Working out loud: Getting started

Getting started When it comes to career opportunities, working out loud is the great equalizer. It enables everyone to demonstrate what they can do and opens up access to people and possibilities. It’s not just for senior management or for extroverts. If you work, then working out loud is for you.

But many people still don’t know where to begin. So here’s a set of simple steps I use to help people get started. This simple progression, combined with deliberate practice, can help anyone make their work more effective and more fulfilling.

The basics: reading and writing

While it seems everyone is comfortable using the internet at home, many people, particularly at large firms, simply don’t know how to use the internet for work. At the office, their main tools might be email, meetings, a notebook, and their own computer. And they’re so busy - and so used to how they work - that they simply don’t know what else is available.

So the first thing we show someone is how to find relevant people and content. This is easy if you use a collaboration platform at work like Jive or Sharepoint. But we’ll also help them find useful blogs, LinkedIn groups, and people on Twitter. They’re almost always surprised at the richness of what’s available and how easy it is to find it.

Basic capabilities Finding relevant people & content
Putting your work where others can see it

The other basic capability they’ll need is to find a place to put their work. Many people still store their work in a private space (a notebook, a local drive). We show them how they can put much of that in a place (typically their firm’s collaboration platform) where others can see it, discuss it, share it, and build on it. And we show them examples of how this openness can improve everything from meeting agendas and minutes to presentations and policies.

This won’t change anything yet, but it’s enough to show them that other ways of working are readily available.

Making it easy

If you want to change behavior, you need to make it convenient. Sometimes, the biggest barriers to change can be removed with a few simple adjustments.

Convenience Make it part of your environment
Make it part of your routine

The first adjustments we make are to the person’s work environment. We’ll change their default home page, for example, so their collaboration platform is only one click away. We’ll make sure their mobile device is set up and has the right apps in a convenient spot. We’ll put a physical reminder - “Work out loud!” - on their monitor. These simple nudges make a big difference.

Then we schedule time to work out loud. For executives it might be as little as 15 minutes a week. For others, it might be an hour a day. Once it’s scheduled, they don’t have to think about it. They have an appointment with themselves for building the skills they need to work in a better way.

Making generosity a habit

What exactly do they do with that regularly scheduled time? Most people I speak to are daunted by the idea of a blog or even a status update. (Senior people who manage thousands have told me “You’ll never get me to blog!” or “I don’t know what to say.”) So we take small steps and show them how some simple actions can help them achieve their goals while also making their work more fulfilling.

The first and most important lesson is to help them frame their work as a contribution, as a gift to others. This idea of “leading with generosity” is critically important to working out loud. You shape your reputation through your contributions and the public feedback they attract, not by promoting yourself. And leading with generosity is also the best way to build relationships.

Then we start with a simple one-click gift - Like-ing someone else’s contribution - and we slowly build from there.

Habitual Generosity Giving feedback by Like-ing
Giving feedback by commenting
Sharing content
Connecting people
Creating your own original gifts

We show them how a single click can be a sign of appreciation as well as public  reinforcement of work or behaviors they value. Their first comment might be a public “Thank you” or “Well done”. These simple steps demonstrate that the person is listening and participating, that they’re willing to engage. And this openness, in turn, makes it easier for others to contribute.

Next, we help people narrate what they’re doing: who they’re meeting with, what they’re reading, what they’re working on, what they’re learning. Such contributions, even  if they’re only a sentence or two, inevitably lead to other relevant people and content. In a short time, people learn - by doing - how their own contributions help them discover people and content that’s useful for their work.

We continue up this gradient, gradually helping people make more significant contributions. Putting project materials online. Sharing drafts of works in progress. Articulating their opinions. Sometimes it’s just a gift with no expected return. And sometimes, many times, those gifts attract interest and expertise, making the work better.

Changing behavior

It took me years to learn that verbal persuasion and the one-off tutorial don't change much.

To change people’s behavior, you need a more comprehensive approach, tapping into all the sources of influence. You need to immerse them in the activity so they can learn by doing. You need to give them small, achievable goals so they become increasingly confident. And you need to provide immediate, relevant feedback so they can get better quickly.

There are more advanced techniques for working out loud, but getting started is the most important step and often the hardest.

Helping people take that step is extremely rewarding. I love seeing the joy people experience when they get public recognition from something they’ve contributed. The glint in their eye when they realize they have a voice and they have control. And the hope they have when they ask me “What’s next?”.