“Would you recommend this method to your network?”

I can already anticipate my wife’s response when I share this statistic with her. “Darling,” I’ll say, “99% of the people in WOL Circles at Bosch said they would recommend them.”

There will be a pause, then a deadpan stare. “Darling,” she’ll say, “that’s not credible.” 

As usual, she’ll be right. It is hard to believe. Yet the team at Daimler had similar results in their survey.  How can that be?

First, a few disclaimers. The surveys are still small. The one at Bosch included 107 respondents out of the 500+ people who experienced a WOL Circle there, and the Daimler survey wasn’t any bigger. Also, I know that not all Circles are successful. People sometimes drop out because they’re too busy, or just not ready for whatever reason. For sure, we need to collect much more data.

Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable result for a change method inside a large corporation, and I think I know why these two institutions got such great results: It’s the way they introduced and spread WOL Circles.

The best write-up to date is a detailed article from Katharina Krentz at Bosch, where she outlined what they did, how they did it, and provided yet more survey results. 

Katha emphasized the importance of a “co-creation team,” something Daimler has also formed. It’s a group of almost all volunteers who oversee the spread of WOL. They serve as the linchpins within the company, ensuring each Circle gets the support they need and overseeing the spread of the method across the company. They’re the ones who work with me, and who engage HR, Communications, and other divisions for events and integrating Circles into existing processes and programs like employee on-boarding.

This structure helps, and even more important is their approach. They frame WOL Circles as simply a personal development method that’s good for the individual and for the company. It’s described as “a guided mastery program for collaboration and networking.” (One manager at Bosch said he liked the method because “it’s simple, structured, and human.”) As they get more positive feedback, they spread the word while opportunistically looking for ways to spread the method. 

These two co-creation teams are indeed excellent. The people are smart, creative, and kind, and they have an extraordinary ability to get things done. And because they Work Out Loud - offering what they did, how they did it, and what they learned - you can achieve similar results in your organization. 


Note: I was wondering about the one percent at Bosch who did not recommend the practice. (Human nature dictates that I focus on the negative 1% instead of the positive 99%!) After I shared the statistic on the WOL Facebook Page, Katharina explained it:

“Fun fact: the 1% comes from someone who skipped this answer - so it was a mistake, not a real “no.”" 

FAQ: “How do we get management support?”

This question often comes up when I do a Q&A session with an organization. Typically, they’re having early success with their first Working Out Loud Circles, and they want to go further.

“How do we get management support for Working Out Loud?”

I tell people there are three ways, plus one more that we’re piloting. I’ve seen all three be effective, and I’m optimistic about the pilot.

Here’s a key point: start small. Trying to get all managers to support anything is like trying to convince everyone of global warming. There will always be some who will sit there, arms crossed, and reject it no matter what you say or do.

#1. Leverage internal social proof

Instead of appealing to all executives, I rely heavily on social proof. I focus on finding and supporting managers who may be early adopters, help them succeed, and share their stories widely. 

“Social proof is also one of Robert Cialdini's six principles of persuasion, (along with reciprocity, commitment/consistency, authority, liking, and scarcity) which maintains that people are especially likely to perform certain actions if they can relate to the people who performed the same actions before them.”

For example, in a presentation to managers at a Bosch, we used photos and quotes of several leaders who had realized the benefits of Working Out Loud. That allowed managers in the audience to see, more than any facts or conceptual arguments I could present, that “people like me do this.” 

#2. Conduct a formal survey of circle members

Stories can be even more powerful when combined with data, and one way organizations are collecting that data is with structured surveys of circle participants. 

In an organization in Australia, for example, Michelle Ockers surveyed the first wave of circles. The results showed that participants overwhelmingly believed their Working Out Loud Circle improved their skills, made them feel more fulfilled at work, and would help their organization be more collaborative.

Data like this makes it easier and safer for a manager to endorse Working Out Loud or make time for employees to join circles.

#3. Leverage external social proof

When faced with a new idea, the most common question is often “What’s the business case?” and the surveys help answer that. The next most common question is “What do other organizations do?”

To answer this, I talk about the successes at Bosch that culminated in a full-day Working Out Loud conference. I talk about the range of organizations in which circles are spreading, from universities to governmental offices to other large corporations

Over time, there will be more case studies to share, and so more chances to see that “organizations like us” are realizing benefits of Working Out Loud Circles.

Pilot idea: Include them directly

Sometimes, people ask how they can get managers to work out loud themselves. More than getting their approval, how do you get their involvement?

Working Out Loud for Leaders is something I developed with Bosch and Postshift, and that Bosch is piloting now. It’s not circle-based, since many senior managers are unlikely to be vulnerable in a circle nor willing to set aside the required time. So the pilot uses different guides and a different peer support structure. Still, it’s designed to help leaders practice “small steps, over time, with feedback and peer support,” so they experience the benefits themselves.

Each step they take signals to other managers and to the broader organization that it’s safe to do so, enabling Working Out Loud to spread more readily.

Other answers. Other questions.

If you know of other ways to get management support for Working Out Loud, please leave a comment or send me email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com. Over time, I’’ll update this post so it reflects the best answers of our community. 

I’ve been wanting to publish a proper FAQ section on the website, and I’ll put this post and others I intend to write there. (I’ll prepend “FAQ” to the posts and tag them so people can find them more readily. I’ll also include them in the LinkedIn group.) I have a healthy backlog of questions to answer, and if you have one you’d like to add, I’ll happily address it.

The Most Important People In Your Network Might Be Right Next To You

As you work out loud, you might tempted to think that more is better: more people in your network; more contributions; more activity in social media. But being busy isn’t the point of working out loud. Instead, you should measure your success by whether you’re deepening relationships, becoming more effective, or simply feeling better about work and life.

To help you achieve that success, the most important people in your network might be in your Working Out Loud circle.

Photo Copyright: Royal Geographic Society

Photo Copyright: Royal Geographic Society

Surprising reactions

Originally, I thought of circles as simply a way to help people apply the ideas in the book. But circle members describe benefits I hadn’t expected.

For example, one of my best friends is in my circle, and he tends to avoid social media and big crowds. As we were going through our updates from the past week, he apologized for talking about things that “weren’t really about working out loud.”

Then he went on to describe how, more than any exercise or technique, it was the support from other members as well as their own progress that were motivating him to take steps toward his own goal.

That first meeting

Sometimes, one meeting is all it takes to start seeing things differently. Another member of my circle is a smart, accomplished woman who’s exploring different possibilities related to her profession. She sent me this text after our first meeting:

“I was amazed by my experience on Tuesday. Truly, it was phenomenal. I left feeling excited and recharged. Speaking about career plans to the group just made it seem more real and made me feel accountable to the group. This is exactly the motivation I need. It made me feel validated for wanting more and happy that I have the means and help to find solutions through this group. Thank you.”

Your own circle of trust and respect

So as you work out loud and build your network, remember to pay attention to the people right next to you.

An hour a week of listening and caring, of being vulnerable while taking steps to invest in yourself, can change how you feel and help you make progress toward goals you care about.

An unexpected benefit, an unexpected gift.

I do it everywhere now. Over lunch or coffee at work. During dinner parties. In the elevator and even on Twitter. “You should form a Working Out Loud circle,” I’ll say.

It’s not to promote Working Out Loud or even circles but to share a feeling. Because I’ve seen such positive experiences in the peer support groups, I want to help others have the same feelings I've had.

My own circles

My own experience is that being part of a circle for 12 weeks gives me the encouragement, support, structure, and shared accountability to help me actually do things I know are good for me.

What I didn’t expect is that I would make friends. I barely knew the people in my circle. Some I had never met. Yet as we shared our goals and fears, our successes and our weaknesses, we naturally grew closer. We became increasingly invested in each other’s success and each other’s happiness.

The circle helped me feel positive, connected, and empowered.

What other people say

At work, I often join circles in their 4th week to talk with them about what’s working and not working, and to help them with goals and contributions or questions they may have. Sometimes, the good feelings come right away. As Dawn wrote,

"After just one WOL Circle meeting, I was already feeling more connected with my colleagues and more encouraged about my career."

One group of 5 young women invited me to meet with them after their 12 weeks. They were going to dinner together that night (a “graduation” dinner like my own circle had). Some of the women will be going off to graduate school, and they talked about how they had become friends and will stay in touch. They also mentioned that they'll form circles again with other people and other goals.

Each of them had developed a network toward an individual goal while also developing new skills and new friendships.

What a tough critic says

My toughest critic is my wife, as evidenced by her candor when she first read a final draft of the book late last year.  That led to a major rewrite and a much better book 6 months later.

So I was pleasantly surprised when, at a lunch with one of my daughter’s teachers, my wife started telling her about working out loud and about circles. The woman is a wonderful person and extremely talented, and my wife wanted to help her discover more opportunities. A similar thing happened with another friend.

We gave our daughter's teacher a book the next day. Our friend will be part of my next circle.

Although I intended the book to help people, I hadn’t expected the feelings it might engender, or that others would share books and circles as a way to say “I care about you and hope this helps you discover even more possibilities.”

Circles forming like ripples in a pond

Circles forming like ripples in a pond

The pharma executive who works out loud

Roche logo

Roche logo

The first thing that caught my eye was the title of the article:

“Working Out Loud: A 21st Century Way of Collaborating”

The next thing was the title of the person who wrote it: Global Head of Strategic Innovation at Roche. Her name is Sheila Babnis.

The benefits she sees

I don’t know Sheila, but her description of why she works out loud was one I wish I had written.

“Working out loud is more than just sharing information. I see it as a key to building and strengthening relationships, helping to identify the right connections and having the right conversations that open the door to co-creation.”

Even better were the benefits she listed:

  • better access to information
  • know more about what is happening inside and outside the organization
  • make better decisions
  • solve problems faster

These aren’t just abstract benefits of sharing and connecting. They’re advantages every executive - every employee - could use at work. And she listed one more:

“My team has cut out meeting time by about 50% as a result.”

How did she do it?

Sheila described herself as “a little more than skeptical at the outset”:

“The idea was initially interesting but also a little uncomfortable. How could I possibly find the time, with everything on my plate, to go to yet another online place and openly share my thoughts and what I am working about?”

Two things seemed to make a difference. One was creating a structure for sharing her work.

“I blocked time on my calendar to share what I was working on with my community and also asked for feedback. I slowly found myself sharing work that was not yet complete. I started getting responses, which allowed me to take more risks. Now, the more I WOL (and engage with what others are doing) the more fluent I am becoming.”

The other thing she did was to get help, and she identified the person who helped her in the comments.

“Ayelet Baron worked with my team (and me) to help us make this amazing transition to new ways of working, expand exponentially what we could do and make even more possible.”

You and your firm

It’s great to see that a more open, connected way of working is spreading - and that there are more resources and experts available to help you and your firm.

If people at your firm don’t work out loud yet, consider sharing Sheila’s post, or one of the stories here on workingoutloud.com, or how WOL circles could transform your organization. If you need help, contact Change Agents Worldwide (of which Ayelet is a member) or send me email.

It’s 2015, and we’re overdue for a 21st-century way of working.