Common goals in working out circles are to be more visible at work and get promoted. And in one circle, a particularly smart and experienced person (I’ll call her Sue) was up for promotion. She knew people who could help her, but she struggled with what contributions to make. So in one of her circle meetings, we put together the list below based on the guided mastery program and the four levels of working out loud. It starts with simple, almost trivial contributions and gradually builds to gifts that take more effort and are worth more. As she offers more valuable gifts to people, she’ll deepen relationships with them.
At our firm, we’re fortunate to have an enterprise social network, so the initial contribution Sue would make is an easy one:
Find senior people in her division - as well as other influencers she likes or respects - and click on a Follow button.
This one click may move the relationship from “he never heard of me” to “he may have seen my name.” Now updates from these people will appear in Sue’s stream. While all the people she’s following may not be active, some will and that allows her to make a second contribution:
Show gratitude with a Like or a simple “Thank you for posting this. It was very helpful.”
Even the most senior people I’ve met care about what other people think and value the recognition of employees. Each time Sue clicks a Like button it is a visible affirmation and a small step in deepening the relationship.
Despite how small theses contributions are, they are rarely made. So even these simple gestures can differentiate you.
One of the most senior people in Sue’s department was conducting an Ask Me Anything (AMA) at work - an open online discussion. But when I asked Sue, “What was your question?” she looked me blankly.
Again, everyone at every level is looking for appreciation and recognition. These are universal gifts. So here are two, slightly more significant contributions that Sue can make.
Build on something others have said. “Thank you for conducting this AMA. Other firms like ours are doing X. Are we considering doing something similar? If not, why not?”
Credit other people. “I learned a lot from the XYZ town hall today. Great job by the Z team to put together such an inspiring event.”
These kinds of gifts move a relationship from “he’s seen my name” to “we’ve interacted.” Other contributions may spark a discussion or burnish your reputation as someone genuinely interested and informed in what your organization does.
Share articles, presentations, or other research you’ve found useful.
Share the work of others you admire.
Share your connections.
Share content from your network.
Note that you don’t need an enterprise social network to deliver all these gifts. For example, Sue described how she had met one executive a month ago and had since acted on one of his suggestions. “Did you tell him?” I asked. “No,” she said. Her instinct was to wait for the next time they might meet. Instead, I suggested she craft a short note that showed she listened, was inspired, and acted on what they discussed. The she would close not with “an ask” but with gratitude.
The majority of people stop at the shallow end of the contribution pool. But deeper relationships come from more meaningful contributions. More meaningful, though, needn’t be scary. You’re simply framing what you’re already doing as a contribution that might help someone else. The reflection involved in doing so helps refine your own learning too, so you benefit even if no one responds.
Here is a short list of possible contributions:
Share your ideas.
Share your projects.
Share your process.
Share your motivations, why you did what you did.
Share your challenges.
Share something you’ve learned.
Sue had worked on a project that improved quality and cut costs. By writing about it in a way that might help others - and being sure to credit the work of others - her post becomes a contribution rather than self-promotion. Often, people will want to learn more about what you shared and that moves the relationship from "we've interacted" to "we've collaborated."
Many people hesitate to create such gifts because they’re unsure who will be interested. But remember the goal. You’re not trying to be popular or garner a lot of Likes. You’re trying to be visible among a particular tribe that does what you do. And the portfolio of contributions you build up over time can be re-gifted many times using a variety of channels.
Becoming a Linchpin
The most advanced level of contribution is building a network that can accomplish something together. That could range from establishing a local interest group for something you care about (Toastmasters, diversity, a social responsibility effort) to a community of practice directly related to your job.
Contribute to or form a purposeful community.
This kind of contribution deepens the relationship further, creating an emotional connection to a shared purpose. You don’t have to create the group to lead it. Leadership of such things is based on contribution as opposed to appointment. Your consistent contributions and the public feedback on them are what’s important.
Taking more control of your career
The book provides more examples on what contributions to make and how to make them. And as more circles form in different companies, I’m working on mapping contributions to specific contexts. How would a retail clerk work out loud? A private wealth manager? An engineer?
For much of my career I was waiting for someone to call my name, to recognize me for my work. And when I was lucky, that happened. But we can all increase the odds - make our own luck - by offering authentic contributions to our networks.