Working Out Loud with The Boss

Generally, we work better and smarter, and our organizations are more transparent and collaborative, when we can work “out loud.” When we share work in progress with colleagues, they are better informed, and our work can inform their work. When we share what we don’t know, or mistakes we have made, we can learn in new ways and colleagues become invested in our work.  When our work becomes more visible within our organization, opportunities for collaboration can be found and time can be saved.

By reading the great Working Out Loud book by John Stepper, and bringing Working Out Loud circles to our organization to help make the lessons of Working Out Loud a meaningful practice and habit, our organization has begun to see culture and behavior change. People are more vulnerable. They are sharing more. They are not as afraid of mistakes as they once were. They are not as afraid of being vocal about what they don’t know. They want to be more collaborative, and are will to take risks to find opportunities for that collaboration.

I recently came across the video for one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen performances (yes, I am a big fan) from Leipzig, Germany in 2013. Now that I have been a student of Working Out Loud for several months, I see this video with a new perspective. I see that this performance is actually a master class in Working Out Loud.

Springsteen and his band had begun the practice of taking requests from the audience. Mostly, these requests were for songs from deep within the Springsteen catalog. Songs the band could easily plan upon request. But, every now and then, Springsteen would take the request for a song that the band had never played before, or had not played in decades.

Unbeknownst to him, Springsteen is leading a Working Out Loud mega-circle. It is as if he carefully studied the Five Elements of Working Out Loud, and brought them to life for a stadium audience of 35,000 people.

  1. Relationships are at the heart of Working Out Loud. The path to knowledge is via others.
    Immediately upon taking the request, Springsteen looks to his band mates to find a good key for the song. Right by his side is his lifelong friend and band mate Steve Van Zandt. Van Zandt frowns at the keys Springsteen is trying to play. They debate back and forth, in front of the audience, about how the song should be played. It is because of the relationship that Springsteen has with Van Zandt, and because of the relationship that Springsteen has with his audience, that he is able to be so transparent in how he works.
  2. Generosity. We are wired for reciprocal altruism. The currency of real networking is generosity.
    Springsteen could put on an excellent concert with a set list determined only by him, but he chooses to do otherwise. With a spirit of generosity and vulnerability, Springsteen asks the audience what they want the band to play, even if it’s not one of their songs. Through this generosity, Springsteen symbolically brings the audience on stage with him. They are now part of the band. Everyone is in this together.
  3. Visible work. Amplify who you are and what you do.
    Now, the audience and the band are working together, and we are truly seeing how “the sausage is made.” Springsteen hums a melody so the horns will know what to play. “Try it boys.” 35,000 people are watching. “Help us out crowd” as they hum the part along as the horns learn their part. Then, somehow the band all kicks in and they are rockin!
  4. Purposeful discovery. Having a learning goal in mind orients your activities.
    But it’s not enough to just play the song. Springsteen explores the corners of the song. He calls on members of the band to take impromptu solos. Piano, followed by trombone, followed by trumpet. Springsteen does not have a plan, but he invites the audience and the band to discover this song along with him.
  5. Growth mindset. Develop an open, curious approach to work and life.
    There are few artists as talented or successful as Bruce Springsteen. A millionaire many times over. He can play the same songs night after night, and he would continue to fill stadiums. But Springsteen wants more. Even at 64 years old at the time of this performance, Springsteen seeks to continue to grow as an artist. Pushing himself and his band to do more. To be more creative. To be more curious. Watch the band look at Bruce, and at each other, as they make their way through this Chuck Berry classic. They all seem a little scared and very amused, all at the same time. Where is this going? Who plays next? How will this end? Somehow, this all works. Together, the audience and the band grow a little closer together through this joyous, curious and generous approach to rock and roll.

Live on stage, with no plan in place, Bruce Springsteen works out loud. He makes his work visible. Relationships are developed through generosity. He and his band engage in purposeful discovery with a meaningful growth mindset. Bruce Springsteen. The E Street Band. 35,000 people. All working together.

As Springsteen says at the end  “…made it up out of nothing!”

6 Degrees of Working Out Loud

balancing

Many of us work on a precarious razor’s edge balancing a need for privacy and confidentiality on one hand, and the benefits and advantages of working openly and transparently on the other hand. Where can we find the most advantage? What will serve our needs, and the needs of our colleagues and organization the best?

But perhaps the razor’s edge is actually a mid point, and on either side is a continuum representing the way we work. On one end of the continuum is the beginning, a place where we all start, and on the other end is the place we want to work towards, the place where we want to be, so we will be most effective in our work and most beneficial for our career. Perhaps we can look at this as degrees of Working out Loud.

1st DEGREE: Never sharing
You are not working out loud. You keep everything to yourself. Your documents are kept in private folders, and your work product is only shared when necessary.

2nd DEGREE: Strategically sharing information with people in your team
You realize that some sharing needs to be done, but you do this sharing in a very carefully, strategic manner. Information is shared as necessary, and only when directed by your supervisor, or in a way that the work demands.

3rd DEGREE:  Regularly sharing information with people on your team
You work on a team, and you recognize that the only way a team works, and that work gets done in a way that is truly reflective of the skills and experience of everyone involved, is when work is shared as a matter of practice. Everyone is aware of what every other person is working on.

4th DEGREE: Sharing information with your team with a goal of more collaboration
It’s not enough that work is reported on. Your recognize that in order for sharing to be truly effective, that sharing must happen before the work is done in a way that encourages collaboration. You look for opportunities to bring other colleagues into your work while it is in progress. You are creating more trust at work every day.

5th DEGREE: Working transparently so teams throughout your organization are aware of your work.
Even more valuable than sharing work before its done is being transparent during the process of doing the work. You share your challenges, your questions, your revelations and your successes. Your colleagues become aware of your work, and the steps you have taken to learn what you have learned, and to accomplish what you have accomplished. You are knocking down walls and welcoming people in.

6th DEGREE: Regularly collaborating, sharing work before it is complete, encouraging transparency and openness throughout your organization.
You are now the bravest, and most productive person in the office. Pro-active transparency and de-facto collaboration behaviors are now a regular part of your work day. You consistently challenge yourself to make sure you are sharing whatever work can be shared, before that work is complete. You actively reach out to your colleagues who should be aware of your projects, and specific documents. They become an integral part of your work in progress. Real time is being saved. Economies of scale are being realized. Work is getting done faster.


Though the 6th degree is always a good goal, it is not necessarily where all work should be. When there is truly confidential information being developed, that should certainly not be open to others throughout the organization. It may very well be that, in the case of such sensitive matters, 1st or 2nd degree is the appropriate place to be.

That is not to suggest though that you shouldn’t challenge yourself. What should be shared? What can be shared? How can your transparency lead to more transparency, and more collaboration? These can sometimes be challenging changes to make, but the benefits can be rewarding for your professionally, and for your whole organization.

So maybe step away from the razor’s edge. Step carefully towards that 6th degree. Realize the personal and professional benefits of being more transparent, and of collaborating with more intent, strategy and regularity. Be the bravest person in the room.

The Power of Empathetic Leadership

On the evening of June 3, 2017, a van was driven into a crowd of people walking across London Bridge. Eight people were killed, 48 people were injured. The three men in the van were all killed.

This attack came less than two weeks after 23 people were killed and 119 people were injured at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.

In less than 14 days, England was struck twice by terrorist attacks. A total of 31 people were killed and 167 people were injured, many of them seriously.

Less than 48 hours after the London Bridge attack, United States President Donald Trump Tweeted criticism of how the mayor of London responded to the attack:

Capture

After two brutal attacks in England, President Trump thought that more should be done to prevent further attacks, and that the citizens of London should, in fact, be alarmed. They should be doing everything they can to prevent further attacks, and the mayor was wrong (in President Trump’s opinion) to suggest anything less.

Today as I write this, it is June 14th, 2017, only 11 days after the second attack. What must it like to be in England right now? What causes alarm and concern on a crowded street? How do people react when they hear an unexpected, loud noise? How do parents talk to their children about being safe, vigilant and caring?

In the hours after the London Bridge attack when the city was still scared, still trying to figure out exactly what happened, when people may have still been trying to learn if their loved ones were alive or not, I wish President Trump had shown empathy rather than anger and indignation.

Empathy, though, can be difficult. In order to be empathetic, we need to put aside our own feelings,  interests and opinions, and imagine we in  the shoes of someone else. What are their concerns? Their interests, their fears? What do they want?

Practicing a little empathy myself, I imagine that President Trump saw what happened in London, and didn’t want the same thing happening in the United States. I imagine he wanted to assure American citizens that he would react to a similar attack with strength, power and decisiveness. I also imagine he wanted to use the events in London as an opportunity to forward his own agenda of banning citizens of Muslim countries from entering the United States.

However, if President Trump had taken the time to exercise empathy, I like to think he would have recognized that Mayor Khan, seeing his city lost in chaos and fear, realized the very best thing he could do was to help make the people of London feel a little bit safer, and little bit more calm. More police were being deployed throughout the city, and Mayor Khan wanted the people of London to know he and his government was doing everything they could do to keep everyone safe.

When we are truly being empathetic, we are taking the time to consider another person’s point of view. Whether you are Tweeting about world affairs, or making a Facebook post about a party you just attended, take a moment to ask yourself what is the situation of the other person? Are they happy? Proud? Scared? Suspicious? Eager? Though we can never guarantee to accurately guess what someone else may be thinking, we can use our experiences and what we know about the other person to make a pretty good guess.

When we are in someone else’s shoes, we are on the “other” side. We can see things we did not see before. There is newfound transparency, and we can see a perspective and truth we could have never seen before.

Maybe we even sacrifice a bit of our own interest as empathy puts the interests and concerns of another person before your own. For instance, if President Trump imagined he was in Mayor Khan’s position, he may have instead Tweeted:

Capture

Or, if President Trump still wanted to forward his own agenda while being empathetic, he could have Tweeted:

Capture

When we are empathetic, we are communicating with generosity and transparency. We break down walls because we can imagine how other people feel, and we find ourselves sharing their hopes and concerns. When our leaders are empathetic, the benefits extend to larger groups, like departments, teams, cities, states and countries.

Actions and words have real power and impact. Let those words be words of empathy.

*The first Tweet shown above was posted by Donald Trump on June 5th, 2017. The 2nd and third Tweets are fake, which I produced on https://faketrumptweet.com/. 

“One tattered copy of the ‘Working Out Loud’ book began to make its way around the office.”

“I think we should do Working Out Loud circles.”

Naturally, my boss and our Director of Human Resources wanted to know more. I told them I had recently read the book Working Out Loud (WOL) by John Stepper, and how it helps us set and achieve goals in a group support setting by learning new habits using 21st century technology.

We talked about how each group would be 4-6 people, and would meet one hour a week for 12 weeks. They expressed support for the idea, and encouraged me to move forward. I later learned they did not really understand the idea, but agreed to let me go ahead and give this a try. Pretty cool.

We announced Working Out Loud through our Enterprise Social Yammer network, and I shared some basic information about what we would be taking about in a WOL circle, and what we would be doing. Five people signed up, and we were on our way.

Some people, however, were lingerers. They were interested, but they did not express interest in time for our first group to begin, so the next month we began another group. For a number of weeks, 10 people in two WOL groups learned about being more collaborative and transparent. They pursued a goal with the support of colleagues and friends. They learned new skills and new habits. Our WOL participants went from being acquaintances to being friends.

And then, the circles came to an end.

But, WOL had made a real impact. People were sharing in ways that they hadn’t before. New relationships had been formed. WOL was referred to in meetings. “Well, as we learned in WOL, we can achieve more impact if this project is shared more widely.” One tattered copy of the Working Out Loud book began to make its way around the office.

LESSBorrowShareBook_webcolor

When time came to announce our next series of WOL circles, 20 people signed up right away, and now these 20 additional people were experiencing the process of learning new habits and achieving important goals in four new circles. Working Out Loud truly had succeeded in a meaningful way.

I believe we have had the success we have had because so much of the way WOL has spread has been organic in nature.

  1. I had an idea that I brought to my boss. My boss did not ask for case studies, and HR did not ask for outside references. We did not discuss financial models. I was not asked to submit formal proposals to be approved by various managers. They just said “Yes.”
  2. We did not, in any way, compel staff to participate in WOL. It was completely “opt-in,” and the time and work that WOL necessitates was completely supported by executive leadership.
  3. Word of mouth spread, on its own. People talked to each other about their experiences. Executives heard about WOL from their staff. People wanted to experience what their colleagues and friends had enjoyed so much.

We did not exactly know what we would be getting with Working Out Loud, and we certainly did not know how to encourage people to participate. Much to our surprise, we didn’t have to. Working Out Loud did that on its own.

Working Out Loud Success through the lens of Yammer Analytics

I confess. I was selfish. I was only thinking of myself.

When I suggested that we introduce Working Out Loud at my workplace, yes…I was thinking about how my colleagues could achieve meaningful goals, and how they could improve their career or personal life, but those were not my only concerns. Mostly, I was thinking about how Working Out Loud could help our Yammer networks.

Our staff has been using Yammer for almost three years to communicate and collaborate internally in a home network, and with members of our organization in an external network. While staff Yammer adoption was strong enough, I recognized it could be stronger. And maybe, if through Working Out Loud we could better appreciate the value of sharing information and working in a collaborative platform, our Yammer engagement rates would grow even stronger.

circles

Recently, a member of one of our Working Out Loud Circles made a comment about a post I had made in our home network regarding Yammer engagement rates as found in Swoop, our Yammer analytics platform. She had come across my post while doing research in support of her Working Out Loud goal, and was amazed to realize how much our engagement levels supported the overall goals of Working out Loud, which encourages people to network, leading with generosity, and to make work visible, and framed as a contribution.

Swoop Analytics sets every user’s Yammer activity in the context of any one of five different engagement personas, or levels. While there is no incorrect engagement persona for a user to have, the overall goal is to achieve the highest “Engager” level,  which means you are asking questions on your Yammer network, sharing information and staying connected to people.

If someone is making posts less than twice a week, and they don’t reply to anyone else, their personal level is “OBSERVER.”

A “BROADCASTER” makes more posts than they receive replies. A lot of information is pushed out. Additionally, they don’t often reply to other peoples’ posts.

Along the same lines “RESPONDER” makes many more contributions than they receive replies, but their contributions are usually replies, likes and posts. They are a bit more engaged than their “broadcaster” colleagues.

Now, the pendulum begins to swing a bit. A “CATALYST” receives more replies than they make contributions. They are making posts that people care about, and they are inspiring people to action.

Rather than necessarily being the most active user, the “ENGAGER” has an even balance of contributions and replies. They post, they click the “like” button, they reply, they are interacting with people, and people are interacting with them.

All these levels refer to Yammer activity, but they also make perfect sense when looking at them in the context of Working Out Loud.

Observe

We are going to experience less Working Out Loud success and growth if we only “OBSERVE” what is happening. If we never reach out to people, if we never have anything to share, if we never express our appreciation, we will make little progress in sharing information, or connecting to more people.

A key part of Working Out Loud that when we network, we do so leading with generosity. We consider first what we have to share, rather than that which we might receive. Sometimes that means we broadcast the information we each have. We share what we know. But, if we only broadcast, if we only push out, we are not letting very much back in. We are not learning.

If we are Working Out Loud at a “RESPONDER” level, that means we are probably not being very proactive. We are only doing what we have to do, and we are not being thoughtful about what we have to share or how we might be able to help others.

When we are at the “CATLYST” level working at a level where we are actively reading the posts of others, and we are sharing information that people care about, and information that people respond to.

Solidarité-internationale_guidedelamobilitéFinally, when we are Working Out Loud at the “ENGAGER” level, we are networking with a true spirit of generosity and empathy. We care about the information that people are sharing, and people care about the information we are sharing. We “like” the posts that we see, we comment on how the information has helped us, and we share the information with others in our network.

In turn, others are “liking” the information we share. Our network is growing, and together with our contacts, we are learning new things and we see real, meaningful improvement in our life both at home and at work.

Working Out Loud has indeed helped our Yammer networks to grow,  but only when we use our analytics are we able to truly understand the key ingredients to that growth, and to understanding how Yammer really can help us find a true level of connection, transparency, engagement and success.with our colleagues and members of our organization.

Working Out Loud: The End

week12

I shared the following message with our Working Out Loud group this week:

Tomorrow.
Tomorrow is our last meeting.
Tomorrow we continue the learning.
Tomorrow we discuss our accomplishments, what we have learned, and how we have incorporated WOL into our lives.
Tomorrow we share our challenges. What did not work, what did not go as planned, what else we wish we had time for.
Tomorrow we make plans for the future.
Tomorrow.

When our group first met 12 weeks ago, we were colleagues. Though we all knew each other, most of us were not close friends. But, as soon as Working Out Loud began (only about halfway through our first meeting!), we all became tightly connected to one another. We shared challenges, we were vulnerable with one another, and we all became deeply invested in one another’s success.

When our group first met 12 weeks ago, not everyone was even sure what Working Out Loud was all about. But, people trusted the process, and made a commitment to learning and participating.

  • “While I had NO idea what the heck this was about, I took a leap of faith to experiment and explore and I am glad I did! It opened a whole new way in bringing intentional thought to personal goals and did so with the help, encouragement and trusting conversations from our WOL Circle.”
  • “I too took a leap of faith and pushed myself out of my comfort zone and feel blessed and honored to have connected with such outstanding colleagues who are now friends. Each of us is growing and connecting our sacred work and our lives in new ways…both within and with each other.”
  • “WOL is now a sacred part of my week! I’m grateful to have this opportunity to connect with colleagues across the organization in such a unique way and working towards my personal goal has brought focus to other areas of my work (and life).”

We had goals in mind, but we did not have a clear idea about how those goals might be achieved. We worked together. We followed the excellent circle guides created by John Stepper, and we all made meaningful progress. We supported one another, challenged one another, and celebrated with one another.

This is not to say Working Out Loud is not without its challenges. Time must be found outside of meetings to pursue goals, and grow relationship lists. We read books and we read blog posts. TedTalks were watched. We researched, we wrote emails, we sent tweets and we made posts. We committed to our goal, and we found ways to pursue that goal every week for 12 weeks.

But every person in the group found some level of success. Everyone made new connections, learned valuable new skills and developed habits that will serve them well as their learning and networking continues. Some group members are even talking about doing Working Out Loud again, as they feel they want to experience the process again.

Sadly, not everyone in our group could join our last conversation, as holidays and vacations conflicted with our meeting. So, we agreed that our meeting today was Part 1, and we will have Part 2 of the meeting once everyone has returned to work. While it would have been nice to have everyone on the call, I think it will be nice to be able to reflect with everyone after a couple of weeks have gone by. Will we still be using our newfound skills? Will we still be making connections? Will we still be Working Out Lod?

When we first met 12 weeks ago, we did not know what Working Out Loud was. Today, the six of us are connected by an incredibly positive shared experience. We have learned new skills, and we have made positive changes to our work lives and personal lives.

12 weeks seems like so long ago.

Working Out Loud: Week 11, The Week I Missed

week11

A Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle meets one hour a week for 12 weeks. As Working Out Loud author John Stepper points out in his circle guides, this may feel daunting, but it actually represents only 2% of your time. When we commit this one hour a week, we give ourselves the opportunity to create new habits within a fixed period of time. We know we won’t get burned out. We know the end is in sight, only 12 weeks down the road.

But, our lives are busy, and other commitments may conflict with our WOL meetings, despite our best efforts to keep that a “sacrosanct” time. I was out of town this week for several days of meetings, and for the first time, I missed a WOL meeting. Though I was very sorry to miss the time with my group, as we meet regularly using Zoom video conferencing software, the meeting was easily recorded and shared in our private Yammer group for later viewing.

It was a long week away from home, but upon my return I was able to settle in and watch the meeting recording. Usually, I dread the prospect of having to watch a recorded meeting or webinar, but watching my WOL friends and colleagues talk about their goals, their challenges and victories was a real joy. I felt oddly detached and closely connected, all at the same time.

It occurred to me that these people I was watching started WOL only as work colleagues, and now one could only surmise they were all dear, lifelong friends. They were laughing, sharing intimate insights, and encouraging and challenging each other throughout the entire conversation.

It was a real joy to see how far along we have all come. The assumption is that after 12 weeks, we will have developed new habits and be thinking in new ways, and watching the meeting recording, I found this to absolutely be the case. People are blogging, people are connecting with contacts in new, innovative ways, their work and personal lives are being changed for the better through what they have learned in WOL.

It was a real joy to not facilitate the meeting. Don’t get me wrong, I love facilitating WOL conversations, but after facilitating this group for 10 weeks, I was so happy to see the momentum easily continue in my absence. Other participants stepped right in, they kept the conversation on track, and they prepared for the next meeting.

It was a real joy to be tested. Yes, tested. The meeting was liberally peppered with information my WOL colleagues insisted I report back to them to show that yes, I had indeed watched the recording. I love this. It mattered to them that I was not there, it mattered to them that I keep up with the group, and it mattered to them that I continue to learn along with them.

It was a real joy to know that although I missed the meeting this week, I was able to continue making meaningful progress in my goal. Through connections made online and in person, the work of Working Out Loud continues.

Although it is just 2% of your time, one hour a week for 12 weeks is a serious commitment, and from time to time, meetings will need to be missed. But a missed week does not mean missed opportunities. Stay connected to the group, stay connected to the goal, and before you know it, week 12 will be here!