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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Shear Professionalism

I missed writing and posting my usual Monday Morning article. Yesterday was shearing day on our ranch. We sheared our ten alpacas. I would like to introduce you to our terrific shearing lady and her team: Gabrielle Seilier and I first met Gabrielle in 2012, when I called in a panic to have my animals sheared. As many of you recall, spring 2012 was a very hectic time for me, with the Artisan Quartet's travel to NYC and performance in Carnegie Hall and my end-of-semester recital and activities at the university. I have often sheared my animals in early June, as my school schedule finally permitted me some free time. Last year, however, when I called my former shearer, I found out that she had moved to another city. She referred me to Gabrielle, and when I called Gabrielle, I was told that the season had already ended. Yikes! Because, as my Texan friends know, it gets very, very hot here from about June onwards, and my animals were wearing their full fleece coats. Alpaca fleece is much warmer than wool, so I was in deep doo-doo at that point.

Gabrielle managed to galvanize her team into action, and they came out within the week. Accustomed to helping my previous shearer with animal restraint, general health duties (toenail and teeth trimming), and bagging the shorn fleece, I was surprised when I was rendered unnecessary. Gabrielle had a team that performed all these functions and then some. I watched in great satisfaction as Gabrielle and her personable crew members handled each animal carefully and kindly, minimizing the stress to each animal. The crew provided a complete setup; they provided all the necessary supplies to get the job done. They performed all the functions involved in shearing: the animal restraint, the shearing, the bagging, the toenails, the teeth trimming, and even the cleanup. They did not need any help from me! They even provided their own drinks. They cleaned up after themselves with brooms and soapy water.

While the crew cleaned up their "footprint," Gabrielle wrote out an itemized invoice. I signed the appropriate disclaimers. Everything was as Gabrielle had previously represented to me over the phone. I tipped the group handsomely because I was very grateful for their willingness to work in one more ranch in the "off season" and because I was quite impressed with their work with my animals. Before they departed, Gabrielle asked me if I wanted to be included in their usual roster of regular clients when she began scheduling the 2013 shearing calendar. I quickly agreed to be added to Gabrielle's client list.

And so ends my story from 2012. This year, Gabrielle contacted me in mid-February to confirm that I still wanted to be included on her shearing schedule. After I confirmed, Gabi promised to give me a shearing date in four days. On the fourth day, she wrote to tell me that she was unable to give me a firm date yet because she was waiting for others to respond to her. I asked her for a general time frame, and I added some input about the dates she was considering (some days are better for me with a teaching schedule than other days). From that list, we were able to settle on a good day for both of us.

Shearing day was yesterday, April 29, and all went smoothly. As my husband and I watched Gabi and her crew working, we were again amazed at the professionalism that Gabi and her crew brought to the job. And that is what I would like to discuss today -- how to bring professionalism to the job.

When my stepson first began saxophone lessons while he was in middle school, my husband, the retired band director, researched teachers. We followed through on a strong recommendation and found a good teacher for my stepson. At the first meeting, the sax teacher provided us with a folder of information about him and the studio. I was so impressed with the effort put into this initial first impression. The folder included a biography of the teacher, written studio policies, and other helpful information for students who were beginning lessons with this teacher. I walked away from that first meeting with a strong, favorable impression of this teacher.

Both my shearing lady and my stepson's saxophone teacher shared something in common. They both brought a strong professional attitude to their jobs. Not only did I walk away with a good first impression of them as people and professionals, I also walked away from our first encounters with an assurance in my mind that both would do good quality work.

What is "professionalism"? Professionalism is a positive attitude towards the profession. Professionalism is approaching the job (and the profession) with the kind of attitude that promotes the individual as a professional and honors the profession itself. Professionalism can be said to be an attitude of service then, as the individual approaches work with the attitude of serving others and the profession.

In the case of the saxophone teacher, his professional attitude meant that he promoted himself as someone who was organized, prepared, and mindful of the needs of the parents who would be bringing their children to his studio. He prepared written materials that would answer most of the questions that parents would have about music lessons for their children. His written materials also gave parents the reassurance that their children's teacher would be prepared for lessons and would do a good job.

In the case of my shearing lady, Gabrielle, and her crew, we can take away many lessons about professionalism. Here are a few general lessons that I learned about professionalism:

  • Be willing to do what it takes to help. Do not be so quick to say "sorry, I can't help you. You should have called sooner." Keep an attitude of "can-do" rather than "won't-do."
  • Be prepared with the supplies that you need.
  • Be friendly and personable. Show that you care about the people you interact with. Each person has something important to share with you, so be open to that exchange. Be pleasant and kind in your conversation. Answer questions and address concerns.
  • Clean up after yourself. As hikers to National Forests recite, "pack in, pack out," which refers to the need to clean up after yourself. If you make trash, take it with you. Cleaning up after yourself not only refers to physical things. Cleaning up after yourself can also refer to relationships and apologizing for problems or conflict that you caused.
  • Be positive about your job. Avoid complaints. Despite the obvious hard work of shearing, the crew never complained about the weather, the heat, the inconvenient location on my ranch for shearing, the difficult access to my ranch, or my inability to have everything perfectly ready for the shearing crew's arrival (alpacas can be finicky about being penned up; one of my girls actually pushed a gate off its hinges!).
  • Offer more service and information than the client expects. Sometimes clients do not even know what they need. Be sure to provide information about services. This type of information will reassure a client that you care and are interested in providing for the client's needs. I did not realize that my shearing lady would be able to trim teeth or toenails until she told me. I was used to a former shearer who relied on me to perform those functions. I also did not realize that my shearing lady could help me to give vaccination shots to my animals. I am so thankful that Gabi took the time to talk to me and inform me about their services.
  • Be organized. Maintain the paperwork that you need to run a business well. Set up a record-keeping system that will keep track of payments and scheduling. A good system will reassure clients that you are in command of the details about the business.
  • Treat others with respect and kindness. More than any other quality, I want to stress this last one as the most important. As I watched Gabi and her crew work, I recognized that they treated my animals carefully and with respect. They minimized the stress to the animals with gentle and safe handling. Gabi also treated my husband and me with respect when she addressed our questions and concerns. I highly respected Gabi and her wonderful crew. They were polite and pleasant to us.

Professionalism as an attitude is not a difficult thing to cultivate. As you can see from the short list above, there are merely a few ingredients that go into being professional. As teachers, we interact daily with parents and students, and sometimes even with other professionals. How we present ourselves as teachers and our business as teaching professionals depends on our attitude about ourselves and our profession and business as well as our attitude toward the people who come to us for our service. Let us be careful to present the kind of attitude that will promote ourselves, our business, and our profession. Let us strive to be good examples of our profession.

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