for their profession – all to the good of wider society. 

Maintaining professional standards and conduct

Chris Daly said although no-one has died from poor marketing, business costs and return on investment are hugely impacted by application of best professional practice.

Sean Tompkins stressed that it's absolutely not a case of, pay your membership fees and you're in for life, pointing out that, only the week before, 237 chartered surveyors had been asked to leave RICS because they were not current in their continuing professional development – with the same outcome for anyone found breaking their strict code of conduct. 

All reinforced, that to be a professional really does means something, valued by members, employers and the wider business community alike.

A high level of respect overseas

So far, pretty heartening. But then the conversation took an interesting twist and it’s where perhaps Theresa May’s overseas trade team need to prick up their ears. One after another, the gathered chief execs started to talk about the high level of respect their institutions garner overseas, particularly in the fast developing economies of Asia, India, the Middle East and Africa.

David Noble stressed that these economies are crying out for trusted professional standards to guide and support their growth, particularly as large multinationals seek to manage risk. Ann Francke talked about exporting professional standards as a world-beating opportunity for Britain, post-Brexit. 

Sean Tompkins was even more forthright: “India has to build a city the size of Chicago every year for the next 25 years, but hasn’t got the professionals to help it get there. Professions are probably one of the biggest things we have to trade, yet if you look at UK trade strategy, it doesn’t mention the word profession.” 

Peter Cheese, seeing growing influence for CIPD’s professional standards in the Middle East and Asia, called on his colleagues from other professions to collaborate. There was then an animated discussion about ways to collectively represent British professional standards overseas that continued right up to when the venue team asked us to vacate the room for that afternoon’s event. 

Get traction here, and it sounds to me that our many professions offer a big opportunity for our service-centred, export-focused, post-Brexit future.

Read the full round-table at managementtoday.co.uk/does-professional-status-matter/leadership-lessons/article/1413917