Background Recent literature on professionalism describes the hybridisation of professional practices because of the pressures of neo-liberal managerialism. While the general opinion appears to be that this development was inevitable given the task of service organisations to operate on the market, this paper questions that blurring the distinction between professional and managerial responsibilities is sound business advice for market-orientated service providers.
Method The method is philosophical analysis. A normative account of ‘true’ professionalism is discussed in order to determine the relation between professionalism and managerialism. By placing this account in the framework of Aristotelian moral philosophy, three distinctions are presented to argue that professional practices will most likely be successful in managerial terms when the internal values of professional practices are not mixed up with the external values of the service organisation.
Results The analysis results in an argument about economic value as a contingent ‘by-product’ of professional expertise. The outcome is the prediction that professional activity will be most responsive to organisational goals implemented and monitored by management to the extent that professionals are enabled to serve the goals internal to their profession. Professional excellence will be most profitable when professionals do not have to mind about being profitable.
Conclusions Neo-liberal managerialism assumes that making professionals share managerial values of accountability and transparency will improve both the economic performance of service organisations and the quality of their services. The argument concerning the contribution to these values by professionals as a contingent by-product of professional excellence shows that this assumption is questionable.