A Working Out Loud Conference in December(?)

A few months ago, a group of companies in Germany met for a day to exchange how they might help spread the practice of Working Out Loud. We exchanged ideas and challenges, and got to know each other better. It was lovely.

This week we met again (see this Storify of the event by Daimler), and the progress in the past few months has been extraordinary for some companies. One got the attention of board members for supporting WOL programs. Another started their on-boarding pilot. Another is actively spreading it in China and India. In the afternoon, we worked together on different topics that would be of use and interest to all of us, and that would advance the practice. It was good work with good friends.

But something was missing. We all want help other organizations build their own WOL movement. There’s a growing list of companies that are starting to spread Working Out Loud, and even more that are interested. Yet while we don’t want our working group to be an exclusive club, we also recognize that working groups become unworkable if they’re too big. And it’s the rare company or person that would invest this much time helping others.

So what could be a way to help others get started and benefit from the lessons of the early adopters?

That’s when we began considering a public WOL conference. The first experiment would likely be in Stuttgart, and limited to 100 people or so. The objective wouldn’t be money or marketing, but helping companies who are actively engaged in spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.

If we organized such an event this year, perhaps in early December, would you be interested in attending? If so, what would be most valuable to you?

When they do things I could not do

I remember how hard it was when I worked in a big company. Trying to get budget or even attention was like running some Dilbert-ian gauntlet. Trying to make an actual difference was harder still, and I often wanted to give up. 

So when I see people working in large corporations doing what I could not do, I look at them with genuine admiration. How did they do it? Why? Today I want to celebrate some of these people. The list below is by no means complete, and that makes it all the more amazing.

Janine Kirchhof works in HR at Daimler. She felt her WOL Circle helped her tap into a sense of purpose, so she proposed combining Circles into Daimler’s on-boarding process. She secured the support she needed and kicked off the first pilot last week. Going forward, each month she'll be helping new joiners become more productive and connected more quickly.

Katharina Krentz is a pioneer in spreading WOL at Bosch, and she’s the only person (besides me) whose full-time job is spreading the practice of Working Out Loud. She formed a co-creation team that built a movement within the company that has already reached over 500 people, organized the first-ever WOL Conference, piloted WOL for Teams and WOL for Leaders, and now partnered with HR to integrate WOL into their on-boarding program. She even worked with Communications to share what Bosch has done in this wonderful 2 1/2-minute video and this incredibly useful post on LinkedIn.

Three people at BMW - Jasper-John Schaefer, Ilona Libal, and Andreas Schorn - started their WOL efforts from different divisions. Things developed slowly at first, but through a combination of creativity and persistence they got the attention of top management of the company. They now have the support to create their own movement there, and the potential to go further and faster than others who started before them.

I’ve written about the Daimler team before, where Lukas Fütterer and Melanie Rassloff astound me with their creativity, generosity, and the sheer range of what they do. They too have formed a fantastic co-creation team that is spreading Circles and leveraging talent throughout the company to institutionalize WOL as a skill everyone should have.

Bernd Zimmerman is at Siemens, where he’s introduced new methods for developing “senior leadership excellence.” He saw how WOL could be adapted and applied to innovation, fostering a sense of experimentation and prototyping in the company, and helping individuals bring their ideas to life. The first pilot he led quickly turned into several more, and he’s only just begun.

Athanasia Price and Emma Boddington-Stubbs work at Rio Tinto in Australia. Athanasia wrote and spoke about how WOL helped her find "clarity on my purpose at work" and decided to try and spread the practice. Though she was seven months pregnant, she collaborated with HR and worked with Emma to create the first-ever pilot of WOL Circles as part of a graduate training program as well as a digital culture program.

These people are all busy, with full lives and demanding full-time jobs. And yet they crafted their roles so they could help more people, so they could make work even more fulfilling. They all lead by example, inspiring other to do more inside their own companies. 

When I worked in a big company, I could not do what they have done. But now I can contribute in other ways, and the persistence of these people and their ability to execute inspires me to do more, to be more.

8 companies in Germany

There have been meet-ups before, and even a company conference, but this was different. This was eight companies coming together to advance the practice of Working Out Loud. 

Daimler was our host, thanks to Lukas Fütterer and Melanie Raßloff from their Digital Life Team. They published images and updates from the event:

"With the spring arriving in Stuttgart, 15 practitioners from Audi, BMW, Bosch, Continental, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Telekom and Siemens discussed the status & co-create on the future of Working Out Loud in big corporations together with John Stepper #WOL #DigitalLife"

In front of Daimler's Digital Life bus. (First time "Working Out Loud" is on the side of a bus!)

“Co-create the future of Working Out Loud” is what really made this meeting extraordinary. Each company is already spreading WOL Circles in some way. This meeting was about how to do it better and faster. It was about what we need to improve and create, and how we will work together to do it. By the end of the day we had specific initiatives with different practitioners teaming up to drive them. Bernd Zimmermann, an HR executive and innovator at Siemens, described it in his blog post as “making the New Work work.”

In the TEDx talk last year I said, “If Working Out Loud does become a movement, it will be because of the people in the community.” Today was evidence of that. Combined, these eight companies co-creating the future have over 1.7 million employees. Together, we took another step towards making a difference.