04 The mission of the translation ‘profession’

2 May

IMG_3358 best cropped to 320 x 200 shortYou will remember from my previous blog: that “my personal vision is for professional translators to achieve the recognition and rewards that a CPA enjoys today (i.e. CPT – Certified Practising or Professional Translator).
I imagine having a small professional practice with possibly one, two or three highly motivated, well-educated and experienced partners and one or two support people, together with a new entrant into the profession being mentored in a professional environment (and perhaps a few professional, free-lance associates).”

If this is a generally acceptable vision of a basic professional practice among translators, as I believe it is from what I hear from colleagues, then what does the profession as a whole need to do to enable the realisation of this vision?  In other words, what will be the mission we have to accomplish together to achieve this outcome or something resembling it, and arrest the decline of the profession.

Perhaps I can put it as follows (improvements welcomed):

The translation profession’s mission is to clearly differentiate itself from the translation ‘industry’ (agencies, brokers, intermediaries and paraprofessional translators), and establish world-wide recognition as Certified Practising Translators (CPT), working independently or in professional practices, providing reliable, high-quality language translation services and associated professional advice.

If successful, I would expect that some governments will eventually move to protect their citizens from unqualified language services providers by officially recognising their national chapter of CPTs as the only professionals permitted to certify translations.

Differentiation from the ‘industry’ means that we must establish ourselves as a proper, recognisable profession and start acting and performing as professionals.  Where the opportunity presents itself, we must make it clear to potential clients and the public generally, that language services provided by anyone other than a CPT, or a practice owned and controlled by CPTs may be inaccurate, unreliable and/or lacking in linguistic/cultural finesse.

In practical terms, it means that we will have to do things like:

  • setting up an international professional institute/association with a certification system controlled by peers.  This is a technical issue for a later stage.  This can initially be just be a confidential database of qualified translators interested in becoming members, using some basic but very strict criteria;
  • establishing and accepting a strict code of ethics, that we make public and promote world-wide.  A code of ethics that the client can confidently rely upon because we strictly enforce it by disciplining members who breach the code;
  • establishing basic operational practices (a code of conduct) including such rules as not offering our services in blind auctions like ProZ, by bidding against each other, but instead offering our services on the basis of requesting the documents for (confidential) analysis, and only then providing a fee estimate and a delivery time-line. (rates are only used for internal costing and are never publicised)
  • not ‘applying’ for free-lance/casual worker status with non-professional agencies by filling out their ‘application forms and singing their contracts of adhesion.  Those who do not wish to establish a professional practice can establish a free-lance professional relationship with a professional practice or several practices as a free-lance associate;
  • Having a website with our own URL, compliant with agreed professional standards set by the institute/association;
  • providing a (standardised) list of our terms and conditions of service;
  • creating a standardised NDA of our own and rejecting any NDA from clients or agencies in their stead;

There is a lot more we can and must do to clearly identify and differentiate our professional status and our independence from the ‘industry’ and paraprofessional translators, but the details are for the time when we start dealing with policy.
However, it is useful to give a general indication of what is required to present a professional profile, so that those who may have difficulty meeting them, will not waste their time and ours in trying to join a profession that does not suit them.

There will be those (usually unqualified), who will loudly proclaim that this is all nonsense and will never work (the easy cop-out).  That we are just running a business like any other and that we “should get out of the kitchen of we can’t stand the heat”, etc.
To them I say this: I have been a CEO for more than 25 years of 4 different companies and organisations (including an producer association), and I know the difference between a business and a professional practice.  They are very different, and failing to understand this is part of the problem.

I also happen to have an MBA and my graduation dissertation dealt with the strategic issues faced by the above-mentioned producer association who faced a dilemma that was different, but not dissimilar to ours, i.e. being part of a product chain dominated by a few large companies who controlled the producers with a contract of adhesion.

The basic framework I am using for discussing the various steps involved in achieving our aims, is a proven strategic planning tool developed by Professor Michael Porter from the Harvard Business School.  So I’m not just stumbling around in the dark 🙂

The steps follow a specific and logical order to ensure a successful outcome:

  1. articulating a vision;
  2. formulating a mission statement of how we plan to realise the vision;
  3. a SWOT analysis (internal and external audit);
  4. establishing long term objectives (longer than one year);
  5. establishing policies and annual objectives (shorter than one year);
  6. allocating resources such as budgets and people;
  7. measuring and evaluating performance/outcomes.
  8. Review and adjustment

In my experience, a lot of strategic planning fails because those doing the planning (particularly committees) do not have the skills or training they need; they leave out some of the steps, or start in the wrong place.  As a result, they keep going around in circles or wind up in a dead end.  Indeed, not having a clear (articulated and agreed) vision of what is to be achieved, is often the primary cause of a plan failing in its early stages.
If you don’t know where you are going…………

The SWOT will be the hard part, involving a lot of guesswork in the absence of reliable information.  Any help in this respect would be welcome.

More in 05

For more details about my professional profile, go to: www.doubledutch.com.au

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