One thing I often talk with testers about is a prime focus of our work: being credible reporters of useful and timely information in a diplomatically persuasive way. Coupled with that, I’m just coming out of a particular job wherein I feel my career took two steps backward and I’m now in process of regaining my forward momentum. The “steps backward” have to do with personal credibility and it’s why I’ve been silent for a month or so.
This is not a post where I will rail against my previous job. I actually learned quite a bit on this particular job and worked with some really good, fun, and interesting people. But there’s no denying that the job essentially stopped all forward momentum on my career, for the better part of a year and a half. I needed to analyze why that was and, in particular, why I felt this problem happened. Ultimately it came down to what I titled this post: I felt my credibility as a tester was being undermined. My personal integrity was essentially being eroded.
More to the point, I found that my message got subverted. On the other hand, I have to admit some culpability in allowing that to happen.
So I’ll first talk about the situation very briefly and then get into what I hope people can take from this post, which is the credibility factor.
Regarding the specific situation, I was essentially a test solution provider. Some people prefer to think about tools. Others prefer to think about people and processes. I don’t have the luxury of separating. I have to think about both. Yet there was a segment of the company that, without respecting other people and understanding processes, merely wanted to introduce tools. It got so bad that we wouldn’t even consider test candidates — or managers! — unless they could “code.”
… yet I promoted tools …
What’s ironic here is that, as part of my overall solution, I did in fact introduce tools of my own making (Lucid, Specify, and Symbiont). Those tools, however, were introduced as a means to an end which was a fail fast, blame slow, learn quickly culture when it came to treating testing as a design activity with a broad mandate within both development and business analysis functions.
… but the tools were a means …
In this viewpoint, people are more important than processes, which, in turn, are more important than tools. Having that belief is part of how I maintain my personal integrity because it keeps my focus on the people using technology (and consuming the output from it) rather than the technology itself. A specific tool can be used to implement a given process, to be sure, but it is a means, not an end.
… and the ends were up to the people …
This viewpoint, even though capable of being stated quite simply, leads to a series of people-focused interactions that require a high degree of meaningful collaboration. Tools should be orchestrated and integrated for use by different teams who share processes and incentives and who support shared (or at least aligned) goals. My specific tools were meant to be in service of an approach for freeing up time of the current staff so they could focus on harder problems which would in turn allow us to deliver even more business value.
This, however, got subverted. The tools — and the ability of people solely to “code” — became paramount, over and above what the tools and coding abilities were acting in service to. My goal was to enhance the processes with tools rather than restrict the processes because of the tools chosen. And this is the exact opposite of what started to develop.
… and I can pinpoint the reason why …
The main players, particularly some of the very high-level managers, simply didn’t understand this. To be fair, this could certainly point to me not conveying it well enough. The problem is that without understanding the ideas behind the approach — attempting to improve collaboration, and sharing processes in a concrete way — every attempt to adopt a set of wider testing discipline methods will fail. With my departure, I know the company is going to attempt to continue some of these ideas. Without the broader understanding of why, however, the how will be lacking. That’s not because I won’t be there; it’s because the credibility of the approach will always be undermined, unless people acquire and internalize the same knowledge and, more importantly, believe it.
… and thus I left things at the status quo …
I don’t believe I left things worse than when I found them, but I’m not sure I did much more than simply maintain the status quo. Regardless of reasons, I have to treat that as a personal failing that has undermined my credibility.
My personal view is that the company is poised to fail at implementing these concepts and that still really bothers me, even though it’s no longer “my problem.” To be sure, I don’t think this localized failure will translate into a wider failure for the company. I simply think that testing there will always be a reactive discipline. And as a tester who believes in the integrity of testing as a proactive, design-guiding discipline, that bothers me. In my view, it robs testing of the credibility that it has. And that matters to me. Obviously it’s up to each individual as to whether their personal credibility is hampered by that. Mine certainly was.
Okay, that all sounds kind of doom-and-gloom so let’s talk a little about credibility.
Credibility is really important because you always have an audience. And it’s the audience’s perception of your characteristics that matter. The reality is the perception. Your intention doesn’t count. All that counts is what the people you write or speak to perceive, not just about you but also about your message.
- If you are credible, you are persuasive.
- If you are persuasive, you have a chance of meeting your objectives.
This, in turn, starts getting testers ready to assume leadership (not necessarily management!) roles. As such, I think it’s important to look at credibility in terms of various dimensions. I’m not going to be terribly rigorous about this here; I just want to get a few ideas out there.
Passion and Enthusiasm Build Credibility
Your audience, in just about any context, can forgive a lot. Audiences will forgive a slight lapse in memory, a certain lack of eloquence, a certain amount of nervousness, and so on. What they won’t (and shouldn’t!) forgive is lack of enthusiasm. Because in that case you’ve bored them, which is another way of saying you wasted on of their most precious commodities: time. If you don’t appear to care, they won’t care. So that’s important: you must have passion (without zealotry) and enthusiasm (without mania) for what you are talking about. To have the passion and enthusiasm, you generally must have a good experience base for what you are talking about. The passion and enthusiasm comes because you have experience enough to know that what you are talking about works, makes sense, and is career-enhancing.
Your True Voice Builds Credibility
Here’s a key lesson I think everyone learns eventually: don’t become someone else just because you are speaking or writing. Be you. Be your voice. This is the same advice given to fiction writers as well as singers and dancers. The idea is to be the expression of what you want to convey. People will start to recognize your voice in things, just as many writers can recognize the “voice” of an author they particularly like.
Communication and Presentation Build Credibility
Personal and professional communication leads to effective presentation. Effective presentation leads to persuasive communication. I don’t think too much more about this need be said. People have to believe your message and for them to do that, they have to first understand it (effective communication) and then feel compelled by it (effective presentation).
Likability and Credibility
What’s often lost in all this is the component of having people genuinely like you. And here’s where the dark side can come in a bit, which I’ve always found fascinating.
If a person likes you, they’re far more open to your influence. They’ll be less sensitive to certain aspects of your ideas. They’re going to be more forgiving of certain things. Liking is based on emotions and emotions can distort valuations. That sounds bad but it can actually work in your favor. People who feel emotional towards you lack some of the ability to make clear, objective decisions.
So your job is to be likable but, as a credible person, your job is to make sure that people are in fact being persuaded to make decisions based on the most relevant information. As you can imagine, this approach can be abused. You can manipulate people to get what you want. However, you can also use this to guide or mentor people towards leadership wherein they focus on being those credible reporters of information.
Personal Credibility is Tied to Character
Character is the ability to follow through on a resolution after the enthusiasm with which the resolution was made has passed. The true measure of character is simply the capacity to follow through. Character is self-discipline in action. You can tell how much character you have by how willing you are to discipline yourself to make the sacrifices that are necessary in the short term to reap the benefits of the long term.
My last job, for a variety of reasons, was eroding my character and that really began to scare me. I saw no option save removing myself from that environment. However what all of this did is reinforce, in my mind, not only my feelings of importance towards personal credibility as an active strategy, but also my view of the ideas and tool solutions that I promote. I still have introspecting to do regarding how much and to what extent my own personal failings played a part in this credibility erosion.
This is particularly important to me because, as a blog writer, I do have to maintain some level of personal credibility with myself. It’s actually very hard for me to write articles because there’s an inherent notion of credibility that I have to maintain — but I need to believe that I’m truly doing so. People need to believe I care and that I have at least some inkling of what I’m talking about, even when it’s largely opinion-based. Periodic introspective posts like this are, I hope, yet one more way to establish that credibility.