“Back in the game”

I almost passed over it because it was in Italian. But I clicked on the translation button, and even the mechanically generated prose was beautiful.

Marcello had participated in a Working Out Loud Circle in Bologna, organized by the same group that produced the Italian translation of the Circle Guides. He had put together a short video describing what the experience meant for him, and someone shared an excerpted quote of his.

“…an opportunity to put me back in the game, rediscover some skills that I had inside me, reconnect relationships, reactivate myself with a new enthusiasm to realize projects I care about…”

We could all use that kind of “reactivation” sometimes. Maybe your company is re-organizing again. Or you took time off for parental leave. Or you need to find a new job. These can be challenging times. Your confidence and even your sense of identity can be impacted.

Your inclination might be to withdraw, to wait for something better to turn up. But a better approach can be to do the opposite. To purposefully connect with people and create your own web of support and encouragement. Your network can be a lifeboat in a sea of change, helping you explore opportunities you would never reach otherwise. It can be a source of confidence, emotional support, and friendship. 

Marcello found all of that in his WOL Circle. It’s not the only way, of course. But small steps in a safe, confidential space can often be just what you need in times of change. Your Circle members, even when they’re complete strangers, can show you things about yourself you’ve stopped seeing or believing. They can also show you possibilities you haven’t considered. Week after week, as your network grows, so do you.

If you want more out of work and life, waiting on the sidelines is no place for you to be.

INTERVISTA A MARCELLO FINI BIBLIOTECARIO ARCHIGINNASIO BO

When the CEO isn’t enough

I was sitting in the audience as the divisional CEO delivered his talk to over 500 people. He was encouraging them to try new ways of working, to experiment more, connect across silos, and continuously learn. Not only would it be better for them as individuals, he told them, but the company needed this kind of culture and attitude. The enthusiasm was palpable.

Then he opened the floor to questions from the audience, and a hand went up.

“But what do I tell my manager?”

Fear and control

The employee's concern was understandable. Despite exhortations from top management, the new values posted on the walls, the cultural change program, it still didn’t feel safe to do things differently. Too many other people got into trouble doing that, so why take the risk?

Without a sense of psychological safety - "being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career" - most people will wait until a critical mass has changed behavior before making a change themselves.

How many people have to say “yes”?

After the question there was an awkward pause. The CEO replied that it was better in this case not to ask permission. "You should just do it,” he said, explaining that the personal benefits were worth the risk. 

The head of the Works Council was also there, and he pointed out that even in the most stringent environments, employees had times when they could choose for themselves what to do. “If your boss doesn’t like what you’re trying, do it on your lunch hour, or outside of work.” 

The audience didn’t seem satisfied. They wanted to do things differently, but they felt stuck. As happy as they were with visible support from top management, they knew the CEO wouldn’t be there if their boss doled out consequences.

The permission you’ve been waiting for

One way out of this conundrum is for you to take a series of small steps rather than a big leap. There’s plenty of research to show that even small changes to tasks, relationships, and perceptions can make you happier and more effective. (It’s call “job crafting” and you can read more about it here.)

You may have to experience it for yourself before you believe it, like my friend Stefan who, after 12 weeks in a WOL Circle, said this:

"I now realize there are things - tasks and interests - that bring me joy and satisfaction besides my original job but are still in a business context. I guess my next goal will be concerned with job crafting... ;-) " 

Every day you have some control over who you interact with and what you do. Every day you have complete control over how you interact with others and how you approach the work you need to do. 

You can choose to experiment in small ways at work, to learn and explore more, to relate to others with generosity and kindness, to actively look for purpose and meaning in what you do. You can be a leader in one of the most important ways possible - by example.

For that, the only person you’ll need permission from is you. 

 

Happy New Year! Announcing WOL Circle Guides v4.5 

In a New Year’s post five years ago, I wrote that one of the best resolutions you could make is to invest in yourself, to give yourself the time and the space - the permission - to develop relationships and skills that matter.  

Since then, I’ve been developing Working Out Loud Circles as a method for doing that, and Circles have spread to over 40 countries. Today, I’m publishing a new and improved version of the WOL Circle Guides to make the method even easier and more effective. 

What’s new?

Thanks to the feedback from people who have already been in a Circle, I’ve been able to refine the guides and make this version the best one so far.  The biggest changes include moving the exercises related to habit development earlier in the process, providing better examples, and updating several of the exercises and additional reading. There are also improvements to the flow, the writing, and the formatting. 

Despite the changes, Circles already in progress should be able to use the new guides right away. Also, a German translation should be ready over the next few weeks.

Customizing WOL Circles for your organization

The WOL Circle Guides are free, and are issued under a license called the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.  (It means you can use the material and share it as-is, but you can’t change it or offer it as part of any for-fee product or service without explicit written permission.) Being free makes it easy for individuals and organizations to experiment and experience the benefits for themselves. Yet as Circles spread in an organization, or as the method is integrated into existing programs like on-boarding and talent development, many organizations want to tailor the guides.

Now there’s an additional license, available for a fixed fee, that allows you to do this. In the past year, I've worked with customers who want to include their own goals, technology, examples, and brand into the guides. So if, say, you’re using WOL Circles to help new joiners be more connected and productive, custom guides can make it easy for those new employees to learn your digital tools while they discover people and content related to their job. If you’re interested in customizing the guides, contact me at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com.

Other ways to make it easier

In addition to upgrading the Circle Guides, I’m working on a WOL Video Coaching Series and Circle Journal that will be available in the coming months. The video series gives you convenient access to all that’s in the guides plus coaching tips to help ensure you make progress. The Journal gives you a single place to do the exercises and capture your learning throughout the process, making it easier to reflect on how far you’ve come.

I welcome and appreciate your feedback on any of these materials and ideas, and will use it to keep improving the method. I hope you join a Circle this year. Here’s some gentle encouragement from another New Year's resolution post I wrote two years ago called “This Year I Will…”

“One way to make a difference this year is to form a Working Out Loud Circle. I’m getting more and more mail from people about how their Circle empowered them, liberated them. Just this week, a woman told me her circle "had an enormous impact on my life.”
Yet it’s such a simple process. You write down a goal, share it with a small trusted group, and take a few steps over 12 weeks to build relationships with people who can help you.
Deciding to form a Circle might just be the best New Year’s resolution you ever made. What’s holding you back that you might be able to change?
Where might you go?"
Happy 2018.jpg

What empowerment looks like: Daniella's story

I loved reading Daniella's story for many reasons: her desire to help young children get exposed to science and technology, the photos of her and the “inspired little scientists with shining eyes,” the article in the German newspaper.

I was inspired by how she turned an idea into reality, using her Working Out Loud Circle to create a possibility she hadn’t imagined before. When she started, she had the same doubts and fears we all have. But by taking small steps over time, with feedback and peer support along the way, she made something wonderful emerge.

Here’s the beginning of Daniella’s post on LinkedIn. (You can read it in full by clicking on the image below.) As you read it, think of how empowered you would feel if you could bring ideas to life like that. Think of what your organization would be like if more people approached issues and opportunities like Daniella -  with generosity, creativity, and persistence. It’s an approach you can learn - and spread. 

Click on this image to read the entire article on LinkedIn

Click on this image to read the entire article on LinkedIn

 

 

The broken radio at Duane Reade

I first noticed it a few months ago when I stopped in for some medicine. Something was wrong with the music in the store. It sounded like a staticky radio playing on a blown speaker. How annoying, I thought to myself. (Duane Reade, for those of you who don’t already see one every few blocks in NYC, is a part of a drugstore chain with 400,000 employees and $117 billion in revenue.)

A few weeks later, I was there again, and so was the same radio. Surprised that they hadn’t fixed it already, I asked the cashier if there was something she could do about it.

“I wish I could!” she said. “Isn’t it terrible? Customers complain about it, but there’s nothing we can do.” Another customer chimed in, “Yeah, it’s awful.”

Over the following few weeks, whenever I returned to the store, there were different employees and we had similar discussions about the radio. They were all nice and helpful - and frustrated.

A different approach: Fixing anything, anywhere in NYC

It just so happened that I had very different but related experience in my neighborhood when I noticed a stop sign was missing at an intersection near our local park. 

In this case, there was no helpful cashier to talk to about the problem, but there was something even better: 311. When I noticed the missing stop sign, I opened the app on my phone and reported it, including the exact location and a photo. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I got a reply within three days that the problem had already been investigated.

Service Request #: C1-1-1373798521
Date Submitted: 02/28/17 12:36:48 PM
Request Type: Street Sign - Missing
Details: Stop
The Department of Transportation inspected the condition and opened a repair order. Repairs of this type are corrected within 14 days.

Four days later, I got another mail that the problem was resolved. Still doubtful, I walked outside to see for myself, and there was a shiny new stop sign.

A simple way to fix the radio

My point isn’t to criticize Duane Reade management. They handle complicated supply-chain logistics and pharmaceutical regulations at a scale I can’t even imagine. Yet despite that sophistication, they’ve missed one of the best ways to improve their company and the customer experience: Give employees a voice.

I noticed this all-too-common situation five years ago when I was still working in a big company, and saw how customers often have more of a voice than employees.

“When something doesn’t work at home, you might complain on Twitter or use your smartphone to report the problem. Or you’ll search for a solution on-line and fix the problem yourself.
But what do you do at work? Probably nothing.”

Even back then, a simple solution was available. We let employees post a problem on our new enterprise social network so that anyone could share customer feedback or report an issue, and others employees could respond with related incidents and solutions. That would accelerate improvements, and make visible to management problems they might never be aware of otherwise. It was empowering.

The cashier at Duane Reade suggested I fill out the customer survey that's printed on every receipt, somewhat ironically named drelistens.com. I had seen it many times before, and this time I filled it out.

What about your own organization? If you had the equivalent of a broken radio, what could your employees say or do about it? Do they even have a voice?

 

If you care about diversity at work

When I worked in a big company, some of the best communities on our social intranet were related to diversity. The people leading them cared deeply about the different topics. Community members were creative and generous, and they brought a welcome sense of shared humanity to our workplace. It was inspiring.

Yet as good as they were, they were missing something.

Two kinds of extraordinary contributions

The focus of these communities tended to be on raising awareness. With their small budgets, they would host events with inspiring speakers followed by wine and networking. It might be a female executive talking about careers and offering advice, or an external speaker talking about their organization and how it makes a difference. A lot of work went into planning these events, and people liked them.

Campaigns were also popular. One of the most successful ones I remember was for Spirit Day in which people wear purple in support of the LGBTQ community. When that day came, I remember looking on our social network and seeing my feed awash in purple. There were photos from offices all over the world, people wearing purple dresses, shirts, ties, scarves, socks. People taking selfies and people formed in large groups, sharing heartfelt comments expressing their support and commitment. I remember how proud I felt that day, proud of my company and of the people in it.

When the music stops

Events and campaigns can be fun and inspiring. But when they end, participants are typically unsure of what to do next except wait for another event. Last week, I talked with people from universities across the U.S. about trying something different. It was a webinar for a Diversity & Inclusion group.

The group is pursuing a wide range of projects, and they sent me a list of them. One from an educator in Missouri jumped out at me.

“Using the Working Out Loud framework by John Stepper to develop improved skills in improving civil discourse in every day life of Extension educators working in their communities.”

Not only was she interested in being more effective herself, she was trying to change how people relate to each other and help them be more effective too. 

Something to try at your next event

At the end of the call with the universities, people signed up to join Working Out Loud Circles. The first step was to experience the benefits themselves, so they could see how best to apply it to their particular community. The next step would be to help their community form their own Circles.

You could do the same thing at your own event in your own company. If you’re in a diversity community, you’ve already discovered a goal you care about. Your relationship list would include people running other programs, potential partners, and those you admire who are making a difference. By Working Out Loud, you would build relationships with them, and get exposed to new ideas, approaches, and collaboration opportunities that would help you make more of a difference.

What you can also do is help your constituents develop those same skills, and apply them towards their own goals. If the systems and polices don’t give people the visibility and access they deserve, you can help them change the odds through the relationships they'll build.

Spreading Working Out Loud Circles is one way to empower yourself and the people you serve. 

“How do I make more of her?”

I was sitting in the hotel lobby, tired after having given a talk and two workshops, when she walked up to me.

“I’ve been looking for you,” she said. I recognized her from one of the tables at the front. She wanted to tell me about the women in one of her educational programs, and how ideas in my talk might help them.

The story she told me has stayed with me all week. I feel like it’s one of those times when the universe is nudging me to do something.

Helping mothers and their children

She works at a university, and has for a long time. She had been running a program to help mothers learn about nutrition for their children. They would talk about what’s in foods that people commonly feed their kids, and what to watch out for. They would introduce them to foods they might not be used to cooking with, like avocado and quinoa.

While many of the women found it helpful, some were particularly enthusiastic. They truly cared about the topic. So when she got funding for a related program and needed to hire people, one of her team members suggested they consider hiring women they were already helping.

apple-avocado-cranberry-walnut-salad

Working with (and around) the system

This wasn’t the normal recruiting process. But the woman running the program had been doing this kind of thing for decades, and she knew how to work with the system. She hired them.

She started reading some of the texts and emails from one of the women. In the program, they would cook meals so they could all try the food themselves and learn how it was prepared. A mother-turned-nutrition educator had been searching for recipes. She was exploring and creating ("What if we tried cranberries with that instead?") and was excited to share her ideas. I could feel the administrator's sense of wonder and hope as she read the exchanges. I could feel the mother's empowerment as she tapped into new ways she could contribute. 

Then she put down her phone, somewhat downcast, and said, “Normally, the system rejects this kind of thing.” In addition to rules about hiring, there were rules about which recipes they were allowed to use, about which communications channels to use. But she said she had followed the rules for too long, and now she cared more about helping people, whatever it took. I could tell she was gratified to have helped one young woman, and also that she felt compelled to do more. That’s when she asked, “How do I make more of her?”

“What if?"

As I listened to what was being shared by email and text, I thought of Jane Bozarth’s book, “Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud,” in which she offered a wide and wonderful range of examples of everyday people making their work visible. I started to ask some "What if?" questions.

What if all of the recipes and other ideas were more visible? Instead of being hidden in emails and texts, the mothers, teachers, and others who cared about the topic could interact, share, and learn in an online community, or even a simple Facebook group.

What if the program administrator wasn’t the one responsible for “making more of her”? The women in the program could use their visible contributions to make their own connections and find people as passionate about the topic as they were. 

What if you didn’t need to ask permission or make it part of the program at all, but empowered the women to set things up for themselves?

This. This is at the core of what I hope to do, to spread this kind of empowerment, one that enables people to take a bit more control over their lives. To enable people of any background or circumstances to learn, connect, and access opportunities they might never have known existed otherwise.

We shook hands as she said goodbye. “I’ll definitely contact you,” she said. I hope she does.

The Clock Test

You walk into a conference room at work that you use often, look up, and notice that the clock has the wrong time. It’s working, but it's off by more than 20 minutes. A week later, you’re in the same room and notice that the time is still wrong. What do you do?

  1. Nothing.
  2. Complain that the time is wrong.
  3. Notify someone that the clock needs to be fixed.
  4. Try and change the time yourself.

IMG_8963

Now imagine the clock in your kitchen has the wrong time. Would you answer differently?

My own results

If you’re like me, you would fix the time in your home right away. But at work, your answer would be different.

I was able to take a version of this test quite recently when I was in the gym in my building and noticed the time was wrong. I was slightly annoyed, and wished that someone would fix it. I thought of telling the handyman, but it was too much effort for such a small issue.

A week later, the time was still wrong, and the same thoughts ran through my head. Then it hit me: I could fix it myself. So I walked up to the clock, lifted it off the wall (it was just hanging on a screw as many clocks do), and set the time.

This one trivial act made me feel a bit more empowered. It also made me wonder why I hadn’t done it sooner.

Control and motivation

It's a small example of the link between control and motivation that Charles Duhigg (author of The Power of Habit) wrote about in his latest book, Smarter, Faster, Better.

“Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control. It’s this feeling of self-determination that gets us going."

Certain environments systematically rob people of their motivation by removing the opportunities to make even simple choices.

“In some workplaces, for example, control is embedded in a process and even the smallest actions require approval from someone else. Or, possibly worse, there’s ambiguity about who can decide what, and decision-making is negatively reinforced as people ask “Who gave you authority to do that?”

A feeling of learned helplessness spreads throughout the organization. People start to believe their “locus of control” is external instead of internal, It’s “they” and “them” who are responsible for decisions, and never “I” or “me.””

At home, it’s clear that I can make certain decisions and take actions. But at work? More than ever, we need people who will “Fix the clock” but we create corporate environments that tell us otherwise.

Did you give different answers to The Clock Test depending on where the clock was located? What made you decide to take action in one environment but not the other? What would it take for that to change?

The Joy of Being Bald

“Bald.” Even I can’t say the word without smirking. If you use it to describe someone - That bald guy over there - it sounds like an insult, or a joke.

So when, in my first year of college, I noticed more hair than usual on the brush and in the sink, it made me deeply unhappy. It made me feel that way for a long time.

The man in the mirror

I fought the change. Different medicines to try and fix it. Different styles to hide it. Always that tension. Every time I looked in the mirror. Every time I showered or noticed someone else’s hair. Any reference to me losing my hair would drive me into an angry spiral.

This simple physical change, something quite common, made me unhappy in varying degrees every day throughout the day.

I would never have thought to write about it until I recently read Triggers, a book about changing behaviors by the well-regarded consultant Marshall Goldsmith.

How hard it is to change

In the first pages of the book, Marshall writes about what it was like becoming bald at a young age.

“Since high school I had been a follicly challenged man, but back then I was loath to admit it. Each morning, I would spend several minutes in front of the bathroom mirror carefully arranging the wispy blond strands of hair still remaining on the top of my head. I’d smooth the hairs forward from back to front, then curve them to a point in the middle of my forehead, forming a pattern that looked vaguely like a laurel wreath. Then I’d walk out into the world with my ridiculous comb-over, convinced I looked normal like everyone else.”

He used his personal story as an example of how hard it is to change. Why do people keep doing what they do, even if doing it it makes them unhappy?

“I had spent years fretting and fussing with my hair. That’s a long time to continue doing something that, on the spectrum of human folly, fell somewhere between vain and idiotic. And yet I persisted in this foolish behavior for so many years because (a) I couldn’t admit that I was bald, and (b) under the sway of inertia, it felt easier to continue doing my familiar routine than to execute the change. The one advantage I had was (c) I knew how to execute the change.”

Then there was a mistake at the barbershop. Despite explicit instructions, the barber had cut more than he was supposed to. At that moment, Marshall Goldsmith decided to accept what had been staring him in the face for so long, and he had the rest of his hair cut short.

"Liberating"

It has taken me decades, but now I no longer think about being bald. No hiding it. No shame. It’s a part of me, and I’ve grown to like it.

Marshall Goldsmith, 65 years old when he wrote his story, reflected on the importance of his change in perspective.

“It wasn’t a complicated decisions and it didn’t take great effort to accomplish…But in many ways, it is still the most liberating change I’ve made as an adult. It made me happy…”

It’s such a trivial example, I know. People deal with so many more meaningful things. Yet I’m struck by how something so small could affect me for so long. How simply loving what is allowed me to be happier and focus my energy on things I could control, like eating well and exercising, like the quality of the work that I do. It’s “liberating,” as Marshal Goldsmith wrote.

Sometimes freedom is just a switch in your head.

The Joy of Being Bald

If You’re Doing It Right, It Feels Like This

Earlier this week, I met with a Working Out Loud circle in Japan, the first one there. We talked about their goals and the relationships they were building, and about the exercises they had done. As they approached the end of their 12 weeks together, they wanted to know if they had done things right, and what to do next.

Enso

Enso

What success looks like

You’ll know you’ve succeeded in a circle if you’ve changed your mindset in some way and taken some action you wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

For this circle in Japan, success came in different forms. For one person it was paying more attention to goals he cared about and investing time in them. For another it was being more open to connecting with people and to new ideas. Trying to develop his hobby into something more, he is now regularly sharing his work, hosting events, and interacting with master craftsmen in Japan. One person said “It already changed my life.”

We didn’t talk about the number of people in their network or the amount of social media activity. We talked about their goals and steps they were taking toward them, and about how they felt.

The conversation with the circle in Japan is similar to those I’ve had with many other groups. When circles work, people say they feel “like their world is bigger” or that they are “more empowered and encouraged.” A new mindset and new habits is a powerful combination.

When circles don’t work 

Not all circles work this way. Some have trouble just organizing the first meeting, or having everyone show up. Others find the 12 weeks too long, or that an hour a week is too much.

They’re not doing anything wrong. People are busy, and getting a group together can be a challenge. Even if you want to take steps toward a goal you care about, it can feel easier to just keep doing what you’re doing.

Each circle that doesn’t work is an opportunity to learn. So in 2016, we’ll collect these experiences in a more systematic way and use that data to make the circle experience even easier and more effective.

What’s happens after 12 weeks?

One of the questions the group in Japan had was about what to do next. Should they keep going as a circle? Did it make sense to use the same guides again?

I told them I’m on my seventh circle now, and I find that including different people each time helps bring new energy and perspectives to my goal. The structure and shared accountability of the process helps me take the steps I need to take. I described how I use the same guides because sometimes my goal is different and so the entire process applies. Even when my goal is unchanged, I get a chance to practice the different steps and exercises and approach them differently now that I have more experience.

The first circle in Japan did beautifully and experienced a wide range of successes they can now apply to other goals. They agreed that next year they’ll form new circles, helping themselves and others take a next step.

Note: The next post will be on January 6th, 2016. Enjoy the holidays!