The contribution checklist

In looking for ways to make working out loud even simpler and more convenient inside organizations, we’re going to try an experiment: The Contribution Checklist. We’re going to create as many variations of this checklist as we can, and we’re going to hand it out to everyone who’ll take one.

I think this could be huge, and here’s why.

Check

Check

The core idea

At the heart of working out loud is building relationships based on contributions. Remember the three questions you ask in a Working Out Loud circle:

What am I trying to accomplish?

Who can help me?

How can I contribute to them to deepen the relationship?

For that third question, something to keep in mind is that your contributions vary in terms of the effort to create them, the value to the recipient, and the depth of the relationship.

For example, say you introduce a friend to someone who can help them with a specific problem. That doesn’t take much effort, has a lot of value to the recipient, and feels appropriate given the intimacy level of your relationship.

Now say you wash your CEO’s car. That takes a lot of effort, isn’t worth much to your CEO, and might seem odd if they’ve never even heard your name before.

Relationship Depth and Contributions

Relationship Depth and Contributions

The general guide

To help people inside the workplace, a checklist (which is based off of contributions in When you want to get promoted) will serve as a handy guide.

Currently we have 10 types of contributions, starting with the simplest contributions that advance the relationship slightly to contributions that take more time to create but can be much more valuable and meaningful.

1. Connect: establish a connection with a person online, typically by following them on a social platform or subscribing to their updates.

2. Show appreciation: Recognition and appreciation are “universal gifts” that Dale Carnegie wrote about in How to Win Friends and Influence People. It could be a Like button or a public “thank you” or giving someone credit for their good work.

3. Share learning: Sharing interesting content and the work of others you admire are low-risk, low-cost contributions that can help others. Feedback on your contributions can further your own learning.

4. Connect the dots: Take something you found valuable and help spread it to other individuals or groups that might find it useful by @-mentioning it or sending it to them directly.

5. Ask a question: When done well, this takes more time. While vulnerability can be a gift, you want to frame your question as a contribution instead of a burden. That might include showing how you tried to get the answer before asking, offering recognition and appreciation for help, and ensuring the answer is available in such a way that it can help others.

6. Answer a question: This helps the person asking and anyone else who benefits from your answer in the future. When you answer questions in an informal, humble way, it also burnishes your reputation as someone who is knowledgable and helpful.

7. Offer feedback: Here you’re trying to build on the work someone else has done in a way that credits the person’s original work while also helping others. The gift is constructive feedback that advances the work, and your feedback may also include appreciation or a question.

8. Share your experience: Reflect on your work. What have you learned - from both failures and successes - that might help others? For example, this could be resources you find useful or techniques you’ve found effective. Frame it in a way it feels less like “Look at me!” and more like “I thought you might be interested in this.”

9. Offer original ideas: Beyond reflecting on what has been done, you can imagine what might be done in the future and frame that as a contribution. What opportunities do you see for improvement of some kind and what are your constructive ideas? Credit other people and build on their work wherever possible.

10. Connect a purposeful group: One of the most powerful contributions is connecting people who care about a particular topic and enabling them to work together on some positive change. It could be a working group that’s focused on a particular problem or a community of practice where members are interested in getting better individually and advancing the practice overall. You don’t manage the group but rather lead based on your contributions and your ability to encourage and empower others to contribute too.

The checklist & putting the idea into practice

The list above is still just a general guide. To create the checklists, we’re working with experts in different areas and using real examples. Over time, we may have one checklist per division, per subdivision, or even per group, making the contributions ever more specific. By referencing familiar people and projects, we’ll  make it easier for a given group to practice making contributions immediately.

As we create these checklists, we’ll distribute them at every career development event we host, starting with the next one in mid-June. We’ll hand them to people in the Working Out Loud circles that are spreading. We’ll post them online so that anyone can reference them and improve on them. We’ll give them to new employees so they can start building a purposeful network - and be more productive - on their very first day.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande provided compelling examples of how something as simple as a checklist improved healthcare, air travel, construction, and a wide range of businesses. Now we’ll apply it to working out loud - something that’s better for the individual and better for the firm.