A look back, a look ahead

This was one of the most notable years in my life. I learned more, met more people around the world, and I am more optimistic about the future than ever. 

So in this last Working Out Loud post for 2016, I thought it was appropriate to reflect on what happened, and to share what I have in mind for 2017.

2016

My first post this year used a beautiful image of a horse breaking free from a carousel, and that turned out to be more apt than I could have imagined. After 30 years of working inside big companies, I had experiences I never thought I would have.

The scariest thing I did was giving a talk at a TEDx event. Part of the fear was about presenting, and part was about sharing my work and aspirations in such a venue. It made me think more deeply about what I was trying to accomplish.

A different kind of fear was leaving the (relative) stability of a big company and going out on my own. Ikigai, LLC is named after the Japanese word for “a reason to get up in the morning.” It's a good name, as my daily work feels more purposeful than ever. 

One of the most thrilling days of the year was in Stuttgart, Germany where the first-ever WOL conference was organized by an extraordinary team at Bosch. I will be forever grateful to that team and that company for all they have done.

The most learning continues to come from working with customers. (I love that word: “customers.”) As much as I enjoy researching and writing, the real learning comes from putting the ideas into practice. Yet it doesn’t feel like work. This video from a recent event at Daimler captures the positive energy, even joy, of working with people who care to make a difference.

Of course, most things did not go nearly this well. The majority of my experiments didn’t turn out the way I hoped, and I made some frustrating mistakes. But those failures shaped my thinking and my aspirations for next year.

2017

My mission is to improve how people relate to each other and the work they do. I aim to do that in a way that’s good for individuals as well as for the organizations they’re a part of. Because if we genuinely make work better, we can use the vast resources of organizations to serve this mission, and people can practice throughout their workday in a way that feels purposeful. Instead of fighting against the corporate machines, I intend to use the best parts of them to change things from the inside.

Here are a few things I’m working on that I think will help.

Customizing Working Out Loud Circles for organizations. I work with customers to tailor the guides specifically for them, incorporating their goals, their collaboration technologies, and real examples from within the organization. That makes it easier for people to practice at work, and helps WOL Circles integrate easily into existing programs for new joiners, leadership development, and more. 

Making the practice more accessible & scalable. I’m developing a set of online coaching resources that will give Circle members help whenever and wherever they need it. That’s an efficient way for organizations to ensure Circles are effective for their people. It will also be a way for individuals to experiment with Circles by themselves, even if they’re not yet ready to join a peer support group.

Publishing a detailed case study. There are many great stories of people using Working Out Loud Circles to change their habits and their mindset. A detailed case study of an organization that includes data on improvements to collaboration and engagement will help accelerate the spread of the practice. 

In addition to these new things, I’ll also keep working on improving the practice. That will include a new edition of the book and upgrades to the free, public Circle Guides. I also intend to publish a set of Advanced Guides. These will help people who have already been through a WOL Circle to deepen their practice even further.

One other small shift

One other small change I’ll make is to this blog. Some of you know I write on johnstepper.com every Saturday, something I started doing well before I was thinking of Working Out Loud. Going forward, I’ll merge the two blogs here. Wednesday posts will be related to organizations, and Saturdays will be for individuals. (That’s my plan at least, or perhaps “aspiration” is again a better word.)

Thank you all for your attention, your support, and your ideas. Wherever you wish to go next with your career & life, I hope you take a step this coming year, and that Working Out Loud can help you in some way.

Changing organizational behavior: top down or bottom up?

I’ve seen the change management movie so many times that I know the script by heart. 

  1. The dramatic descriptions of the burning platform and its dire consequences. 
  2. The overuse of the words “transformation” and “journey.” 
  3. The recognition of the difficulties ahead, and the appeal to everyone to engage despite them. 
  4. The management announcements listing who’s in and who’s out.
  5. The lack of actual change.

Some of the movies were pure farce. During one reorganization of a large IT department, thousands of people were forced to play a board game so we could understand the new operating model. Then there was the firm-wide program to change our culture, complete with new values on posters and mandatory meetings to discuss them. One executive made a video, making clear his impatience with the bad behaviors he had seen, only to be fired himself for those same behaviors. 

“Change management” has become an oxymoron, a caricature of bureaucracy captured in popular cartoons. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Grassroots or “Grass ceiling”?

I was thinking about this during a Knowledge Jam event organized by Cogneon in Nürnberg last week. All the participants were interested in change of some kind, whether it was developing more collaborative cultures and new kinds of leadership or more agile teams and engaged staff. One of the methods discussed was Working Out Loud Circles, and how they helped make change sustainable.

Then came the discussion and debate. “What’s they best way to drive change? Top-down or bottom-up?”

The trade-offs are obvious. If management leads the change effort, then employees know it’s expected as part of their job and is likely to have resources to implement it. If employees lead it, it’s because they believe in it.

As Peter Senge said, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” So, appealing to employees’ intrinsic motivations is important. Yet without the support of management, grassroots efforts can be trampled, or spread too slowly, or hit limits - “the grass ceiling” - that prevent them from driving meaningful change.

An emerging pattern

Now that Working Out Loud Circles are spreading in dozens of organizations, there’s a discernible pattern. 

Quite commonly, it starts with a single person deciding to form one or more Circles. They don’t need budget and they don’t ask for permission. They just find a few colleagues who might be open to change, download the free guides, and start. In most cases, the early adopters have such a positive experience that they tell others, a second wave forms, and they begin collecting feedback from people.

Then comes a shift. The people in the first few waves use the feedback they’ve collected to get management support of some kind. This could be in the form of an official event or other activities to encourage the spread of the practice. In some cases, HR will get involved in sponsoring the event or include it in their training offerings. Or they’ll commission customized guides that refer to company goals, examples, and technology. These kinds of things make it easier for more people to feel safe that they can join a Circle without fear of getting into trouble in some way.

Start where you are

When I worked in large corporations, we spent millions on messages and management related to change, but close to nothing on actually empowering people to do things differently.

One way to fix that is to help people help themselves. By equipping and empowering early adopters to drive change, you learn what works and doesn’t work while you collect real stories from real people about the benefits and possibilities. Then, armed with those results, you can leverage the institution to scale and accelerate the change you’ve begun to see. 

The best way to drive behavior change inside your organization isn’t top-down or bottom-up. It’s both. 

Next week, I’ll describe a new kind of on-boarding process that’s a good example of this.

Victim or visible?

The group had been through years of budgets cuts and reorganizations, and they were tired of the continued change and uncertainty. Now, at the annual conference, a newly appointed leader addressed them.

She acknowledged all they had been through, and the reality of the financial challenges. She made it clear how much she understood and valued their work. She said she wasn’t interested in more reorganizations. 

Instead, she asked the people to make a change themselves.

What she had observed in her short tenure was that the people who knew about their work thought it was excellent. But those who weren’t aware of it thought the organization was broken somehow.

The key, she told the audience, was that they needed to be more visible. They needed to share their work - “what you’re doing and why it matters” - so that more people would be aware. Doing so would also give their supporters a chance to make their support visible. That was the best way to take control of the situation they were in.

She recognized this might feel new or even uncomfortable for some people. But without being more visible, the only other option was to be a victim of more changes and more cuts.

“Meet them where they are,” she told them, describing her early efforts using Twitter. She didn’t start because she loved it or because it came naturally. She did it because she wanted to engage people there and spread news of the good work that might be useful to them. 

As she finished her talk, she made it clear that “victim or visible” was a choice they had to make.

The next presentation was on Working Out Loud, and I tried to make that choice even easier, to help the audience take a step.

 

 

Working Out Loud at Westpac Group

Westpac Group is a financial services company based in Australia whose 30,000 employees serve over 13 million customers. Yesterday, I came across a video they made about Working Out Loud. 

It's excellent, and it amazes me that a company I’ve never worked with has embraced the practice in this way. In just over three minutes, they clearly explain what Working Out Loud is and why they do it.

“True teamwork and collaboration is about building relationships, so that you’re able to reach out to the right people at the right time in order to connect, share, and solve…
Adopting the Working Out Loud principles will help you get things done and make your work better.”

If you’re trying to explain Working Out Loud to people at your company, this would be a great video to share. 

Update: The astute reader will notice the video has been removed from YouTube.

I got a gracious note from Vanessa Hudson who posted the video originally, graciously thanking me for blogging about it but letting me know it hadn't been intended for public viewing. Perhaps Westpac will put it on their official channel in the future, as I think it shows them to be an open, connected organization. Perhaps also I'll get a chance to speak to Vanessa and others there, to help them form WOL circles and spread the behaviors they talked about so eloquently in the video.

Uploaded by Vanessa Hodson on 2016-08-15.

 

 

“Open, inclusive, and at a scale simply not previously possible”

When I heard her use that phrase, my first thought was of all the organizations who have innovation programs and digital programs and culture programs. I thought of the gap between their well-intended aspirations and their actual results.

Except this woman didn’t work in a big company. Her name is Sarah Parcak. She’s the winner of the 2016 TED prize, and an archaeologist whose goal is to protect the world’s cultural heritage. She’s looking for lost civilizations using satellite data, starting with Peru, and her approach is fundamentally different from what you see inside corporations. 

In most organizations, big ideas require a Program with all the traditional management roles that come with it. Perhaps you want to simplify operations, reduce costs, or accelerate innovation. The people contributing would be those specifically assigned or funded to do so. Aside from making suggestions, the only way anyone else might participate would be to apply for a job.

But Sarah wanted and needed more than that. She recognized that tapping into the cognitive surplus around the world could unlock possibilities and accelerate progress. By making things open and inclusive, she could attract the very people who could help her implement, improve, and build on her work.

The first step was sharing information, the satellite images, so that anyone could see them. Sarah’s team of experts is analyzing that data, but they're open to the possibility that others may see what they don’t.

She then goes much further than making data available. She invites contributions. For example, a local Peruvian professor is “helping coordinate and share the data with archaeologists so they can explore these sites on the ground.” It turns out the professor is also responsible for a drone mapping program, able to provide additional imagery that Sarah, “a satellite archaeologist,” may never have included on her own.

She partners with people and groups who can help with education, outreach, and site preservation. One group, for example, “empowers these communities, in particular women, with new economic approaches and business training. So it helps to teach them to create beautiful handicrafts which are then sold on to tourists.” 

Even you or I could contribute. 

“Already I've gotten thousands of emails from people all across the world -- professors, educators, students, and other archaeologists -- who are so excited to help participate.”

Maybe you’ve heard of this kind of effort before. Maybe you think of examples like Wikipedia or you've read articles about Innocentive. But what about inside your organization? Most of your people have never experienced this kind of open, connected way of working. Your management almost certainly hasn’t. So they ask traditional questions about benefits and they cite the lack of time and precedent, unable to see the possibilities unleashed by a way of working they’ve never encountered.

Paraphrasing William Gibson: the future of work is here, it’s just unevenly distributed. Most companies have the business imperative and the tools to make programs “open, inclusive, and at a scale simply not previously possible.” They just don’t have the required behaviors.

One way to help them develop the necessary skills and mindset is to spread Working Out Loud Circles, and you may know of other ways. If your organization wants to thrive or even survive, you must give people the chance to experience a more open, connected way of working. If not now, when?

Completely unofficial: grass-roots WOL in a large organisation

This morning, I received a special email from the University of Melbourne that contained two videos and a blog post about their experience with Working Out Loud. They're so good on so many levels, I had to share them.

I loved learning about how and why they started, the advice they would give to others, and the individual changes they experienced that can help change their culture too. The personal stories in the videos brought it all to life.

They’ve done it all on their own. Now I hope I can help them adapt and spread the practice. If I’m lucky, I’ll see them in Australia next year.

Their stories inspire me. I hope they inspire you too. 

***

Completely unofficial: grass-roots WOL in a large organisation

by Mark Brodsky, ML Huppatz and Margaret L Ruwoldt

August 2016

For non-academic staff at the University of Melbourne, the first months of 2015 were unusually difficult. Around 3000 jobs had been redesigned, a new shared-services business model was introduced, cost-saving targets were announced, and many people felt exhausted by change and uncertain about the future.

The University was urging staff to think differently about their work practices and we had a relatively new Chief Operating Officer whose personal working style incorporates elements of Working Out Loud. With the COO's behind-the-scenes encouragement we decided to introduce Working Out Loud (WOL) as a grass-roots initiative, hoping that perhaps a few people would be interested in giving it a try.

We held two info sessions to explain the process as we understood it (for we had not done anything like this before either). Imagine our surprise when almost 50 showed up!

So WOL was launched at the University of Melbourne with 30 enthusiastic participants organised into six Circles. As these groups worked their way through the 12-week program, ripples of influence started to appear. There was more activity in the University's Yammer network. The subject of Working Out Loud popped up at staff forums, in conversations at coffee shops and at unrelated project meetings.

Three Circle participants -- Sara, Dale and Karin -- kindly agreed to share their thoughts on those first few weeks of Working Out Loud.

In 2015 nearly 100 University staff volunteered to try a new way of working. Sara, Dale and Karin explain why they joined the Working Out Loud program.

By September 2015 interest in Working Out Loud at UoM was growing. Almost 200 people came to the WOL session at the annual professional staff conference, after which around 80 signed up for round two of WOL Circles.

As organisers, we wanted to explore different options for implementing Working Out Loud in our particular organisation. For each Circles program, we made slightly different choices around planning and supporting the groups. Here are three things we learned from the experience.

1. Build strong foundations

Some administration is required at the beginning: sorting people into groups based on their availability for the weekly meetings; explicitly confirming the meeting arrangements with each participant; and making sure everyone understands their role and the level of commitment expected from them. Pre-meetings with the people that had volunteered to lead the circles were also important in ensuring a good start.

The minimum viable number of members in a WOL Circle seems to be four. We found it best to start with a group of 5-6 people and accept that there would be occasional absences or drop-outs. Groups that started with 3-4 regular attendees were less successful, as it was more difficult to maintain enthusiasm and peer support.

2. Actively encourage growth

The Circle Guides and the book provide plenty of guidance in clear, simple language. Although this is a good foundation, we found that Circles only thrived when we provided extra community-building support.

We did this in various ways:

  • weekly emails to participants, reminding them of progress through the 12 weeks and pointing to extra reading or other resources to enhance that week's homework
  • posts to the WOL group in UoM's Yammer community, linking to interesting articles or videos and answering questions
  • holding 3-4 meetings with Circle Leaders to discuss how their groups were progressing, elicit cross-group suggestions and build peer support among the leaders
  • hosting information sessions where Circle participants could share their knowledge and learnings with the broader group

Acknowledging milestones is also important, especially the start and end of the 12-week program. Milestones are good opportunities to share stories about personal journeys, helping to renew people's energy and commitment.

3. Learn as you go

Working Out Loud can be adapted to suit the particular culture and circumstances of your organisation -- and there's nothing wrong with adjusting your approach along the way.

For example, because of the recent restructure, many Melbourne University participants chose goals that focused on understanding the new business model and establishing new connections within the University. This made social media, especially external channels like Twitter and Facebook, less useful. Instead we saw networks developing via Yammer, email and catch-ups over coffee. We also produced a handout listing the different ways of sharing documents and ideas within the University: shared drives, internal email lists, and so on.

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the new ways of working, we found that establishing trust between group members was essential. As organisers we tried to encourage this by showing our own vulnerability and by being highly visible as participants in our own Circles. We also emphasised the importance of using Circle meetings for the more valuable interaction and peer-coaching activities, rather than using that time for the individual exercises.

The Melbourne experience: outcomes and new challenges

In the last 18 months we've heard many great stories about how Working Out Loud opening up new opportunities for our colleagues at Melbourne University.

In the second part of their video Sara, Dale and Karin describe how Working Out Loud has changed their working lives.

At the end of the 12-week Working Out Loud program Sara, Dale and Karin reflect on what they’ve learned and how their work has been enriched by the experience.

We've heard similar stories from many other participants:

  • Kate found the confidence to give presentations in front of large audiences.
  • Danielle figured out how to tackle a challenging project -- and found other people who were keen to help with delivering it.
  • Ben was invited to give a presentation at an international conference of leaders in 360-degree photography.
  • Rochelle and Belinda changed career paths and Eliana led a successful, high-profile project to redesign a key business process.

To date Working Out Loud has touched only a small proportion of staff at the University of Melbourne. Meanwhile surveys continue to show that many of our colleagues are searching for an increased sense of connection with other parts of the University. The central human resources team has expressed interest in rolling out Working Out Loud as a University-level professional development program.

And our own stories? Working Out Loud has changed us, too. ML and Margaret are planning to convene WOL groups across multiple universities over the next 12 months; and Mark is in the midst of his own career change. We’ve learnt new skills and have started sharing our work in different ways. We're moving on, working out loud as we go.

This article is based on a presentation to the Knowledge Management Australia annual congress held in Melbourne, August 2016.

http://www.kmaustralia.com/

***

 

 

The best “Working Out Loud” talk ever

Alas, it wasn’t given by me. In fact, I’ve never spoken to the person who delivered it. But I do know she produced some dramatic results.

Her name is Vanessa North, and she works in the Australian Tax Office in Adelaide. When she spoke to a group about Working Out Loud, 120% of the audience signed up to join a Working Out Loud circle and put the ideas into practice.

Here’s how it happened.

The original idea

A few weeks ago, I wrote about How Change Spreads and how it can begin with a single person who’s willing to try something different. Vanessa is that kind of person.

She had participated in a Working Out Loud circle and liked it so much she wanted to form more of them at work. By mid-December, she was ready.

“I’ve taken the step and scheduled an information session in the Tax Office in Adelaide for next week. I’m going to use your presentation slides as a starting point and ask people to sign up for a circle in the new year. I have emailed all my internal contacts and networks and will see how I go (there are about 1800 people here in Adelaide).”

The talk

I offered my help but she was already completely prepared. A few days later, I got an update:

“Hi John,
Many thanks for your message.
I ran a WOL intro session with your slide deck and just asked people to come along and find out what WOL was about (using my existing networks in the Adelaide Tax Office and also a couple of people from other government agencies).
46 people came, a few people couldn’t come but still wanted to sign up, and a few heard about it afterwards.
So…. Wait for it…..
Out of 46 people who turned up I have 55 people signed up! So …. Drumroll please……I calculate that as a 120% sign up rate :-)
Here I am giving the presentation:
I have some great colleagues helping to co-ordinate and we are having 11 circles with five people in each circle. 
I’m excited and inspired by the enthusiasm in the groups and how quickly the idea is spreading throughout the office. We have 1800 people in the Adelaide Office so I’m aiming to have them all signed up to a circle by the end of next year.
Thanks so much for sharing your enthusiasm, ideas and resources.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you and yours.”

What might happen next

Of course I was please by her results. But I was even more delighted with her lovely note and her aspirational goal of reaching so many people.

When I asked Vanessa if I could blog about her event, she sent the photos below, and we arranged for me to speak with the circles in April to answer questions or just provide encouragement.

What’s next? Perhaps she’ll help 55 people think a bit differently. Or maybe together they'll spread circles and help 1,800 people across the Tax Office in Adelaide develop a new habit and mindset. Or maybe they'll do much, much more.

How Change Spreads

They have different reasons for starting, for taking that first step, but by now, there’s a clear pattern.

Here’s how an organization spreads a set of positive behaviors using Working Out Loud circles.

The first step

It almost always begins with a single person saying “I want to try something different this time.” Maybe they need help with a new program or they’re reacting to failed programs of the past. Maybe they just read the book or blog post and decided the time was right.

The goals they have usually tend to be one of these:

We want people to feel better about working here.

We want people to leverage our digital tools.

We want people to share knowledge.

We want o help people manage their own careers.

We need to help managers be leaders.

We need everyone to be able to work better.

There is almost always a kick-off meeting of some kind where Working Out Loud is presented, perhaps at a town hall or career event or internal conference. Sometimes they’ll contact me and I’ll give a talk. Often times they’ll do it themselves.

After the event, the first circles form.

Making it stick

Using the simple, free guides, the circles can go through the process independently. Working with many organizations, though, I’ve observed a few things that organizers do to help these first circles succeed.

  1. They help circles get past any initial logistical challenges.
  2. They create an internal website for questions and links to resources.
  3. They check in with each circle periodically.
  4. They share success stories.
  5. They schedule an event at Week 5 or 6 to answer common questions.

Again, sometimes it’s just a single person who cares enough to do these things. Quite often, though, others raise their hand and want to contribute. They’ve experienced the benefits themselves and they want to help more people.

Now a small tribe of change agents is beginning to assemble inside the organization. In time, they’ll hold another event to form more circles, and word spreads.

Scaling the change

There are dozens of organizations around the world who have reached this point. They’ve formed circles, have seen the benefits, and are ready to do more. They can keep spreading circles organically, but some want a more systematic approach with consistent results. In those cases, the tribe of change agents approaches HR (or sometimes an executive sponsor of the digital workplace or other transformation) and proposes spreading circles as a formal program.

What’s being tested now is something called an “Accelerated Development Program.” It’s a method for quickly helping 1,000 people in your organization develop the 21st-century skill of working out loud – how to find people who can help you with a goal and build meaningful relationships with them.

The program includes training hundreds of facilitators so the organization has the capability to continue spreading circles, helping more people feel empowered and be more effective at work.

One of the most advanced organizations spreading circles surveyed people who had been in a circle.

91% said it helped them build networks that are more effective and purposeful.

91% said it enriched their daily lives.

97% said they would recommend it

How much would it be worth to your organization to have survey results like these? Think back to the last transformation program or culture program at your firm. How much changed? 

Just imagine a few dozen people developing the habit of working in an open, connected way. Then a few hundred. Then a few thousand. As positive behaviors ripple throughout the organization, it changes how the place feels, how people feel.

It can start with just one person in your organization who says, “I want to try something different this time.”

If that person is you, contact me or leave a comment, and let’s begin.

“Would you talk to our leadership program?”

WOL for the organization

WOL for the organization

I’ll admit to being surprised at being asked. One reason is that I have an aversion to most management programs - talent management, performance management, innovation management. Also, I never expected the Human Resources department of a large global firm to link Working Out Loud with leadership. But they did.

Introducing Working Out Loud via HR and executive development presented a new opportunity. My talk included some of the usual things:

Then I focused on the more senior managers in the room. How would they “contribute to people in their organizations to deepen the relationship"? Why should they?

I started with the universal gifts of appreciation and recognition. And since the firm already had an enterprise social network, each contribution could be visible and ripple through the organization. Coming from an executive, a simple “Follow” can signal I see you and be meaningful. A Like can mean I recognize your work. I described how an “Ask Me Anything” demonstrates openness and accessibility. How a comment shows their interest in listening and a willingness to engage. Small steps to get started.

I showed them how they could do these simple things in 15 minutes a week.

After the talk, one of the executives came up to me and told me that, when he would ask for questions after a talk in front of a big audience, his people were afraid to speak up. He wanted to change that.

He saw how things could be different if people knew it was safe to be open and curious. He wanted and needed an organization where people could share knowledge, solve problems, and innovate without waiting for instructions from the boss. He understood that he could lead by example and model the behaviors he wanted to see.

To make a difference, though, he would need to take a step and develop the habit of working out loud so others would follow, and so he could lead more effectively.

Whether you introduce the practice via HR, via Knowledge Management, or via employee career events, helping even one group to work out loud can make work better. A few groups can form a movement. A few dozen can create an open, generous, connected culture that's good for the organization and all the people in it.

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.