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!



Intimacy with a stranger in 20 seconds

Ten thousand years ago, if you were rejected by your social group you would die. To improve our collective chances of belonging and surviving, we evolved highly sophisticated ways of tracking status of group members in ways that help us cooperate and collaborate. 

Deep in our brains, we still carry this instinctual need for belonging. It may no longer be life or death, but we feel pain when we sense we’re being rejected and we feel better when we sense we’re accepted and safe.

Knowing this can change how you relate to people.

Is it safe?

In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, author Dan Coyle asserts that the cultures of the world’s most successful groups “are created by a specific set of skills which tap into the power of our social brains.” The first of these skills is to “build safety,” learning how to exchange signals that build social bonds of belonging and identity. These signals, or belonging cues, communicate three things.

  1. I see you.

  2. I care about you.

  3. We have a shared future together. 

When we exchange these signals, we feel safe and accepted. When we don’t, we feel uncertain and increasingly anxious.

A fundamental human skill

The phrase “psychological safety” may seem more suitable for the laboratory than the workplace or home, but Google’s research into effective teams lists psychological safety as the first of “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google.” The belonging cues are even taught at elementary schools, using the SLANT strategy

“SLANT” is an acronym that stands for ‘Sit up, Lean forward, Ask and answers questions, Nod your head and Track the speaker.’ It is a simple technique to encourage and remind students on being attentive and active in class. 

The crux of the SLANT strategy is to enhance learning and student performance by creating a behavior incorporating the conscious use of positive body language.

Track the speaker and make eye contact. I see you. Nod your head and ask questions. I care about what you have to say. Ask and answer questions. We have a shared future together. If you think this seems silly or unnecessary, try having a conversation with your child or partner while they’re looking at their phone. How effective is that conversation? How do you feel?

Is it difficult to learn how to do this?

Recently, I heard Dan Coyle speak at a conference in Houston. He’s an insightful, intelligent, engaging presenter - and I had to give a talk after him! I related the exchanges of signals that Dan talked about to the giving and receiving that takes place as you Work Out Loud. In the workshop after my talk, I included an exercise of offering a contribution of appreciation, and a woman in the audience demonstrated how easy it can be to communicate belonging cues.

With a single sentence, she made it clear she was listening to what I had to say, was interested in it, and expected to use it in the future. Writing it took just a few seconds, and it led to a further exchange during the workshop.

But if it’s so easy, why don’t we have more successful groups and positive cultures? Because the hard part - the art of communications and good relationships - is to practice making these exchanges over and over again, reinforcing and enhancing social bonds. That’s the thing most of us struggle with. We forget to say what we feel, we avoid the risk of discomfort, we assume the other person knows.

The basis of human connection is an exchange of signals over time. What signals are you sending?

WOL Circle Guides now in Turkish!

Even the phrase “Circle Guides” in Turkish - “Çember Kılavuzu” - looks and sounds exotic to me. Seeing over 120 pages of Working Out Loud material in Turkish is a miracle!

It’s also a huge amount of work: translating thirteen guides, standardizing words and phrases, coordinating people across multiple timezones, double- and triple-checking for consistency and correctness. All of it by volunteers. Sebnem Maier, who organized the effort, also set up a LinkedIn group for “WOL Türkiye Topluluğu” and requested Turkish readers contact her with any edits or comments.

I asked Sebnem and the team what motivated them to take on such a big project, and here’s what they said. I’m grateful for all they’ve done, and inspired by why they did it. 

***

Since I have started my WOL experience in 2016, I was dreaming to have the guides in Turkish to reach people in my country who may have interest in WOL. So my dream has been fulfilled thanks to the great team who translated the guides with me voluntarily. Now, all Turkish-speaking people have the possibility to experience WOL and I am very happy about it.

Sebnem Maier – Senior manager at Robert Bosch GmbH, WOL Mentor, WOL Co-Creation Team

I felt that it was a simple yet genuine tool designed to help people to understand how to add a human touch to  their digital relations. I just wanted to have more people exposed to it and not be limited by language. We need to get closer and together. In person or on digital platforms. We need to relearn to look and see each other eye to eye, people to people, without boundaries of our limitations.

Nurhayat Ulucan – HR Manager, PPG Turkey

I observed in my Turkish Circle as a moderator that language might be a barrier for some people. For a successful rollout of the method, which is what I aim in my home country, Turkey, and for a better life as the WOL ambassador, it was necessary to have the guides in my mother language.

Rüya Demirtas – Project manager, Process improvement specialist, Bosch Turkey

It is a unique method which helps to discover and to understand your own goals by building relationships. We are happy and excited to help WOL reach more people by helping to translate the guides to Turkish.

Ebru Bakir Kandemir & Zafer Kandemir

As a psychology student, what motivated me to become a part of WOL was the enlightening experience of self-actualization, self-realization and self-confidence with the weekly Circle meetings in a friendly, understanding environment.

Zeynep Taş – Junior Student Majoring Psychology at Koç University in Turkey 

We have been searching for a sharing methodology to organize women's Circles to harness our sisterhood's knowledge and passion to share with each other. WOL will unlock this potential. Thank you John and the team! 

Melek Pulatkonak – Founder of TurkishWIN & BinYaprak  

WOL in Germany: Upcoming meetups, experiments, and more

Ah, Germans. They’re direct, often brusque. They have a maddening insistence on process and structure. Yet underneath their stern exterior I almost always find kindness and creativity. They are also excellent at getting things done, and are a source of inspiration for me and for Working Out Loud.

I’ll make at least five trips to Germany this year including the next ten days in Berlin, Stuttgart, and Darmstadt. There I’ll work on adaptations of WOL Circles for manufacturing and healthcare, and on variations of programs for managers and internal trainers (WOL Mentors). 

When I travel, I always wish I could meet even more people interested in WOL, so on this trip I’ll try something different. With the help of friends in the places I’m visiting, we’ll have informal public meetups where anyone can join. (Click on the city to find out more and register.)

Berlin

Stuttgart

Frankfurt

I’ll return to Germany in June, October, and November for projects and events and will visit these cities again. I’ll add Walldorf and Nürnberg to the itinerary, hope to visit Hamburg and Hannover for the first time, and would love to return to more familiar places like Bonn, Friedrichshafen, and Munich.

All this travel leads to a common question: "Why is WOL popular in Germany?” I think it’s because Bosch, headquartered in Stuttgart, was the first organization to embrace WOL Circles and, just as information and behaviors spread via social networks, WOL spread to other German companies. Now, because many of these companies are global, there are Circle members in 57 countries and the Circle Guides are soon to be published in a 9th language. In short, it’s less about WOL being “German” (whatever that means) and more about the Germans being first. 

Wherever WOL takes me, I’ll always have fond memories of my travels to Germany, and a deep respect and affection for the people there.

Herzlicher Dank! Bis bald!


What would you say to 400 knowledge managers?

Today, I’ll fly to Houston to take part in the APQC Knowledge Management (KM) conference. Many of the 400 attendees have been working on KM for years, some for decades. They’re already experts when it comes to the tools and processes they need. 

But something has been missing. The traditional focus on tools and taxonomies has left little room for a harder challenge: people.

Long-time KM experts like Stan Garfield and Nick Milton have written often about the need for focusing on behavior change and a cultural shift. (In one of Stan’s recent articles, the word “culture” appears 8 times.) To increase both the supply and demand of knowledge, you have to create an environment where people are intrinsically motivated to share and search for knowledge as part of their everyday work. But how?

The talk before mine will have many of the answers. It’s by Dan Coyle, author of the excellent book, The Culture Code. Here’s an excerpt from an APQC article about their interview with Dan. 

I have asked KM leaders what their main objective is for implementing KM.  And, overwhelmingly, the #1 response is to “change the culture of the organization.”  

A collaborative culture feels and works better. Dan’s formula for success focuses on

1) making the environment safe to accelerate building relationships and trust,

2) demonstrating how leaders can use vulnerability to forge reciprocity, and

3) creating a roadmap that gets people onboard for the journey ahead.

WOL is a method for implementing some of these ideas. That’s why the APQC also wrote that “Working Out Loud is KM’s most transformative trend.” WOL Circles give people a chance to do what Dan writes about: exchange knowledge, vulnerability, and more all in a psychologically safe space. And the method helps them practice over time till they develop new habits and a new mindset. As the new behaviors spread, the culture changes.

I hope to give a good talk. More importantly, though, I hope to give each of the 400 attendees something they can use, so they can finally fill in the piece that’s been missing, and kick off culture change movements of their own.