Acknowledged, Ignored, or Shredded

The experiments described in The Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization research paper are both quite simple. Yet they capture fundamental truths about how we relate to the work we do.

Imagine you’re one of the MIT students who volunteered for the experiments described below. What would you do?

Experiment #1

In the first experiment, you’re handed a sheet of paper filled with typed letters and paid 55 cents for finding ten instances of two consecutive ones. You’ll be paid 50 cents for analyzing a second page, 45 cents for a third page, and so on. Participants perform the task under one of three conditions. (Subjects didn’t know about the other conditions or their labels.) 

In the Acknowledged condition, the subjects were asked to write their name on each sheet prior to starting the task. The instructions explained that after completing the task, they would hand the sheet over to the experimenter who would examine it and file it away in a folder. 

In the Ignored condition, the subjects were not instructed to write their name on the sheets, and in fact none did so. Moreover, the instructions explained that, after the subject completed the task, the experimenter would place the sheet on a high stack of papers. The experimenter in fact did so without examining the completed sheets. 

The Shredded condition was the same as the Ignored condition except that the instructions explained that the completed sheets would be immediately put through a paper shredder. As the subjects turned in the sheets, the experimenter shredded them without a glance.

Under which condition would you perform more work?

Experiment #2 

In the second experiment, you are asked to build a kind of Lego figure called a Bionicle. You’re paid $2 for the first one you build, eleven cents less for the next one, and so on down to 2 cents for the twentieth Bionicle and beyond. In this experiment, there are two conditions.

In the Meaningful condition, after the subject would build each Bionicle, he would place it on the desk in front of him, and the experimenter would give him a new box with new Bionicle pieces. Hence, as the session progressed, the completed Bionicles would accumulate on the desk. 

In the Sisyphus condition, there were only two boxes. After the subject completed the first Bionicle and began working on the second, the experimenter would disassemble the first Bionicle into pieces and place the pieces back into the box. Hence, the Bionicles could not accumulate; after the second Bionicle, the subject was always rebuilding previously assembled pieces that had been taken apart by the experimenter.

Under which condition would you perform more work?

Results

You can readily guess that the MIT students did more work if they were in the Acknowledged or Meaningful conditions. What most people can’t guess is just how much more work. “Almost half of the subjects in the Acknowledged condition were willing to work until the wage dropped all the way to zero,” far out-pacing the other students. Subjects in the Meaningful condition built 40% more Bionicles, and also built them faster. The small signals of recognition and purpose made a significant difference. 

One of the researchers, Dan Ariely, describes the results in a popular TED talk titled “What makes us feel good about our work?” Recognition and purpose needn’t be lofty ideals, he said. They can be as simple as someone acknowledging your work and making it possible for you to see that you contribute, even tangentially, to some objective. 

Perhaps, like me, you’ve had bosses who have done the equivalent of ignoring or shredding your work. What do you do when that happens? Do you hope they’ll change, or pray for a new boss? How do you feel?

Whenever I found myself working in the “pointless” condition, I would be miserable. Then I learned how to make my work visible so others could see it and use it. That made it possible for me to gain a feeling of recognition and purpose from anywhere, from anyone. It made my work better and made me happier.

“Identity, pride, and meaning are all left out from standard models of labor supply,” the researchers said, “but ignoring the dimension of meaning may be quite expensive, for employer and for society.”

What conditions are you working in? What will you do about it?

Acknowledged, Ignored, or Shredded.jpg

Drip, drip, drip

There seem to be more and more storefront signs like these in New York City. (And perhaps everywhere?) The kind with the hand-drawn witty saying or motivational quote designed to grab your attention. 

This one worked.

On the way to Yoga Vida in Tribeca

On the way to Yoga Vida in Tribeca

It’s truly ancient wisdom, as Ovid wrote it (in Latin) well over two thousand years ago. “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force, but through persistence.”

I passed it as I was going to a yoga class with my wife, something I never imagined participating in when we first met. Now, though, the class is one of my favorite things to do together and a highlight of my week. As I passed the sign, I reflected on how many drops it took to wear down my resistance and form a new habit, at how long it took for me to change.

Ovid’s wisdom applies to work, too. Yesterday, a WOL Circle shared a photo from their final meeting. In the picture were five strangers from Yemen, Romania, Germany, and Switzerland who came together for 12 weeks, forging connections and sharing beautiful smiles. I never imagined how such a thing might be possible, never mind that I could be part of making it happen. 

Drip, drip, drip. 

Of course, there are other ways to “hollow out a stone”. Yet the other methods I’ve tried tend to feel more stressful and less sustainable. Whether I want to change myself or change the world, I prefer to follow Ovid’s advice. 

Drip by drip, step by step, Circle by Circle, we each need to keep going till a path emerges and we find a way to make a difference. 

***

Note: I’ll be on holiday in Japan for the rest of August, using the time to be with family, explore a country I love, and work on several new WOL methods. See you in September… 

Yemen 🇾🇪, Switzerland 🇨🇭, Romania 🇷🇴, Germany 🇩🇪 … Amazing.

The WOL CircleFinder

If you wanted to try a WOL Circle, how would you find other people to join you?

A little over a year ago on a rainy weekend in July, Leonid Lezner created a tool to make it easier, and he called it the CircleFinder. Since then over 1000 people have used it to form over 150 Circles .

Today it’s an official part of workingoutloud.com, and it’s a first step for matching people in a wide variety of ways and helping them have a better Circle experience.

Click on the image to see the new CircleFinder

Click on the image to see the new CircleFinder

The birth of the CircleFinder

When I approached Leonid about the CircleFinder recently, I asked him why he volunteered to build it in the first place and what he expected from it.

I was really impressed by how the circles are matched at Bosch. People simply have to enter their name in a spreadsheet and highly motivated colleagues would take their request and match them with a circle. Nothing similar existed for circles outside companies, so I got the idea that the WOL community urgently needs a simple tool to match circles and to automate the process.

I wasn’t expecting that it would be used at all. But after a few months, I noticed that more and more people were signing up and creating circles and recommending it on Twitter and Facebook. 

The best thing for me is when people contact me to thank me. They tell me about their Working Out Loud experience and that the CircleFinder was the enabler to start or join a circle. For me it means I’m an active participant in the WOL movement and can give something back to the community.

What’s next?

Then I asked Leonid what his plans were. I knew he has a full-time job and also produces an excellent podcast (in German) that is becoming more and more popular. Did he want to keep working on the CircleFinder?

After almost one year now I have to admit that the development and operation of such a platform is a time-consuming hobby. Family, work and my podcasts are already bringing me to my limits. When John asked me about the future of the CircleFinder and said he would like to take it over as a part of the official WorkingOutLoud website, I was really excited.

We exchanged ideas about what WOL software might look like in the future, including rebuilding the CircleFinder from scratch to include a wide range of functionality, from forming Circles in new ways (at events, inside companies, based on profiles) to helping Circle members throughout the 12 weeks.

The WOL CircleFinder is a fantastic start, and I am extremely grateful to Leonid for what he created and for his willingness and effort to migrate it.

If you would like to form a Circle or help others do so, please consider using the CircleFinder at circlefinder.workingoutloud.com. If you have an idea for how the CircleFinder can be improved, please contact me.

Thank you, Leonid and thank you, WOL Community!


Results of the WOL: Self-Care experiment

Exactly a year ago, I wrote that I was working on a new practice called WOL: Self-Care (or WOL: SC), and a few months later we began a pilot with one hundred people. Just this past month I compiled survey results.

Here’s what happened.

WOL-SC.png

The Why & How of WOL: SC

My intention was to create a new practice that people could join after their WOL Circle ended. It would be comprised of five different kinds of mindfulness practices spread over six months. You would still be part of a peer support group, but with some important differences.

You will do daily exercises on your own each month, and your meetings will be for you to share what happened and to prepare for a different practice the next month.

Also, unlike a WOL Circle, there is no goal or relationship list. The practices are largely focused on yourself. The only goals are to develop greater self-awareness and mindfulness. These are the keys to realizing more of your potential as well as a greater sense of fulfillment and happiness. 

Whereas Working Out Loud improves how you relate to others, WOL-SC helps you improve how you relate to yourself.

The survey results

Whether or not the experiment was a success depends on your perspective. Fewer than half of the WOL:SC groups finished, which is disappointing. And yet there were clear themes about how to improve the practice, so I learned a lot:

  • Change the timing of the meetings to be closer together

  • Include more interaction between members

  • Make the material more engaging, perhaps with videos and/or a journal

Regarding the exercises, most liked them and a few even called them “life-changing.” But a significant percentage felt they were too personal, too similar to things they’ve already done, or not suitable for WOL or the workplace. 

What’s next

The last question I asked in the survey was, “If you were me, would you keep working on WOL: Self-Care?” 

The responses were (mostly) positive and encouraging, and yet even if they weren’t I would keep working on WOL: SC. As I wrote about a year ago, the needs for putting these ideas into practice are greater than ever, and we have a tremendous opportunity because of how WOL has spread.

Hundreds of companies are spreading Working Out Loud Circles, proving that they are willing to create a safe, confidential space for employees to develop themselves. What if we could build on that, and use Circles to enhance employees' focus, self-control, and stress management while helping them be kinder and happier? How many people would benefit if all those wellness programs had a new method that was easy to implement and spread? 

As a next step, I will redesign WOL: Self-Care, employing a different structure, different media, and different exercises. I will also create alternative practices so those who finish WOL Circles have multiple options for continuing their development.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the pilot as well as those who offered ideas and opinions along the way. I greatly appreciate your support and contributions.

Who would you tell?

When you’re anxious about not being good enough, or you have a goal you don’t dare to share, or you’re unhappy with your job and want to explore options…

Who would you tell? 

At work, the last person I would talk to about my weaknesses would be my boss or Human Resources. A colleague once described our management team as “a wolf pack.” Given the focus on performance ratings and curves, any vulnerability made it easier for you to be sacrificed.

Telling your partner can also be challenging. How do you say that the job your family depends on isn’t fulfilling? Or that you may not be the person they expected you to be?

One place where you can share such things is a WOL Circle. A group in India, for example, just completed their 12 weeks and described the “sharing of experiences, dreams, and aspirations without fear or inhibition.” One person said, “I soon realized it was my ‘safe space.’”

That feeling of psychological safety made it possible for them to share what was difficult to share elsewhere. and know they had been heard. Better still, week by week they took actions that helped them make progress and build their confidence. More than just support, the Circle offered empowerment.

It’s extremely rare to have a safe space at work, or anywhere for that matter. Where’s yours?

Source: http://sailornattie.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/lightingfour.jpg

Source: http://sailornattie.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/lightingfour.jpg

The world changed here

It was a short movie, only about 6 minutes long, but the title and the story of transformation reminded me of people in the WOL Community.

I saw “The World Changed Here” at Niagara Falls State Park, where I visited last week with family and friends. In the mid-1800s, the land surrounding the Falls was privately owned, mostly by companies using the fast-flowing water to power their mills. Public access was limited, and it looked like this.

Source: Image from “Review of reviews and world’s work” (1890) p. 451.

A landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (perhaps best known for designing Central Park in New York City), began to advocate for the preservation of the Falls in the 1860s. Others joined him, and in time there were publicity campaigns using the social media of the time: newspapers and parades. Word spread, and a movement formed that gained the attention of the government. In 1883, Niagara Falls State Park became the first state park in the US. 

Today, the falls are breathtakingly beautiful. It’s home to 300 species of birds, and more 30 million people connect with nature there each year. There’s still commerce, but it’s in concert with the natural beauty and wonder of the Falls, and now it looks like this.

Niagara Falls - 2019

There are now more than 10,000 state parks in the US, all made possible by a few people who cared, inspired others, and banded together to make a difference. That’s the connection I made to people in the WOL Community, people like Ulrike Poppe. 

Ulrike enjoyed her WOL Circle and wanted to spread more of them. (She is the first-ever person to buy the Video Guides & Circle Journal.) So she decided to approach Human Resources. Nervous about the presentation, she reached out to the WOL community for help, and proudly announced when she got the company support she sought. 

I have the good fortune to connect with more and more people who dare to make work and life better. Some of them are just taking a first step, some are organizing meet-ups and other events, and and others are trying to expand their movement from dozens to hundreds to thousands.

Not all of them will lead a transformational change, of course. But there is beauty and power in the attempt, and I am inspired by all who have the courage to act. It is because of people like them we can say, “The world changed here.”




WOL in Switzerland

Though Switzerland is only about a third of the size of Ohio, their impact on the world is remarkable. The latest difference they’re making is related to Working Out Loud.

Remarkable companies

One of the fastest-growing WOL movements is being spread by Roche in Basel, with more than 350 people in 18 countries in less than 6 months. It’s an incredible beginning.

A diverse and growing group of organizations is also spreading Circles, including Swisscom, Helvetia, Swiss Post, the Swiss transportation company SBB, and even the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Remarkable events

One reason I find this list of companies remarkable is that it was just last October when I visited Switzerland for the first time, thanks to the Swiss Social Collaboration Summit. The audience was curious about WOL, but there were very few Circles then.

Now, there are regular WOL-CH Meet-ups run by Monika Schlatter and Stefanie Moser held on the 3rd Friday of each month, and there’s a special Meet-up for beginners at Helvetia coming up on August 28th. I asked Stefanie why she does it.

I love to inspire people to experiment, to be curious and interested in life-long learning. WOL is a brilliant method to learn those new behaviors together with a group in a safe space and to actually get things done.

There’s even a two-day workshop in Basel for WOL Mentors on August 27-28, organized and delivered by Kluge Consulting. Participants from the last Mentor training in Berlin said it inspired and equipped them to build and grow their own WOL movements. If you’re in a Swiss company and want to spread WOL, this upcoming workshop is a remarkable opportunity.

A remarkable WOL Coach

Martin Geisenhainer is the first WOL Coach in Switzerland. He is a Learning Architect at Swisscom, and has been engaged in learning and knowledge programs for 20 years. He’s also an organizer of the Swiss Social Collaboration Summit, where we worked together last year and where he’ll offer multiple sessions on Working Out Loud in November.

Martin is smart and kind and generous. I enjoy working with him and relish our time together in a WOL: SC Circle. His deep experience and wonderful approach makes him a perfect person to help Swiss organizations.

A remarkable start

For WOL in Switzerland, it has been an incredible few months. The only thing more remarkable will be what happens next.

Announcing WOL Enterprise Solutions

If you want to scale an employee-led movement, you shouldn’t “leave it alone” and hope for the best. Instead, you should leverage your company’s resources so you can reach more people and help change the culture.

Whether you’re in the early days of spreading WOL inside your organization or you’re looking to expand the grassroots movement you created, there are now products and services that can help you.  

The WOL Roadmap

A pattern has emerged from the many different companies spreading WOL and it generally has four phases, identified by the approximate number of people in Circles and by common milestones we see. Although the initial Pilot phase can be started by anyone in the company using free PDFs, moving to the later phases is much more likely with professional materials and support. 

3 Ways to Ensure Success

Based on our experience with companies who’ve successfully used WOL in many locations and departments, there are three things that make Circles more effective and easier to spread.

1. Customized Materials

The Video Guides & Journals announced last week make the Circle experience more convenient and professional. Increasingly, employees expect e-learning to be available via video and mobile, and the Circle Journal makes it possible to capture progress in one place. 

Customizing the Journal makes it easier to see how WOL relates to your company specifically. By including your brand and welcome message, you let employees know WOL is officially supported. Including your own examples each week shows them how to practice at work using the company’s technology.

2. Professional Support

The volunteers who support the Pilot phase need assistance as WOL spreads. Professional support, offered by me and a growing network of certified WOL Coaches, helps grow the movement while ensuring good results for Circle members and program owners. WOL Mentor Training enables you to develop your own internal capability across locations & divisions.

3. Additional Programs

In the later phases, going beyond the basic WOL Circle method allows you to reach a wider range of employees in different kinds of work environments. Here are several WOL programs that are available now or are under development:

  • WOL for Leaders pairs executives with reverse mentors

  • WOL for Managers & On-boarding are add-ons for these specific groups

  • WOL: Self-Care improves employee wellness

  • WOL: Purpose reduces busy-ness & information overload

  • WOL for Operational Employees enables front-line workers to experience the benefits of WOL

Enterprise Solutions: Basic, Advanced, Partner

As your movement succeeds, three annual subscription packages - Basic, Advanced, and Partner - offer you a range of options and support. For more about the products and services in each package, including pricing, contact me at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com.

By taking your WOL efforts to the next level, you can help thousands of colleagues feel more confident, develop new skills, and realize more of their potential. We want to help you make the difference you aspire to make.

WOL Circle Video Guides & Journal now for sale

Starting today, you can buy the new WOL Circle Video Guides + Journal for an introductory price of €49 (about $55, including shipping and tax).

I’m excited to make this package available. The hundreds of people who have tested it said the combination of the videos and journal is “so much more personal & engaging” and “would definitely recommend it to others.” 

Click on the image to view the Introduction & purchase the Video+Journal package

Click on the image to view the Introduction & purchase the Video+Journal package

Together the Videos + Journal make for a much better Circle experience. You can watch or listen to the videos at home, on your commute, or during your meetings. And the journal allows you to do the exercises and capture all your progress in one convenient place.

Here’s what’s included for €49:

13 Video Guides

  • All the instructions, stories & tips you need for a great WOL Circle

  • Watch or listen on your mobile, laptop, or desktop

  • Over 3 hours of content

  • Access for 6 months

Circle Journal

  • 200+ pages in an easy-to-handle format

  • Instructions for all the exercises

  • Plenty of space to write

  • Bonus content

  • Includes shipping & tax

You can watch the introduction here. Then click on any of the 12 weeks to purchase the Video Guides & Circle Journal. 

Thank you for all your support and for spreading the word about WOL. This package is the first of a wide range of programs and resources I will add to the WOL Library in the coming months, both for individuals and for organizations. (More about that next week.) If you have any questions, contact me at orders@workingoutloud.com. I’ll be happy to hear from you.

I hope you enjoy a new and improved Circle experience.

“Grass doesn’t grow faster when you pull it”

Though it’s often described as an African proverb, I first came across the expression via an email from Petra in Europe.

Thank you for introducing WOL to the business world. I really hope we can change the culture of our company, but I know we have to be patient. “Grass doesn't grow faster when you pull it.” :-)

Petra made me think about the grassroots movements that sometimes form within organizations. There’s something almost magical about an employee-led movement, the earnest coming together of people who share a passion and commitment for making a difference. 

Individuals participating in these movements are sometimes skeptical about management initiatives that try to accelerate what they started, “pulling the grass” as it were. Yet if your goal is to reach more people in your organization, management isn’t something to be avoid. Rather, their support is exactly what you need for your grassroots to grow, and it can come in many forms and from many different people. 

  • Support could be a Learning & Development manager putting WOL Circles in the Corporate Academy, making it easier for employees to join and making it clear that personal development can be done on “work time.”

  • It could be the right structures, such as an on-boarding, talent management, innovation, or diversity program, that gives the grassroots new fields where they can spread.

  • It could be a board member issuing a press release, communicating how this kind of development helps the company.

  • It could be managers enrolling in Circles or WOL for Leaders (a reverse mentoring program) so they experience the benefits themselves and signal to others that these kinds of “WOL behaviors” are encouraged.

Because “grass doesn’t grow faster when you pull it” we ensure Circles are always optional and confidential, so management can’t dictate participation or the choice of goals in WOL Circles. But grass does grow faster - and is healthier and more sustainable - when you have the right conditions. Just as the landscapers in my local park provide nutrients, water, structures (fences), and protection (a cover in winter), it’s possible for management to provide a fertile environment conducive to growth.  

If, like Petra, you’re hoping to change your company’s culture, then part of what you must do is find managers open to change and make it easy for them to support you in some way. Doing so is key to scaling your efforts, helping more people, and making the difference you want to make.

My view as I wrote this post in the local park: Healthy grass roots!