The missing piece in most organizational change programs

Think for a moment of all the change programs you’ve seen or have been a part of. Maybe there was a new strategy or new management team. Maybe that led to a culture program, or perhaps a big push to create “one firm” that would be more agile, connected, and collaborative. 

How did it go?

My own experience is that none of the change programs I’ve witnessed realized what they set out to accomplish. Zero. Not one even came close.

Something has been missing, and I think I know what it is.

The three elements

You’ve probably come across articles about the most important elements of a successful change program. Most will cite the critical need for a certain kind of leadership. Or a certain kind of culture. Or the need for certain talent or incentives or measurements or employee development or employee engagement. And so on.

These are all good and important things, but of course no one thing is enough for changing how people work.

At a high level, three sets of things that have to come together to enable an organization to realize the collective potential of its people: 

Environment: This is the structural stuff. How people are organized and how they’re paid. The strategic objectives and Key Performance Indicators. The physical space as well as the policies and procedures.

Technology: Increasingly, this defines - in both good and bad ways - how people can access information and each other. 

Behavior: This is the soft stuff. How do people act at work? How do they relate to each other? Not just the one percent of senior managers, but everybody.

The missing piece

Most of the programs I’ve seen have focused largely on the environment. There’s a lot of emphasis on the organization chart (particularly who’s in and who’s out), the strategy, and objectives and measurements. Some included major IT programs or were even technology-led. 

None focused on behavior. They may have mentioned words like “collaboration” and “values,” but not a single change program helped people experience new ways of working in a way that led to new behaviors, habits, and mindsets.

It’s why so many change programs don’t stick. There’s a lot of sound and fury at the beginning, but the vast majority of people keep doing what they were doing, albeit in a new environment or with new technology.

A book that helps & one that ties it all together

As I work with more organizations, several have referred to Working Out Loud as “the missing piece.” They may have an excellent strategy and good tools. But they're usually missing a way to intrinsically motivate employees to work in a different way and a way to spread those new behaviors and scale those changes across the firm.

So I’m spreading and adapting Working Out Loud circles inside organizations as a means of addressing exactly these deficiencies. The peer-to-peer process helps with motivation, tapping into an employee’s needs for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. And because circles are largely self-organizing and self-directed, they can spread changes more readily.

A book that describes how highly evolved companies have changed their environment, technology, and behaviors is Reinventing Organizations. It includes examples of highly evolved CEOs and modern pay practices, and of “active internal social networks” that make possible a new level of transparency and access to people and knowledge.

And in every example there’s mention of changing individual employee behaviors and motivations. Of helping employees learn how to communicate effectively, make decisions as teams, and how to relate to other stakeholders in the firm. Working Out Loud circles are a way to help more organizations do that, to equip and empower individual employees and change how they relate to each other. It can be the missing piece.

Have you been part of a successful change program? If so, how and why did people change their day-to-day behavior at work?

If you're just embarking on a change program now, is something missing?

 

New Circle Guides Available!

The new guides are based on feedback from hundreds of circles and practitioners around the world. They’re simpler and easier than ever.

If you haven’t formed a circle yet, now is a perfect time to invest in yourself.

What’s changed?

The last version was published in August 2015, and since then circles have spread to 17 countries. (This week alone I heard from people looking to form them in Austria and Israel.) We’ve learned a lot over the past nine months and put that learning into the new guides.

Here are some of the improvements:

  • A simpler progression from week to week that makes each step easier and provides positive reinforcement sooner.
  • A two-page summary of the 12 weeks and a short “What to expect this week” section at the beginning of each guide. 
  • Introduction of “spiral learning” (revisiting core concepts in different ways) to reinforce the fundamental elements of the practice.  
  • No “homework.” The optional exercises and related reading were chosen so you can put in as much or as little effort as feels right for you.
  • New exercises for helping with time challenges.
  • The Facilitator role has been replaced with a simpler “Circle Coordinator” role which can be rotated among members.

How to get help

The guides are designed so anyone can form a circle, download the free guides, and make progress towards a goal they care about while they develop a new habit and mindset.

Yet many people would like help forming a circle and advice on how to handle challenges and issues that come up. Such help can make the difference between success and never making it to the first meeting. 

The best way to get that help is with a new online course we’re piloting

When? Six Thursdays in a row, June 9 through July 14 

How long? 90 minutes via live, interactive video.

What’s included? We’ll place each person in a circle and you’ll go through a condensed version of the 12-week circle process in an hour each week, along with 30 minutes of coaching from me. You'll also have online access to coaches. That will help make your experience a success and better equip you to coach more circles in the future.

Organizations who want additional help have additional options. For example, I’m working with a wide range of companies to customize all the materials and train Circle Coaches. For HR, it’’s a distributed, peer-to-peer development program tailored for their organization.

If you have any questions - about the guides, the course, or helping your organization - contact me at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com. You can also join the Facebook community or LinkedIn community and ask for advice from practitioners around the world.

Do you wish you had already spent more time investing in yourself and in your relationships? As the saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Form a circle or sign up for the course today.

***

p.s. If you’re asking someone to join a circle, the simplest way might be to send them a link to this TEDx talk “Working Out Loud: The making of a movement.” It provides a simple description of circles and how they’re spreading, and the stories of individuals and companies bring it all to life. 

All you need to add is: “Would you like to try this with me?”

The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud (Revisited)

A lot has happened since I wrote The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud in early 2014. The book came out, Working Out Loud circles started forming, and those peer support groups are now in fourteen countries and spreading inside a wide range of organizations.

Based on all those people putting the ideas into practice, we've been able to observe what works and doesn't work, and how we can improve things. Though the five elements are roughly the same, the emphasis on the different elements has shifted.

An updated description

The phrase working out loud has its roots in sharing your work online. That was the entire point back in 2010 when the phrase first appeared. However, even as more articles and books appeared about working out loud, only a minority of people tried it or realized the benefits. The vast majority kept working as they always did.

Over the years, I’ve tried to extend the original idea and make it so simple and compelling that anyone could and would practice it. To do that, I reframed what working out loud means so it would appeal to our intrinsic human motivators - our desire for autonomy, for learning, and for purpose, including connections to other people.

Here’s how I describe it now:

Working out loud is an approach to building relationships that can help you in some way. It’s a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. When you work out loud, you feel good and empowered at the same time.

It's a personal practice that evolves over time. And in addition to the individual benefits, it can help HR departments (and organizations generally) create a more engaged, digital-savvy workforce and an open, connected culture.

The 5 Elements

In the original post, I wrote that “Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others.” That turned out to be limiting, as most people found “making your work visible” to be too daunting as a first step. It also wasn’t clear why you would make your work visible, other than the hope that something good might happen.

So here’s an updated version of the 5 elements and how they tend to appeal more directly to our intrinsic motivators. There’s a chapter on each one of them in Part II of Working Out Loud.

Relationships: Relationships are at the heart of working out loud. The path to opportunities and to knowledge is very often via other people. As you deepen relationships with people in your network, they’re more likely to help you or collaborate in some way, and deepening relationships taps into your intrinsic need for feeling connected to something and someone beside yourself.

Generosity: Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, said, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, wrote about the power of “small gifts, freely given.” Your contributions can include things as simple (and powerful) as recognition and appreciation. The reason generosity is a good way to build relationships is because we’re wired for reciprocal altruism. That means that you don’t have to keep score or think of giving to people as a quid pro quo transaction. Rather, you can make contributions in a way that feels good and genuine knowing that, over the entirety of your network, there will naturally be a benefit to you too as others reciprocate. 

Visible work: You don't have to be a social media maven to work out loud. You can do it over coffee and email. Using social platforms, though, has a number of advantages. When you make your work visible and frame it as a contribution, social platforms can amplify who you are and what you do; greatly extend your reach; and expand the set of contributions you can make and how you can offer them. The feedback on your visible work can also make you and your work better, thus tapping into your intrinsic need for learning.

Purposeful discovery: Given the infinite amount of contributing and connecting you can do, you need to make it purposeful in order to be effective. It needn't be your One Special Purpose but rather something as simple as “I’d like to learn more about <X>” or “I’d like to explore opportunities in another industry or location.” You can still have room for serendipity, but having a goal in mind orients your activities, including the kinds of relationships you’re trying to develop and contributions you should make. As working out loud becomes a habit, you can apply it towards any goal.

A growth mindset: This last element isn’t about things to do but rather a mindset to have as you do them. Carol Dweck, researcher and author of Growth Mindset, showed how you can develop a more open, curious approach to work and life and be more resilient in the face of setbacks. Adopting such a mindset means you’re more likely to try new things and to persist even when someone, for example, doesn’t respond to your contributions as you had hoped.

Your own practice

You may have noticed I used the word “practice” several times when describing working out loud, and that I offered a general description in lieu of a definition. That’s because working out loud is not a recipe with a prescriptive set of instructions to follow.

It's more personal than that. You start with steps that are simple and can offer some benefits quite quickly. Over time, as your personal practice evolves and you explore what's right for you, you might try some more advanced techniques or seek out some additional resources to help you. Small steps, practiced over time, with feedback and peer support help you develop a set of positive habits - and help you discover your best self.

The start of something big and wonderful

Sometimes, I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice. They start to talk about something they care about, something they very much want to do, perhaps need to do. But they can’t. It might be uncertainty or fear that holds them back. It might be they’re stuck in a prison they made themselves.

If only they could see what I see when I’m with them.

A dream deferred

Open to possibilities

My friend David had a dream. While he worked on technology projects for a group of lawyers in a big corporation, he thought about writing children’s stories. It was more than just a passing whim. He and his young daughter, Lily, would make up characters and adventures as they walked together. He treasured these moments and he wanted to capture them in writing. He described his early attempts this way:

Everyone, it seems, dreams of writing that one classic kids book; the one everybody reads to their children…

The first few lines were written on the train (much like I write these now), a world was forming in front of my eyes and soon it would be a best seller and life would be richer for it. Except, after about half a chapter I stopped…then forgot to get out the laptop one night. The next I had some documents to read for work…enthusiasm was replaced by procrastination.

Soon it was pushed to the back; an idea that seemed like a good one at the time, but probably left to somebody else to make good.

After that, David’s book project sat on his laptop, untouched. Five years went by.

“It’s so much easier to fail.”

If you were David’s friend, you would likely offer him encouragement and maybe some helpful suggestions. Now imagine that you’re David. What would you tell yourself? If you’re like me or like most of the people I coach, you would be much harder on yourself, a lack of progress leading to a spiral of self-criticism.

And yet too many of us wait for something to happen before we decide to shape our future. We wait to be discovered, wait till our work is good enough, or wait for when the time is right. Too often, we resign ourselves to Fate and then, when our our dreams don’t manifest themselves, we think like David that it’s “probably left to somebody else to make good.”

As David described it to me this week, “It’s so much easier to fail.”

The start of something big and wonderful

The start of something big and wonderful is, as it turns out, remarkably similar to the start of something small and unremarkable: a simple first effort. Just contemplating the journey or wishing for it won’t get you there.

Five years after shelving his book project, David joined a working out loud circle. With the help of their encouragement and what they practiced in their meetings, David took a step: he published the beginning of his story as a blog post called Once upon a time…, sharing his work for the first time and seeking to get feedback and build connections.

I feel if I chronicle the journey of writing it, share that with you, the audience, then this outlet might inspire me to this time see it through. I hope it’s fun getting there, and I hope you can join me along the way.

So, as part of this ritual I’ll post some words, perhaps from the book, perhaps from my scribblings I did and now still do for Lily. This week will be the latter, that original open about our friend the Tin Can Man. I hope you enjoy it.

Once upon a time in a tin can shed, Lived a tin can man with a tin can head. A tin can body wearing tin can clothes, With his tin can feet and his tin can toes.

A dream realized

I don’t know what David will do next. I do know it isn't easy for him to find the time to write, that life keeps getting in the way of his desire to persist and improve. When I talk to David and to people like him who have deferred their dreams, their frustrations are visible as they share the dissonance between their hopes and their actions.

I also see their potential and the path towards realizing those dreams. I see that most people already have everything they need to succeed. That the steps to changing your life are actually well understood. That much of it is about developing a network of relationships and a set of habits that change how you think about yourself, your work, and what’s possible.

I see that David already took a step towards something big and wonderful. I hope he sees it too.

The start of something big and wonderful

Sometimes, I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice. They start to talk about something they care about, something they very much want to do, perhaps need to do. But they can’t. It might be uncertainty or fear that holds them back. It might be they’re stuck in a prison they made themselves.

If only they could see what I see when I’m with them.

A dream deferred

Open to possibilitiesMy friend David had a dream. While he worked on technology projects for a group of lawyers in a big corporation, he thought about writing children’s stories. It was more than just a passing whim. He and his young daughter, Lily, would make up characters and adventures as they walked together. He treasured these moments and he wanted to capture them in writing. He described his early attempts this way:

Everyone, it seems, dreams of writing that one classic kids book; the one everybody reads to their children…

The first few lines were written on the train (much like I write these now), a world was forming in front of my eyes and soon it would be a best seller and life would be richer for it. Except, after about half a chapter I stopped…then forgot to get out the laptop one night. The next I had some documents to read for work…enthusiasm was replaced by procrastination.

Soon it was pushed to the back; an idea that seemed like a good one at the time, but probably left to somebody else to make good.

After that, David’s book project sat on his laptop, untouched. Five years went by.

“It’s so much easier to fail.”

If you were David’s friend, you would likely offer him encouragement and maybe some helpful suggestions. Now imagine that you’re David. What would you tell yourself? If you’re like me or like most of the people I coach, you would be much harder on yourself, a lack of progress leading to a spiral of self-criticism.

And yet too many of us wait for something to happen before we decide to shape our future. We wait to be discovered, wait till our work is good enough, or wait for when the time is right. Too often, we resign ourselves to Fate and then, when our our dreams don’t manifest themselves, we think like David that it’s “probably left to somebody else to make good.”

As David described it to me this week, “It’s so much easier to fail.”

The start of something big and wonderful

The start of something big and wonderful is, as it turns out, remarkably similar to the start of something small and unremarkable: a simple first effort. Just contemplating the journey or wishing for it won’t get you there.

Five years after shelving his book project, David joined a working out loud circle. With the help of their encouragement and what they practiced in their meetings, David took a step: he published the beginning of his story as a blog post called Once upon a time…, sharing his work for the first time and seeking to get feedback and build connections.

I feel if I chronicle the journey of writing it, share that with you, the audience, then this outlet might inspire me to this time see it through. I hope it’s fun getting there, and I hope you can join me along the way.

So, as part of this ritual I’ll post some words, perhaps from the book, perhaps from my scribblings I did and now still do for Lily. This week will be the latter, that original open about our friend the Tin Can Man. I hope you enjoy it.

Once upon a time in a tin can shed, Lived a tin can man with a tin can head. A tin can body wearing tin can clothes, With his tin can feet and his tin can toes.

A dream realized

I don’t know what David will do next. I do know it isn't easy for him to find the time to write, that life keeps getting in the way of his desire to persist and improve. When I talk to David and to people like him who have deferred their dreams, their frustrations are visible as they share the dissonance between their hopes and their actions.

I also see their potential and the path towards realizing those dreams. I see that most people already have everything they need to succeed. That the steps to changing your life are actually well understood. That much of it is about developing a network of relationships and a set of habits that change how you think about yourself, your work, and what’s possible.

I see that David already took a step towards something big and wonderful. I hope he sees it too.

How working out loud circles could transform your organization

There’s a growing chasm between what executives say they want for their organizations and the experience of their employees. If you interview management at any large company, for example, they’ll talk about their desire for building an open, collaborative culture, the importance of being a learning organization, and the need to develop talent. Now talk to individuals working in that organization and you’ll discover a competitive environment, an inability to find even basic information, and a vast number of people who simply don’t care enough to get better at what they do.

It’s not that the executives are disingenuous. It’s just that the expensive, top-down change programs they roll out - for cultural change, collaboration, talent management - simply don’t work.

So here’s a different approach, one that’s employee-centered, self-organizing, and free.

How it would work

Working Out Loud CirclesI first described working out loud circles a few months ago. They’re groups of 4-5 people who meet over 12 weeks to help each other accomplish a personal goal by working out loud. Over that time, through actual practice, circle members learn specific ways to make their work visible, frame what they do as contributions, and build a richer, more purposeful social network.

Our experience with the first few circles has been extremely positive and that’s led to the idea of having entire organizations embrace them. To do that, here are the five most important things you would need to know about implementing circles in your organization:

  • Circles are employee-driven. It’s key that employees choose to participate, work on a goal that’s important to them, and trust that what happens inside the circle is confidential. If you impose manager approval or reporting requirements, you won’t realize the benefits.
  • Circles are open to anyone. Since circle members will be practicing basic 21st-century skills, access should not be restricted to only those with a certain title or those deemed to have potential. The most important criterion is the willingness to make an effort to learn.
  • Circles meet 12 times for one hour. These meetings could be outside normal business hours if necessary, depending on the organization. Individuals will also need to do work related to their goal in between meetings.
  • Instructions are provided in Circle Kits. The kits are concise guides for running each of the 12 meetings, including simple exercises complete with worksheets and examples.
  • All support for the circles is online and free. We’re developing a site that will host a rich FAQ and a range of other resources for developing specific skills. The site will also host stories and feedback from individuals and other circles.

How management could help

People could form circles outside of their company, of course. Between the Working Out Loud book due this September and the Circle Kits being released soon, independent groups would have the necessary resources to be successful.

But forming circles inside a company would have a number of advantages. The people there already have much in common, making it easier to form connections and even exchange their circle experiences. Also, if the organization uses an enterprise social network like Jive, Yammer, IBM Connections, Socialcast, Podio or similar offering, people will have a convenient platform to work out loud. Employees who work out loud at work are personally more effective, help the firm capture knowledge, and make it easier for others to access that knowledge.

While the circles are employee-centered and the resources I mentioned are free, there are still things that management could do to help. For example, by endorsing circles as an employee development offering or promoting them at employee networking events, they’d remove any doubts about whether employees are allowed to form them. They could provide time to participate in them, reducing possible interference from middle managers. They could motivate more people to participate by sharing stories of individuals and teams that are working out loud for their own benefit and that of the company.

The benefits: collaboration, learning, and engagement 

Working out loud combines the age-old principles for building meaningful relationships with the modern abilities to share your work, get feedback, and interact with others who share your interests. It wraps all of this in a mindset of generosity. You share and connect not to show off or create a personal brand but to genuinely help other people. If you were to describe someone who worked out loud, you might say she’s visible, connected, generous, curious, and purposeful.

The circles would help your employees to feel like that, to be like that. The practice over time and the peer support would enable people to finally break free of old ways of working and of thinking about work. They could finally develop new habits at work that tap into the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, purpose, mastery, and relatedness. Doing so in a visible way, together with the support of the firm, would accelerate the spread of these positive behaviors across the organization, changing the culture.

At a minimum, some circle members might learn to more readily search for people and content related to their work. Many will build a larger set of more meaningful relationships at work, enabling them to collaborate more effectively. Still others will feel, like Barbara from last week’s story, that “working out loud changed my life.” Combined, all that learning would fundamentally change how people relate to each other and to the organization.

How working out loud circles could transform your organization

There’s a growing chasm between what executives say they want for their organizations and the experience of their employees. If you interview management at any large company, for example, they’ll talk about their desire for building an open, collaborative culture, the importance of being a learning organization, and the need to develop talent. Now talk to individuals working in that organization and you’ll discover a competitive environment, an inability to find even basic information, and a vast number of people who simply don’t care enough to get better at what they do.

It’s not that the executives are disingenuous. It’s just that the expensive, top-down change programs they roll out - for cultural change, collaboration, talent management - simply don’t work.

So here’s a different approach, one that’s employee-centered, self-organizing, and free.

How it would work

Working Out Loud CirclesI first described working out loud circles a few months ago. They’re groups of 4-5 people who meet over 12 weeks to help each other accomplish a personal goal by working out loud. Over that time, through actual practice, circle members learn specific ways to make their work visible, frame what they do as contributions, and build a richer, more purposeful social network.

Our experience with the first few circles has been extremely positive and that’s led to the idea of having entire organizations embrace them. To do that, here are the five most important things you would need to know about implementing circles in your organization:

  • Circles are employee-driven. It’s key that employees choose to participate, work on a goal that’s important to them, and trust that what happens inside the circle is confidential. If you impose manager approval or reporting requirements, you won’t realize the benefits.
  • Circles are open to anyone. Since circle members will be practicing basic 21st-century skills, access should not be restricted to only those with a certain title or those deemed to have potential. The most important criterion is the willingness to make an effort to learn.
  • Circles meet 12 times for one hour. These meetings could be outside normal business hours if necessary, depending on the organization. Individuals will also need to do work related to their goal in between meetings.
  • Instructions are provided in Circle Kits. The kits are concise guides for running each of the 12 meetings, including simple exercises complete with worksheets and examples.
  • All support for the circles is online and free. We’re developing a site that will host a rich FAQ and a range of other resources for developing specific skills. The site will also host stories and feedback from individuals and other circles.

How management could help

People could form circles outside of their company, of course. Between the Working Out Loud book due this September and the Circle Kits being released soon, independent groups would have the necessary resources to be successful. [UPDATE: the book will be available in April 2015. The circle guides are here.]

But forming circles inside a company would have a number of advantages. The people there already have much in common, making it easier to form connections and even exchange their circle experiences. Also, if the organization uses an enterprise social network like Jive, Yammer, IBM Connections, Socialcast, Podio or similar offering, people will have a convenient platform to work out loud. Employees who work out loud at work are personally more effective, help the firm capture knowledge, and make it easier for others to access that knowledge.

While the circles are employee-centered and the resources I mentioned are free, there are still things that management could do to help. For example, by endorsing circles as an employee development offering or promoting them at employee networking events, they’d remove any doubts about whether employees are allowed to form them. They could provide time to participate in them, reducing possible interference from middle managers. They could motivate more people to participate by sharing stories of individuals and teams that are working out loud for their own benefit and that of the company.

The benefits: collaboration, learning, and engagement 

Working out loud combines the age-old principles for building meaningful relationships with the modern abilities to share your work, get feedback, and interact with others who share your interests. It wraps all of this in a mindset of generosity. You share and connect not to show off or create a personal brand but to genuinely help other people. If you were to describe someone who worked out loud, you might say she’s visible, connected, generous, curious, and purposeful.

The circles would help your employees to feel like that, to be like that. The practice over time and the peer support would enable people to finally break free of old ways of working and of thinking about work. They could finally develop new habits at work that tap into the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, purpose, mastery, and relatedness. Doing so in a visible way, together with the support of the firm, would accelerate the spread of these positive behaviors across the organization, changing the culture.

At a minimum, some circle members might learn to more readily search for people and content related to their work. Many will build a larger set of more meaningful relationships at work, enabling them to collaborate more effectively. Still others will feel, like Barbara from last week’s story, that “working out loud changed my life.” Combined, all that learning would fundamentally change how people relate to each other and to the organization.

“Working Out Loud changed my life”

Those could be my words but they’re not. They’re from Barbara in Germany, one of the first people to go through the 12-week coaching program for working out loud.

Barbara and I first met via an enterprise social network we use at our firm. Only after we started coaching via telephone did we get the chance to meet in person and become good friends. Working with her shaped the ideas in the book and led to forming working out loud circles.

Here’s her working out loud story.

Her purpose

BarbaraBarbara grew up near the Baltic Sea in Lübeck, Germany. One of four kids, she was the one with the traveling bug, spending nine months at a university in Texas and taking jobs in places like Milan and Brussels. When I met her, she was working in a group responsible for the firm’s books and records where she spent a lot of time analyzing large, complicated spreadsheets.

In our first session we tried to figure out what her purpose would be. More money or recognition at work? A different job in finance? She mentioned she enjoyed helping people with taxes. Could exploring that be her purpose? None of these were appealing. It turned out that Barbara didn’t consider herself a finance person. She was good at it, particularly the detailed analysis, but it wasn’t her. After university, she sort of stumbled into a finance track and didn’t know how or when to change.

After some deliberation, she decided her purpose was simply “to see what else is out there.”

Exploring & connecting

That’s when we started to talk about her other interests, and the one she was most animated about was genealogy. While I think of genealogy as simply charting a family tree, Barbara took it much further. Both for her own family and for historical figures and dates, she would pore through old church and government records. If she hit a dead end, she would call archivists for possible leads. She was also writing about it regularly.

Her first step was to look for other people like her, including other bloggers, people who organized genealogy conferences, and firms that specialized in family tree research. She followed them online and exchanged tweets and email. Within a few weeks, she had her content featured on major genealogy sites, including a lovely profile story focused on her.

That’s when she discovered something. She found that people did genealogy for companies too. She learned that people made a living producing corporate histories - books, documentaries, online content. Her favorite example was a beautiful online history for a company in her hometown so she connected with the person in charge. She discovered our own firm had a corporate historical society too.

Discovering possibilities

The more she looked, the more she found. It was like discovering a whole new world. For the first time, she started wondering if she could somehow connect her passion for genealogy to her work inside a large firm. Maybe, for example, she could help the firm's corporate historical society engage more people inside the company. She reached out to them via email, describing her appreciation for their work. That led to other interactions including organizing a corporate history event and working to promote their content on our firm’s enterprise social network.

Just had my call from the historical society. And it was amazing! Again I have this huge grin on my face ;) He directly asked me for my opinions regarding the examples he sent me and if I have other ideas...

The results

Before she started working out loud, Barbara was already smart, charming, and articulate. Working out loud just amplified her positive qualities and increased the chances she’d come into contact with interesting people and work she might find fulfilling. She achieved her near-term goal of “seeing what else is out there.” Here’s how she described her results:

I’m more visible because of my blog. I’m often asked to provide input for other bloggers. I got profiled by myheritage. I found a new topic of interest which is corporate history. I have a regular exchange with historians (inside and outside of my company). I started the history group on our internal collaboration platform to bring my whole self to work.

 

I don’t want to sound too pathetic, but WOL really changed my life. How I approach work and life. How I do things. I’ve always been a connector of people and topics. But this coaching took me to the next level. Now I do it with a purpose…not only for me, but for others too. I think even more about “who could participate in this” or “who could benefit out of it.

Barbara’s story is an example of job crafting. That's where you make adjustments to both your job and your approach so you tap into intrinsic motivators: autonomy, control, purpose, connectedness. It's how you can make almost any job fulfilling and meaningful.

Barbara’s still at the same firm but now she has greater control of her learning and her network. She’s routinely discovering other people, ideas, and possibilities. She feels, as she wrote, like she can bring her whole self to work.

Imagine if everyone felt that way.

“Working Out Loud changed my life”

Those could be my words but they’re not. They’re from Barbara in Germany, one of the first people to go through the 12-week coaching program for working out loud.

Barbara and I first met via an enterprise social network we use at our firm. Only after we started coaching via telephone did we get the chance to meet in person and become good friends. Working with her shaped the ideas in the book and led to forming working out loud circles.

Here’s her working out loud story.

Her purpose

BarbaraBarbara grew up near the Baltic Sea in Lübeck, Germany. One of four kids, she was the one with the traveling bug, spending nine months at a university in Texas and taking jobs in places like Milan and Brussels. When I met her, she was working in a group responsible for the firm’s books and records where she spent a lot of time analyzing large, complicated spreadsheets.

In our first session we tried to figure out what her purpose would be. More money or recognition at work? A different job in finance? She mentioned she enjoyed helping people with taxes. Could exploring that be her purpose? None of these were appealing. It turned out that Barbara didn’t consider herself a finance person. She was good at it, particularly the detailed analysis, but it wasn’t her. After university, she sort of stumbled into a finance track and didn’t know how or when to change.

After some deliberation, she decided her purpose was simply “to see what else is out there.”

Exploring & connecting

That’s when we started to talk about her other interests, and the one she was most animated about was genealogy. While I think of genealogy as simply charting a family tree, Barbara took it much further. Both for her own family and for historical figures and dates, she would pore through old church and government records. If she hit a dead end, she would call archivists for possible leads. She was also writing about it regularly.

Her first step was to look for other people like her, including other bloggers, people who organized genealogy conferences, and firms that specialized in family tree research. She followed them online and exchanged tweets and email. Within a few weeks, she had her content featured on major genealogy sites, including a lovely profile story focused on her.

That’s when she discovered something. She found that people did genealogy for companies too. She learned that people made a living producing corporate histories - books, documentaries, online content. Her favorite example was a beautiful online history for a company in her hometown so she connected with the person in charge. She discovered our own firm had a corporate historical society too.

Discovering possibilities

The more she looked, the more she found. It was like discovering a whole new world. For the first time, she started wondering if she could somehow connect her passion for genealogy to her work inside a large firm. Maybe, for example, she could help the firm's corporate historical society engage more people inside the company. She reached out to them via email, describing her appreciation for their work. That led to other interactions including organizing a corporate history event and working to promote their content on our firm’s enterprise social network.

Just had my call from the historical society. And it was amazing! Again I have this huge grin on my face ;) He directly asked me for my opinions regarding the examples he sent me and if I have other ideas...

The results

Before she started working out loud, Barbara was already smart, charming, and articulate. Working out loud just amplified her positive qualities and increased the chances she’d come into contact with interesting people and work she might find fulfilling. She achieved her near-term goal of “seeing what else is out there.” Here’s how she described her results:

I’m more visible because of my blog. I’m often asked to provide input for other bloggers. I got profiled by myheritage. I found a new topic of interest which is corporate history. I have a regular exchange with historians (inside and outside of my company). I started the history group on our internal collaboration platform to bring my whole self to work.

 

I don’t want to sound too pathetic, but WOL really changed my life. How I approach work and life. How I do things. I’ve always been a connector of people and topics. But this coaching took me to the next level. Now I do it with a purpose…not only for me, but for others too. I think even more about “who could participate in this” or “who could benefit out of it.

Barbara’s story is an example of job crafting. That's where you make adjustments to both your job and your approach so you tap into intrinsic motivators: autonomy, control, purpose, connectedness. It's how you can make almost any job fulfilling and meaningful.

Barbara’s still at the same firm but now she has greater control of her learning and her network. She’s routinely discovering other people, ideas, and possibilities. She feels, as she wrote, like she can bring her whole self to work.

Imagine if everyone felt that way.

How to discover a job you’ll love: the story of Sandi Ball

Musical Note nails by cute polishMaybe you know someone who’s bored, frustrated, or angry at work. Maybe they feel like a monkey trapped in some experiment. Maybe that someone is you. The good news is that the world of work has splintered into an ever-expanding set of opportunities. The bad news is that the traditional steps for finding work are  designed for matching you to traditional jobs, not for connecting you to opportunities you'll love.

To make the most of the wider range of possibilities, you can learn a lot from a 25 year-old woman in Canada who has a passion for nail polish.

Jobs from Abbot to Zymurgist 

You used to be able to name all the occupations. Farmer, doctor, lawyer. It was only in the 1930s that the concept of a white-collar worker even arose. Knowledge worker came about in the late 1950s. But since then, the sheer diversity of what people call work has changed dramatically.

In an in-depth study called The Changing Nature of Work, the National Research Council described the increasing heterogeneity of workers, work, and the workplace:

  1. there is increased diversity in the workforce and within occupations
  2. traditional occupational boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred, 
  3. the range of choices open to human resources managers and other decision makers about how to structure work appears to be increasing

It’s not a small change. In the 1950 US Census, for example, there were only 287 kinds of jobs. By the year 2000, before many of the Internet tools we use today even existed, that number nearly doubled to 543 and it continues to rise.

As the number of different kinds of jobs increases, so do the odds that you can find works that suits your particular aptitudes and passions. But how would you find those jobs? How would they find you?

The story of cutepolish

As a young girl growing up in Alberta, Canada, Sandi Ball was fascinated with nail polish. Her mother would often help her decorate her nails. Then, when Sandi turned 12, her mother gave her a collection of 50 different bottles of polish. Sandi was hooked. Ten years later when she was a 22 year old student and part-time teacher, people would frequently compliment her on the way her nails looked. They also said it looked too difficult for them to ever do.

So Sandi started a YouTube channel. Wanting to keep work and her hobby separate, she didn't reveal her name and called the channel cutepolish. Originally she saw it as a creative outlet. She could combine her “passions in art, technology, and teaching…to film and edit instructional videos to show girls all over the world how fun and easy nail art could be.”

She could have worked in a salon, or become a teacher or videographer. All fine jobs with familiar labels. Instead, she started making contributions that combined her different passions and might lead to more interesting possibilities.

Now, four years later, her videos have been viewed more than 240 million times and her channel has more than two million subscribers. She connects with thousands of fans on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and her popularity led to an invitation to appear at VidCon, “the world's premier gathering of people who make online video" where over 12,000 people attended to meet and learn from successful video makers like Sandi. There, the audience included YouTube producers and other influencers who could open doors she'd never have dreamed about growing up in Alberta, Canada.

Last month, as if finally embracing her success, she revealed her name in this charming Q&A video.

What you can do

Was Sandi Ball lucky? My mother would say she made her own luck.

Her first video was a simple 4-minute video with a combination of still shots, text, and bits of video overlaid with low background music. More than fours years and hundreds of videos later, her latest contribution is professional and stylish, including her own narration and product placements from the cosmetics company Sephora. As one fan commented on the original video: “she has come a LONG LONG LONG LONG LONG way.”

Sandi never heard of working out loud but that’s exactly what she has been doing. She made her work visible, framed it as a contribution, built a purposeful network, and increased her chances of finding meaning and fulfillment.