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.

Why would these manufacturing companies want to Work Out Loud?

This month I began working with three new clients: a mining company, a chemical company, and a steel company. These are not the kind of clients I ever expected to have, and yet there I was, helping each of them spread Working Out Loud Circles

Why would they care?

In the mining company, it’s HR sponsoring the initiative. They’re integrating WOL Circles into a graduate training program and a digital leaders program, and both groups are looking for ways to help employees be connected, effective, and engaged.

The Chief Digital Officer sponsored the kick-off in the chemical company. They have a wide-reaching remit, including expanding the use and impact of the internal social tools, and Circles will help them tap into more intrinsic motivation for using those tools.

The steel company was different. The initial effort was sponsored by the head of internal communications, who wanted to drive adoption of tools and make the culture even more open and collaborative. But HR was also involved, and we quickly began talking about other challenges where WOL could help.

There is no one best way to introduce Working Out Loud into an organization. It depends on the people, the environment, and the culture. Sometimes WOL is another skill you can learn in the corporate training academy, and sometimes it’s integrated into an existing program like one of these:

  • On-boarding
  • Graduate training
  • Digital transformation
  • Career mobility
  • Talent development
  • Leadership development
  • Diversity
  • Innovation
  • Mentoring

To find your own best way, join a Circle yourself or spread the first few at your organization. A mining company, a chemical company, and a steel company are all ready to try something new: scalable, hands-on, social learning to help their people develop new skills and make their organizations better. 

Are you and your organization ready? 

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.” :-)

If your innovation program isn’t producing much innovation

Your company almost certainly has an innovation program. They may call it something else, or include it in a culture change or digital transformation effort. But no matter the name, companies are all looking to create a more innovative culture, one where individuals contribute more ideas and, importantly, collaborate to bring those ideas to life.

If you have such a program, it probably isn’t producing the kind of change you want. Why not? Because despite the tools you bought and the events you held and even the exhortations of management, most people simply aren’t sure what to do and how to do it.

Some companies I’m working with are about to try something different.

Is your current innovation program a bad idea?.jpg

Where Good Ideas Come From

Most companies think of their innovation program as a big suggestion box. Sometimes they'll offer a prize in an effort to get more people to deposit their Powerpoint slides into the box, and organize a committee of managers to select the best ones. Unfortunately, this tends to breed competition and hiding of information instead of collaboration, and produces little actual work beyond the slides. Sometimes, companies even set up a special Innovation Group, a creative silo of its own that’s apart from everyday work and forever struggles to be relevant or make an impact.

For a better understanding of how innovation actually happens, Steven Johnson’s oft-cited book, Where Good Ideas Come From, is an excellent primer. Analyzing a wide range examples from over centuries, he showed that innovation isn’t the results of a hidden genius and The One Big Idea, but from the exchange and interaction of many ideas.

“New ideas do not thrive on archipelagos,” he wrote. What he meant was that new ideas typically don’t come from people working in isolation. They come from bits and parts contributed by different people who recombine and reconfigure them till the result is an innovation of a kind.

Barriers to innovation

We know this is true, and there is example after example after example of people working in an open, connected way. to accelerate the pace of innovation. Yet we rarely see it at work. Why? 

After watching yet another TED talk describing how a group made their work visible, connected with other experts, and went on to create something new, I wrote about the barriers I saw most often in the workplace:

"I don’t know how." Despite the large number of examples on the web, the vast majority of people have simply never experienced sharing their work online and collaborating with others as a result. And some may not have a convenient facility for publishing content at work.
"I don’t know if it will be useful." For the minority of people that know what to do and have a way to do it, there’s often an uncertainty as to whether their contributions would be valuable. They also struggle with how to get the attention of relevant people.
"I won’t get credit." A more insidious barrier is when people feel their contributions won’t be recognized. Particularly in a management system of competitive ratings and bonuses, there is a heightened sense of internal competition. Feeling like you’re fighting for your share of a finite pie will grossly inhibit your willingness to contribute and collaborate.

A different approach to innovation

The companies I’m working with now are trying to address these barriers in a novel way. They still have the tools, the events, and the management exhortations. But they are also providing employees with help. 

Together, we’re adapting Working Out Loud Circles to give employees hands-on, practical experience. The peer support groups, using Circle Guides tailored for experimentation, begin with smalls steps such as making an idea visible and searching for individuals and groups related to their idea both inside and outside the company. Over a period of weeks, participants practice outreach and ways to deepen relationships that lead to collaboration while learning how to make more of their thinking, learning, and other work visible in a way that’s useful to others. Throughout the process, managers are paying attention to what’s happening online, providing recognition and support, asking questions, and offering their own contributions

Each individual that participates shapes their reputation while they develop their personal network. As Circles spread, so does a culture of innovation, of “putting more parts on the table” (as Steven Johnson says), and reshaping and recombining them.

Instead of a funnel of ideas leading to a committee, or a beauty contest to see who has the best slides, resources can be allocated based on who has taken an idea, built a tribe around it, prototyped it, and gathered support and evidence.

Innovation isn’t just about an idea or a program, it’s about a practice. 

A better approach to mentoring at work

I had two kinds of mentors when I worked in big organizations. One was assigned to me as part of a mentoring program. He was a direct report of the head of our division, and his secretary would occasionally arrange a lunch appointment for us. Because of his position, I was cautious about what I said to him.

My other mentors weren’t part of any program. They were people I chose, either because they excelled at what they did or because they cared enough about me to listen and provide objective feedback.

Who do you think I learned more from?

Most companies I speak with fully understand the value of good mentoring relationships, yet they’re stuck with traditional programs. Here are two ways they can do better.

Peer mentoring

Part of what makes for a successful mentoring relationship is choice. Preserving both parties’ perception of control will directly increase their motivation. Another part is psychological safety. Even with the presumption of confidentiality, it’s hard to be vulnerable when you’re talking to someone who's directly responsible for your compensation or promotion (or is closely connected to someone who is).

Peer mentoring can help with these issues, especially if it’s a group of peers, and their aggregated knowledge, networks, and experience can be considerable. A Lean In Circle is a good example of such a group. 

Another example is a Working Out Loud Circle. Instead of offering just general support, each person takes specific steps towards a goal they care about, and develops relationship-building skills as they do. Simple guides for each meeting provide structure, and ensure that each person has both something to gain and something to offer. More than a conversation each week, it's a shared experience, one that individuals can repeat with each new goal they pursue.

Reverse mentors

Reverse mentor programs flip the traditional model, with a (generally) younger person providing some kind of coaching or support to a more senior manager. The programs are opt-in, which preserves autonomy on both sides. The topics are usually centered around things younger people would naturally know more about (technology, perhaps, or “what millenials want”). That preserves psychological safety. 

Such a program can provide a safe place for executives to learn about something new, and for the reverse mentor to become more familiar with what managers do and how they do it. But most programs lack the structure to provide meaningful exchanges or experiences, and waste the opportunity. It can become, like the lunches with my mentor, just a series of periodic chats. Nice, but insubstantial.

To solve that problem, there’s a version of Working Out Loud Guides specifically developed for such a program. (You could also use them with executive assistants acting as reverse mentors.) Each week, the guides specify preparation the reverse mentor does before the meeting. Then they offer the manager simple steps for using digital tools to reach and engage people. Through deliberate practice in each session, the executive learns how to search and listen online, to connect with people, and to reinforce desired behaviors. 

An experiment you can try in your organization

Though simple, these lightweight mentoring programs can solve some longstanding problems. 

Take, for example, the use of digital tools by executives. Organizations spend millions on new tools for communicating and collaborating, and yet most of their executives don’t take advantage of them. When I mentioned that to a group of HR professionals this week, the audience responded with a lot of head nodding and nervous laughter. “We have a lot of work to do,” they said. But they also agreed they could easily find ten managers who would participate in a “Digital Leaders” reverse mentoring program. Those ten managers, working in a more visible way, could then inspire the next twenty, and so on.

Another problem I wrote about recently is the on-boarding of employees. Companies put a lot of effort into orientation events that, over a few intense days, may well inspire people. But what happens after that? Those enthusiastic new joiners are left with little or no support for navigating their new organization. As an experiment, you could pick one orientation group and offer them the chance to form Working Out Loud Circles. Then use feedback from that first wave to validate that they’re indeed more productive and connected more quickly.

You know you can do better than the traditional programs. Take a small step and see for yourself.

The HR director I wish I knew

A colleague shared a blog post about “success at work” and I clicked on it, expecting the usual set of prescriptions proposed by people who want work to be better but can’t do much about it.

This post was different, though. It was written by the head of HR at the World Economic Forum.

Paolo Gallo

“I wish I had written that”

His name is Paolo Gallo, and he’s based in Geneva. In his post, he tried to reframe how we view success at work. He had an almost romantic view of what “corporate heroism” truly is, and I kept nodding to myself as I went through this section on how measuring success by corporate title is bad for the individual and the firm:

“1. If we only value those who have reached the top of the hierarchy, then by definition we’re writing off the other 99%. We create a cruel assembly line that produces myriad people who are frustrated and unhappy, who believe - often wrongly - that only those who arrived at the top truly triumphed.

2. By seeing our careers as a race, we enter a state of constant struggle: "us" against everyone else. Think, for example, about incentive systems: I have seen many and - mea culpa - designed some that are focused on individual performance results but never based on sharing, cooperation or a sense of purpose. I believe that stress is not linked solely to the amount of work we have, but rather on the poor quality of the relationships we develop with our colleagues. An organizational climate of “dog eats dog” downgrades our relationships, so they become only transactional, utilitarian, losing any trace of connection between people. This obsession with appearances over substance strips us of our humanity.

3. Ultimately, we all end up taking part in a rat race. We became so self-absorbed and busy trying to win this race that we forget that even by winning it, we will still remain rats. And vulnerable rats: the chronic economic crisis, corporate restructuring or simple events outside of our control can all oust us from our jobs. If corporate success is the only way you define your identity, then that identity will be destroyed with all the emotional and social consequences that result.”

Now what?

What do you do when you read something interesting?

I started by reading more of his work, including other articles he posted on the World Economic Forum website. There’s no way to follow him or provide feedback there, so I looked elsewhere.

First I searched for “Paolo Gallo” on Twitter and didn’t find him. Then I used Google to search for “Paolo Gallo World Economic Forum” and found he had cross-posted his articles to LinkedIn. I clicked the “Follow” button on LinkedIn so I would see his future posts (and he might also see I followed him).

One of his most recent posts included this sentence:

“We have to internalize the idea that "networking" does not work when we engage with people only when we "need" something from them: we need to be constant givers of our time, attention, respect and help.”

It inspired me to leave a comment, and to offer to send him a copy of Working Out Loud. Maybe he won’t reply. Or maybe we’ll wind up collaborating in some way. Regardless of the outcome, in just a few minutes I felt as though I opened a door of some kind, a gateway that might lead to new people and possibilities related to my work.

***

Update: A few hours after I wrote this, Paolo Gallo was kind enough to thank me for the comment and send me a personalized connection request on LinkedIn. 

Update #2: A few hours after my last update, he sent me a really nice note and we arranged to meet in NYC in late April. I'm really looking forward to it. 

Update #3: On April 22nd, I met Paolo at the World Economic Forum office in New York City. He was visiting from Geneva. We sat in a large conference room with an long, impressive-looking table. And what did we talk about? Our kids, and life, and ideas about how the way we all work could be different, more fulfilling.

I didn't know this when I wrote this post, but the mission of the WEF includes this lovely line capturing something I also believe:

We believe that progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have the drive and the influence to make positive change.

 We walked out of the building together and before we parted he suggested we take a selfie together. Here we are, in midtown Manhattan, with rush-hour traffic as a backdrop. 

I hope we meet again.

Paolo Gallo and me

Update #4: On October 25, we met again. I had seen that Paolo had published a book, La Bussola del Successo (The Compass for Success), and I had sent my congratulations. He invited me to an event celebrating the book launch in NYC. It at the offices of the World Economic Forum and sponsored in part by Paolo's alma mater, Bocconi University. There was a fascinating mix of people there.

I stood in the back, listening to his talk. He was surrounded by people afterwards. While I waited to say hello, I met his wife and young daughter, and we had a lovely conversation - about the book, about new careers (both hers and mine), about children. As the crowd thinned, Paolo greeted me with a hearty European hug, thanking me for coming. He signed a book for me, a physical reminder on my shelf of how easy it is to connect.

5 Gifts For The HR Department

Human Resources is uniquely qualified to help spread a practice that’s good for the firm and all the individuals in it. That practice is working out loud, which has been called “a required skill for today’s digital workforce.” In a recent interview on Forbes.com titled “Working Out Loud: Better for you, Better for the firm.” I described some of the benefits that come from forming Working Out Loud circles and spreading the practice across the firm.

With the support of HR, circles can spread faster and realize even more benefits. Here’s how.

I Heart HR

I Heart HR

A free, self-organizing personal development program

Every firm wants employees who can work across silos to get things done. Instead of one-off networking events, Working Out Loud circles help people develop the habit of sharing knowledge and making purposeful connections, all while improving their digital-readiness.

Several firms around the world are organically spreading circles based on the free circle guides and other resources. HR can reach more people by making Working Out Loud one of their offerings in Learning & Development.

A different kind of talent program

As more employees work out loud, more of their work is visible along with public feedback on it. Think of it as part of the best 360-degree performance review process you could devise, complete with authentic contributions and genuine feedback throughout the year.

Working Out Loud complements HR’s existing talent management programs. It helps leaders develop the skills they need to engage and influence their organization, and makes it easier for people at any level to become more effective by teaching them how to better leverage knowledge and connections across the firm.

Peer-to-peer learning 

Most Learning & Development organizations understand that the best learning doesn’t come from a course catalog or a classroom, but from experts already in the firm. Yet how many employees have the habit of offering expertise as a contribution? Or even asking questions to a broad online audience to discover on knowledge?

Google's head of HR, Laszlo Bock, writes about building a learning organization in his excellent book, Work Rules! and he makes a case that your firm's best teachers "are sitting right next to you." By facilitating the spread of Working Out Loud circles, HR can help employees develop the habit of sharing their knowledge, making it visible, and enabling others to build on it.

A way to increase employee engagement

We’ve all have heard that most employees don’t feel engaged at work, but what can HR do about it?

Working Out Loud circles are designed to tap into an individual’s intrinsic motivations: autonomy, mastery, and purpose or sense of relatedness. It’s why the book’s subtitle is “For a Better Career and Life.” As you build your network in a circle, you have a greater sense of control, including better access to learning and to opportunities. The process builds your connections to people in your circle and then to people in your growing network. Over your 12 weeks in a circle, the process helps you feel more connected to the firm and to people in it.

A better culture

Like employee engagement, corporate culture can be wrapped up in a formal program and monitored with a few questions on the annual employee survey, but it’s too much to ask HR to change it.

Culture is the result of the collective actions of people in the firm. A few hundred people working out loud - working in an open, generous, connected way - can make a difference. A few thousand people working that way can transform an organization.

A gift for your own HR department

It’s not easy being in Human Resources. Often, they’re caught between managers who want them to optimize resources and individuals who need them to make the firm a more humane place.

If you know someone in HR, send this post to them. You can make their job easier - and make their firm better - by helping them understand Working Out Loud and the ways it can complement what they already do.