Why Are So Many German Companies Interested In Working Out Loud?

It doesn’t fit the stereotype, does it? When I speak to German audiences, they’ll tell me that Germans are different. They aren’t into self-promotion, for example, and they tend to be more mindful of the corporate hierarchy. They'll say they're not comfortable asking questions or showing work in progress lest it make them seem less competent. So why would they want to spread the practice of Working Out Loud?

WOL in Germany

WOL in Germany

What the Germans want

What German companies want, it turns out, is what every company wants. They want to be more agile, to learn from mistakes and leverage successes, to spread good ideas and practices more quickly. They feel that having employees who work out loud can help them achieve these things.

What German people want is, despite the cultural differences, similar to what human beings around the world want. They share the universal intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and they feel working out loud can give them more control over their work and life while increasing their access to learning and their sense of connectedness.

So far, German companies in banking, manufacturing, and telecommunications have started spreading Working Out Loud circles, including interest from HR and Communications departments as well as individuals.

But why is Germany ahead of some other countries?

The way it started 

The explanation has little to do with national proclivities and more to do with a few inspired, committed people. A few individuals had read about working out loud and wanted to learn more. A dozen or so of them from a diverse set of companies decided to meet, and they invited me to join via video.

That meeting was like a pebble in a pond, spreading ripples across companies that brought us all into contact with more possibilities.

First, people at the meeting formed circles among themselves. (My friend Barbara, who’s featured in Working Out Loud, was one of those people and recently wrote about the experience in both German and English.) The circles spanned companies, and some individuals then decided to spread circles at their firm.

One of the companies was Bosch, a firm that's among the most-respected global manufacturers and, with 300,000 people, the world’s largest private firm. Katharina Pershke, Cornelia Heinke, and the Bosch team adapted all the Working Out Loud materials for use on their intranet and started spreading circles. Kathrin Schmidt heroically translated all the guides into German.

A few months later, I was heading to Stuttgart for a conference, and the team invited me to speak at their firm. We held events for hundreds of people, even broadcasting an event to other countries, and that led to more circles and more ideas.

An exciting and inspiring #wol day comes to an end. Thanks to everybody #wolbosch@johnstepper@HeinkeCorneliapic.twitter.com/JwZ35rskJ5

— Katharina Perschke (@Katha_Pe) November 4, 2015

What’s next?

The ripples kept on spreading. The Bosch team talked with people at other companies in Germany, sharing the materials and their learning. That led to more connections and more opportunities to collaborate on spreading working out loud. It also led to ideas for different ways to apply Working Out Loud and ways to measure benefits for both the individual and the firm.

It’s still early, of course, but the German companies interested in spreading Working Out Loud collectively employ over a million people.

It shows how a few committed, passionate people inside companies can start a movement - and can make a difference far beyond what most of us might dare to imagine.