Working Out Loud, First Steps


I am in the very earliest stages of implementing Working Out Loud (WOL) circles at my organization, and even though we have yet to formally launch our first circle, I have already learned a lot.

A Working Out Loud circle is a group of peers/colleagues that meets for one hour, once a week for 12 weeks. We each establish a goal for ourselves, and together we ask ourselves, and try to answer, three questions.

  1. What am I trying to do?
  2. Who is related to my goal?
  3. How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?

After reading Working Out Loud by John Stepper, I immediately recognized how much I could personally gain by being involved in a circle, and I thought my friends and colleagues at work would have a lot to gain as well. Additionally, as the administrator of our internal and external Yammer networks, I had hoped that WOL circles would bring more familiarity and comfort with our technology platform.

Supervisor Support: Though WOL circles often begin organically, I wanted to be sure I first had the support of senior leadership and HR. This meant that nothing would be a potentially unhappy surprise, and that WOL could be introduced with full management support and cooperation.

Announcement: I work on a large team at my organization, and my supervisor encouraged me to introduce WOL during an all team meeting, after which I posted information to our team group in Yammer, which is public to all staff at our organization. Our staff Yammer network has slowly become a meaningful part work culture over the last couple of years, and sharing this news in a group that was visible to everyone was instrumental in helping ensure that staff members throughout the organization felt connected to WOL, even if they chose not to participate.

Response: I didn’t know what to wish for. On one hand, I wanted lots of people to express  interest in WOL circles. On the other hand, I wanted to be the coordinator of the group so I could see first hand how WOL circles actually worked, and I knew I had neither the time nor the bandwidth to be involved in more than one circle.

Initially, we had three people from my team express interest. Then, we had another person from another team express interest. We are advised that a WOL circle should have no more tan 3-5 participants, so I was all set. Perfect! Then, we had one more person express interest. OK, so we will go with 6 for our first circle.

Technology: I want WOL circle participants to become more comfortable with Yammer through their WOL activities, and so I modified the WOL circle guides so we would create and share information in a Yammer group private to our WOL circle participants. John Stepper, the very person who developed the idea of WOL circles, advised me not to do that, making the excellent point that technology can sometimes be a barrier to participants’ full participation.

However, many of our organizations’ teams are now doing work in Yammer, and we are also working to actively engage almost 8,000 of our constituents in an external Yammer network. The potential of our WOL circle participants becoming more familiar with Yammer is an opportunity I just can’t pass up. Also, now that Word files can be created natively in Yammer will make it particularly easy for people to work in the group. I hope it will work, but if not, I will gladly make public amends to John.

Goals: I created a private Yammer group, and uploaded the first few circle guides. I invited participants into the group, and we started to communicate about a time to meet each week that would work for everyone. I was thrilled when I received a private message from one of the group members. “I already know what my goal is. I can’t wait to start!”

We will begin to meet after the first of the year. Feels like we are on our way.




A Classic, from Just Down the Street

aa50f6a2The centerpiece of my teenage room was my stereo. I had a killer turntable with a receiver, a dual tape deck and beautiful sounding speakers on either side of  my bed. Behind my turntable were two milk crates, stacked on top of one another, holding my 250 record albums.

The first album I really remember listening to was The Beatles Greatest Hits, 1962-1966. I couldn’t believe the joy of “Eight Days a Week.” The opening chord of “Hard Day’s Night” almost took my breath away. “And I Love Her” was mysterious and sad.

I couldn’t wait to come home after school every day and play this music. I stood in front of my mirror, hairbrush in hand pretending it was a microphone, and lip-synced to the songs. I learned every word. I imagined I was on stage, performing to a crowd of thousands. I was locked in, and this music made me feel good. This music made me feel connected. This music made me happy, and I sung in front of that mirror, holding that hairbrush as my microphone, for many years to follow.

Fast forward to June of 2005, and my daughters and I were driving around, running errands on a beautiful spring afternoon. We were listening to WXRT (the finest radio station in Chicago), and they were doing a live broadcast. A new band was introduced who was going to be performing a song live. The Redwalls. I had never heard of the band, and I was only half listening as I was trying to enjoy the day with my daughters.

But the easy strum of the acoustic guitar caught my attention. And then they began to sing…”These days it feels as though, I’ve lived a lonely lifetime.” The rest of the band fell in, singing perfect harmony behind the lead singer, and they were immediately reminiscent of The Beatles. The more I listened to the album I eventually bought, De NovaI realized that this group sounded like The Beatles not because they were trying to sound like The Beatles, but rather because sounding like The Beatles were just who they were. They were being sincere without mimicking. They were honoring without copying.

I became even more intrigued when I learned that this band came from the town next door to the town where I grew up. We grew up on the same streets. We went to the same schools. Though much younger than me, I imagine they too listened to The Beatles as kids, that they stood in front of the the mirror, that they pretended they were on stage. But, unlike me, they turned their rock and roll fantasies into reality. They learned how to play guitar. They could actually sing. Listening to The Beatles with different ears than I did, they understood the harmonies and the songwriting, and how to make something contemporary that connects to treasured music and memories from our shared past.

“Falling Down” is a song John Lennon could have absolutely written about the ridiculousness of the FCC in the wake of Janet Jackson’s performance at the Superbowl.  “Love Her” is an infectious, almost anthemic guitar driven, foot stomping good time, and “Glory of War” counts down to a campfire anti-war singalong . The songs are deceptively simple, but this is a rock band that is having fun while making excellent rock and roll songs evocative of a time long ago.

Sadly, The Redwalls didn’t make it. They were dropped by their record label, recorded another album that lacked the charm and enthusiasm of the first album, and disbanded around 2010.

The Redwalls were brothers Justin and Logan Baren, Andrew Langer and Jordan Kozer. I don’t know what any of them are doing now, but I hope they are proud. I hope their families are proud of them. I hope they still make music today, because not too long ago, they made a great album.


Embrace the Complaint

487527403I manage a Yammer enterprise social network for a large, religious non-profit organization. Some members of our network are employees, but most are volunteers and members of the organization. Our engagement rates tell us that many people use our Yammer network regularly, and are able to find useful information and networking opportunities.

This is not to imply that everyone is happy. We currently have 8,000 users, and we do get reports of users who experience trouble accessing the network and navigating their way to the specific information they are hoping to find. When people are experiencing difficulties, our staff is always there to help quickly, kindly and completely.

Recently one of our users was experiencing trouble with the platform and made a post on Facebook saying that our network was “so awful.” Several of his 3,000 Facebook friends made posts in agreement.

This was terrific!

It was terrific because now I knew. It was terrific because if this post was not made in this public way, I would have been unaware of the trouble these specific users were having. It was terrific because I could now take proactive steps to help. If the complaints were only made in a private email, I never would have known, and the problems would remain unaddressed. Now, I could take some proactive steps towards resolution.

  1. I responded in the Facebook discussion how sorry I was to see such unhappy comments and to reassure people that we continue to be available for help and support.
  2. I called the person who made the post. We had a good conversation, and have scheduled an online call where I look forward to helping resolve the problems this user was experiencing with our network.
  3. I sent direct, private messages to many people who responded to the original comment offering direct help and support so they can feel better about the platform.
  4. Many people reached out to me directly in response to the Facebook post to let me know how happy they are with the platform, and how appreciative they are of the good work we are doing.

There are always going to be complaints. That’s OK. But too often those complaints stay hidden in private conversations and private emails where nothing can be fixed, and no issues can be resolved.

Embrace the negative feedback when it appears. Shine a light on it. Express appreciation for it. Recognize the opportunity you have been given, and let the negative feedback work for you. Fix the problem. Provide great customer service. Encourage others to share their feedback as well.