Establishing and maintaining your professional reputation and credibility is one of the most important aspects of your career. This holds true both for companies and individuals. At an organizational level, a company achieves this through the quality of its product or services, general brand perception, and how the company responds to customer or market feedback. Product roadmaps and quality assurance are critical for ensuring a good public perception, as are robust public relations and crisis management resources.
At the individual level, your reputation and credibility go beyond just ensuring that your LinkedIn profile and resume align with your actual accomplishments and also beyond securing positive references for your next role. You build professional credibility by being intentional at all times and by ensuring that your actions, decisions, and interactions are purposeful.
Why is this so important? It is readily apparent if your organization, or you individually, take actions or make decisions without a guiding purpose. Stakeholders affected by those actions or decisions will detect that they are not purposeful or relevant. You will have spent time and resources on something that doesn’t move the ball forward, or, worse, that will undermine your credibility. This affects the trust you’ve built up and possibly your future upward trajectory.
Let’s look at three examples:
- Crisis communications
- Product roadmaps and releases
- Speaking in meetings
By this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve no doubt received multiple emails from many different companies letting you know how they are “handling and responding to the crisis,” or “dealing with these challenging times.” How many of these outreach missives have been truly relevant to you?
These communications are understandable from the company’s perspective. In an unprecedented event, every other company seems to be crafting a mass email to its entire customer database. Surely it would be a massive misstep not to jump on the bandwagon! In this situation, though, thoughtfulness needs to take precedence over a gut response. As an organization, you need to determine your purpose in sending any communication, as well as the relevance to your recipients. Has your customer base been carefully segmented? Is the right message going to the right people? This analysis is similar to general customer communications and marketing, but the stakes are markedly higher during a global crisis. A customer who purchased a low-value product online several years ago and hasn’t interacted with your brand or visited the website since is not likely to care about the logistics of how you are sanitizing your fulfillment center. Think about the relevance of what you are communicating to them.
The best COVID-19 related email I’ve received to date was from a retailer I shop with occasionally. The email simply stated: “We care about you. Please stay healthy.” There was no mention of their sanitation efforts, impact on shipping times, or cliched use of “unprecedented” and “challenging.” The purpose was to let their customers know they care, and it was relevant to the time. The message was simple and aligned with the company’s brand, and the email stood out in a sea of gratuitous pandemic communications. I’d like to see more companies send purposeful messages — or none at all — rather than risk frustrating customers and losing credibility.
Product Roadmaps and Releases
Global crises may not be the optimal time to assess whether your organization is operating with purpose and relevance, although they provide a great litmus test. A more prosaic marker of credibility is your product roadmap and the way you roll out new releases. To be relevant to customers, your roadmap and feature release cadence must be built on real-world customer needs.
The purpose of a product roadmap is to ensure you’re delivering useful, innovative features to your customers at a cadence that meets their needs. Strategic roadmaps can be forward thinking and set market trends, but all current features and releases must have immediate relevance to your users. I’m familiar with an open source software company whose recent roadmap included an on-premises version of its cloud product. The company did not properly assess whether its customer base was ready to shift from the cloud to on-premises or hybrid deployments. Its roadmap was not aligned with the needs of its customers, and the company was in danger of losing credibility — and, worse, customers. After listening more closely to its customers, though, the company significantly altered its strategy, refocusing on more immediately useful cloud features and moving the on-premises version further into the future.
High-performing development teams have a clear rationale for all releases. They focus on customer pain points, and they weigh the risks of any new release. Wherever you are in the software automation journey, each new release affects your credibility. Bug or crash reports, negative user reviews, or bad experiences can cause rollbacks and require damage control.
Approach your release process and the larger strategic roadmap with a clear understanding of why you are developing what you’re developing. By being purposeful and ensuring that you’re aligning closely with customer requirements, you will maintain customer satisfaction and the credibility of your product and engineering organizations. Like the cloud company whose original product roadmap didn’t take into account whether its customers were ready to move to an on-premises or hybrid deployment model, be careful that you are not developing your roadmap and releases in a vacuum.
Participating in Meetings
The two previous examples focused on organizational credibility. Similarly, the way you operate at an individual level affects how people perceive you professionally.
Ensuring that every action is purposeful and relevant is vital when it comes to participating and communicating in the workplace as well. What you say and how you say it have a marked impact on your professional credibility.
Executives consistently express a desire to improve their public-speaking skills and communication effectiveness. The journey to doing so begins with what you are communicating and then becomes about how you are communicating it. To determine the most effective content, first take notice of your ratio of speaking to listening. Many people want to speak at meetings so they can impart their knowledge or opinion to others. Constantly speaking just to be heard is not necessarily ideal, however. Think back to the ineffective COVID-19 communications. Companies can learn vastly more by analyzing their customer databases and determining what their stakeholders really need to hear instead of sending out a one-size-fits-all message. How do you mirror this personally? You will be a far more effective communicator if you speak less and listen more.
Just like understanding and segmenting customers can help companies craft the most relevant message, listening more than speaking can similarly help you crystalize and synthesize your most compelling message before you speak. It helps you understand what’s most relevant to those around you. Also keep in mind that continuing to speak after you’ve made a concise point won’t make you sound more intelligent or credible.
Reflect on some of the people who have inspired you the most in your career or the people who command the most attention when they speak. Chances are, they’re concise and memorable when they communicate. Just like your company’s roadmap should be intentional, it’s very important to be intentional and concise when communicating professionally. Have a purpose when you speak and then stop. It will make a noticeable difference in how people perceive your contributions, and, in turn, how they perceive your credibility.
Whether you’re assessing your company’s crisis communications resources, strategic roadmap, or taking time to consider your own career path and reputation, be deliberate and conscious about what you are doing and why. Operating with consistent purpose and ensuring that all your decisions, actions, and communications are relevant and precise will contribute positively to your credibility and reputation.