workingoutloud.com now in German

It’s fitting that I’m writing this on a train from Bonn to Stuttgart. I’m heading to #WOLCON18, a joint event organized by Bosch and Daimler for 400 of their employees.

It’s a good time to announce the newly bi-lingual version of workingoutloud.com. You can now toggle between German and English by using the new language switcher in the upper right-hand corner, and it should work on your phone as well. (There are still a few pages being translated, and more content I intend to add.)

I’m often asked, “Why is WOL big in Germany?” I usually respond that there’s nothing particularly German about the method. It’s just that Bosch, based in Stuttgart, was the first company to embrace it. That was three years ago, and they ignited a trend in their home country. Since then, they spread it to employees in over 45 countries, and WOL is now in a wide range of organizations around the world, from corporations and non-profits to schools and governmental groups.

Almost from the beginning, local communities sprang up where people would share their experiences with WOL or look for Circle members. (These are in addition to the WOL groups I created on Facebook and LinkedIn.) There’s a Yammer group in German, and a @WOL_de Twitter account. There was also an early attempt at a German website that proved difficult to maintain, and having up-to-date information was my main reason for finally making workingoutloud.com bi-lingual.  

For sure, these groups help raise awareness and create a sense of connection for German speakers, and I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful to Claudia Kaspereit for her translation work on the website, and to the Bosch team for the first-ever WOL translation of the Circle Guides a few years ago. 

Having the website available in another language is just a small, long-overdue step. But each time WOL content is translated into other languages - the Circle Guides, journals, book, subtitles on videos - we are able to reach more people. That makes each step worth it.


A teacher on the train to Munich

Her name was Helga. She looked to be in her late fifties or so, and she had a big pleasant smile and shining eyes. I could tell she was friendly early on when, shortly after we departed, I closed my eyes and she said she'd wake me up when we got to Munich. After my short nap, we started to talk. 

She told me she teaches young children, from first through eighth grade, sometimes high school. She loves watching them develop, she said, and feels attached to them. She told me about one girl who invited her to her first communion and later her confirmation at church. The young girl told Helga, “When I get married I will invite you.” Two decades later, an invitation arrived in the mail, and Helga went. "They become attached to me too," she said. 

“Scherben bringen Glück”

As part of the ceremony, she told me people would bring porcelain plates or bowls and break them. She said the German expression was “Scherben bringen Glück” and we struggled together to come up with an English translation: “Shards bring good luck.”

She said it always reminded her of something that happened when she was a child. She was five years old, washing and drying dishes by hand together with her grandmother. (“There were no machines,” she said. “It was a different time.”)

Helga dropped a cup and it smashed on the floor. Her grandmother reassured her. “Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s okay. Scherben bringen Glück.

Lessons for a lifetime & beyond

Helga told me how her grandmother encouraged her to keep trying. “If you don't work, you make no faults.” Of course, she said, you may avoid mistakes if you don’t try things, but that is not the way to live a life. Helga said she often told her students stories about her grandmother. “The children love them.” 

I thought of how many things I avoided in my life because I was afraid to “make faults.” I thought of how the spirit of Helga’s grandmother lives on in her and, through her stories, in her students. 

The train rolled on. We talked about Helga’s three sons and her two year-old granddaughter. I showed her photos of my own children. As we pulled into Munich and said our goodbyes, she told me, “I'm sure you’re a lovely father.” 

“Thank you,” I said. “I know you’re a wonderful teacher.” 

I thought work wasn’t supposed to be like this

I still remember a response to one of my earliest posts, one about finding meaning and fulfillment at work. “You’re nuts,” she wrote. “People go to work for money. They go home for meaning and fulfillment.”

I’ve thought about that for years. What if she was right, and I was encouraging people to try anddiscover something that work simply wasn’t designed to offer? How cruel that would be.

Fast forward several years. I’m laying on a yoga mat in an office in a large manufacturing company in Germany. A group of us had worked together for the last three days, and much of it was quite intense. Before my trip, I happened to know that one of them was a yoga instructor. (We were connected on Instagram and other channels, even those of us who barely knew each other.) I half-kiddingly suggested that we have a class after work on Friday. Others responded, and there we were, in a wide array of yoga attire, on our mats among the chairs and flip charts. The class was beautiful, almost spiritual. Afterwards, we hugged each other goodbye.

This kind of connection happened throughout the week. Instead of just small talk in between meetings, we talked about personal aspirations and life experiences. We discovered shared interests as well as new possibilities for how we might collaborate and innovate. By deepening relationships, we changed the very nature of the work we were doing as well as what we might do together in the future.

Oh, and we ate together and laughed. A lot. 

It's true that these particular people are extraordinary. And yet I’ve had similar experiences with other people in other cities in other companies. I’ve observed tremendous generosity and vulnerability, creativity and intelligence, in their work with me as well as with their colleagues. It's those behaviors that lead to meaning and fulfillment.

Once we shed the facade of cool professionalism, we were able to develop a sense of relatedness that opened up all sorts of wonderful possibilities. 

It wasn't just work or just personal. It was human - and it was beautiful.

Neu WOL Circle Leitfaden! (Latest Circle Guides now in German!)

Thanks to the heroic efforts of Katharina Krentz and Monika Struzek at Bosch, the Working Out Loud Circle Guides are now available in German

Many of my German friends pride themselves on being “direct.” So I was particularly pleased when Katha told me “These are the best guides ever! We love them!!!” In this upgrade, I improved the flow, completely reworked some of the later weeks, and included more exercises and resources. They are simpler, clearer, and more complete.

The new WOL Circle Guides will be the basis for a workbook and a video coaching series later this year. If you’re interested in those, subscribe to the blog and you'll be notified of when they’re available. (Or send me email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com if you have ideas or comments.)

Of course, you are the best judge of whether these Circle Guides are effective. Try them, and let me know what you think. What did you like best? What could be improved?

Thank you for using these guides and for any and all comments. And a heartfelt “Vielen Dank” to Katha and Monika. Your contributions and support, and those of the entire co-creation team at Bosch, have inspired me to be and do more. 

An early WOL Circle #selfie. (There are now well over 100 WOL Circles at Bosch.)

An early WOL Circle #selfie. (There are now well over 100 WOL Circles at Bosch.)

Two upcoming events

These days, I find myself saying “See you in Berlin” quite often, which in itself is a kind of miracle. I love the city and the people I’ve come to work with there, and on Tuesday, May 9th, I’ll be participating in two special events.

The first is re:publica 2017, “one of the largest and most exciting conferences about digital culture in the world.” Over 8,000 people attended last year, and part of this sprawling event is an HR Festival run by IBM. The theme for 2017 is “Love Out Loud” (great theme :-)). I’m excited to run a workshop: “Working Out Loud: Making work more effective & fulfilling” which is designed to give you the experience of a Working Out Loud Circle in less than an hour. I’m grateful to Sven Semet from IBM for making this possible.

The second event is a Digital Workplace Meetup (#BerlinDWM). There I’ll get the chance to meet Dr. Ursula Schütze-Kreilkamp, who’s responsible for personnel development for more than 300,000 employees worldwide. We’ll be talking with the audience about “how companies can master the challenges of digital transformation through internal networking and open communication.” I’m looking forward to this interactive discussion, and I want to thank the organizers - Alexander Kluge, Luis Suarez, Ole Wintermann, Siegfried Lautenbacher - for creating such a special event.

If you're in Germany, please considering coming to re:publica and the Digital Workplace Meetup, or pass along the information to your German friends. It’s a thrill to be working in such a wonderful place, and meeting some of you there would make it even more special.

“See you in Berlin.” :-)

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.