Working Out Loud: the 12-week program

12 weeks - enough time to develop the habit of working in a more open, connected way In trying to help people work out loud, I’ve tried a variety of techniques. I wrote getting started guides and stories of people who did it. I gave presentations at work and one-on-one career insurance sessions. I even taught a 3-month course.

None of this produced much change. People seemed to like the idea of working out loud, but only a small percentage of people started working differently. For most people, it was just too hard to change work habits.

Recently, though, I’ve been using an approach that helps people actually change. It’s a work in progress (yes, I’m working out loud about working out loud), and your feedback can make it better.

The problem

Most people have one or more issues that prevent them from working out loud and building a purposeful network. Here are the ones I see over and over again.

  1. They don’t have time.
  2. They don’t know how to start.
  3. They don’t know which people to connect with.
  4. They don’t know how to connect with people.
  5. They don’t have a system for connecting or contributing.

After all the time I’ve spent trying to persuade or teach or inspire people, I finally realized what people really need is help. Help to do the things I was writing about and help changing their habits so they could do those things regularly.

The 12-week program

The program is really just structured, one-on-one coaching in which I help people apply the same principles I taught in the course I mentioned (“Building a Purposeful Social Network”). It's by helping people work out loud consistently over 12 weeks that I help them develop new habits. And those habits result in a more open, connected approach to work that’s both sustainable and fulfilling.

The first step is a one-hour meeting where I get to know the person better and we frame a goal. Some might want more recognition in their company. Others might want to explore other possibilities in a different field or in a different location. We also talk about their experience with social tools and with writing about their work.

Based on that first conversation, I lay out 12 weeks that, based on their skills and their goal, help them build a network and publish more about their ideas, their work, and their learning. Then, we’ll meet once a week for 12 weeks. I may also help them with specific situations in between meetings.

Generally, the first week or two are about reading and exploring online. Some simple things to get the started: finding content relevant to their goal; updating their own online profiles; thinking of people relevant to their goal and finding them online (Twitter, LinkedIn, or a blog if they have one).

The rest of the program is largely about 2 things.

What we do each week

The two things we work on each week are connections and contributions. Pretty quickly, we develop their first relationship list - people relevant to their purpose. It may not be a long list, but we always come up with at least a few specific people. Sometimes they know their name (“Sue is the head of my department”) and sometimes just their role (“someone at Company X who does what I do”).

Then each week we work the list. For everyone on the list, I help the person I’m coaching answer the question “What do I have to offer that can further develop the relationship?” Although I’ve written about how to get started and about things we all have to offer, it’s actually practicing generosity with specific people in specific contexts that seems to make all the difference. (When we don’t have a name for the person we want to connect with, then I help them think of networks they can leverage to find out the name.)

Each time I help someone work their list for the first time, they start to see the many ways they can connect with others via contribution. And they tend to have a similar reaction: “I never thought of it that way before.” Week after week, they get better and more creative, adding more people and tapping into new possibilities they simply didn’t see earlier.

By the 4th week, we start to work on their writing. Working out loud, after all, is about making your work - your ideas, your passions, your learning - visible and discoverable. Very few people write regularly, so I help them see how they can turn what they’re working on and learning into written contributions that can help people in their growing network. Then we use those contributions as we work on their relationship lists.

Over the 12 weeks, we make adjustments as we go. Depending on the person and how they're progressing, we might spend more time on writing skills or on a better system for managing their time and their relationship lists.

Yes, it’s working! And...

The way the program is structured addresses the top barriers associated with changing any habit: it gives people a simple way to start, structures their time, helps them think more deeply about relationships, and provides support while they practice consistently. After just a few weeks, the people I coach seem to develop new ways of looking at themselves and their work as well as how they can contribute to and connect with others.

I’m excited to see more people take control of their careers and do so in a way that’s authentic and fulfilling. And yet I know my approach is incomplete and that personalized coaching has many issues. (I can’t possibly coach 100,000 people at my firm, for example, never mind the millions I hope to help over time.) So I’ll keep working with individuals while I ask for feedback on ways to make the approach more effective and scalable.

What do you think? What would you do differently? How can we help more people work out loud and take control of their careers?