We sat in a conference room at the company headquarters in Germany. Their grassroots movement had reached about two hundred people in two years, and had resulted in benefits that HR found compelling. Now they wanted to reach a thousand employees in the next twelve months.
In a few hours, we created a plan that will get them there and beyond. The plan includes three strategic elements.
Organic movements, whether it’s WOL or Agile or Design Thinking, typically reach only a small fraction of the company - the employees who are willing and able to trying something new. It could be less than 1% of the workforce. To reach the other 99%, you need to clearly show how the new method or tool relates to work, make it easy to practice, and integrate it into everyday processes.
To make WOL easier to practice at work, the company in this case study opted to customize the free WOL materials (they purchased a license to do so). That enabled them to include their own examples in each week of the Circle Guides, along with technology links, testimonials from management and colleagues, and corporate branding. They purchased premium materials (mobile-friendly Video Guides and a custom-designed Circle Journal) for a fixed number of employees to have a more convenient and memorable experience. The rest would use customized PDFs on the intranet.
To integrate WOL into existing processes, they first targeted the leadership development program. That program already has managers coming together for multi-day workshops, and is looking for ways to extend the learning and networking beyond the events in a cost-effective way. We conducted a separate workshop to design the pilot, which we intend to launch in a few months. In the meantime, we decided to target at least one more program, which will likely be on-boarding for one of the divisions. We may even include a pilot in one of their production facilities.
Although the company is based in Germany, they have a presence in 180 countries. Like many organizations, they want to spread WOL globally as a way to increase connectivity between locations and divisions.
A common approach for supporting and spreading a new method is to create a network of ambassadors or advocates, and we agreed to do something similar. One option was to use WOL Mentor training that consists of a two-day workshop. (This format has been offered by Sabine Kluge and me at Bosch and Daimler, and in several cross-company sessions with great success.) However, this company chose to design a new three-month program so I could offer personalized coaching over time. With this, in addition to giving Mentors the knowledge to support and spread Circles, we can help them be leading examples of what you can accomplish by Working Out Loud.
The first class of thirty WOL Mentors kicks off later this month, and we purposefully looked to include employees from locations where we want to ensure WOL can spread. We anticipate conducting another class next year.
The third element of our plan isn’t as exciting as the first two, perhaps, but it is just as important: figuring out roles, responsibilities, and processes.
A key element of scaling a WOL program, for example, is creating a cross-functional team that owns and executes the plan. (The first person to implement this idea is Katharina Krentz at Bosch, and their WOL Team continues to deliver extraordinary results.) But what is expected of each person on such a team? Can it count as work time? What if a manager says no? Can you put WOL in your development program or objectives for the year? Good answers to these questions reduce resistance and issues, and make it easier to get things done. The same goes for questions related to Mentors and sponsors.
It’s wonderful to have a grassroots movement that spreads freely, led by volunteers. And yet at some point the all-volunteer movement inevitably runs into challenges with budgets, policies, and politics. In this case, I met with the WOL Team and we began resolving some of the questions and ambiguity in that conference room in Germany. We also agreed that I’ll be an extension of their group and support them throughout the year.
A common pattern
In more and more companies, we see how the organic WOL movement slowly grows and demonstrates the value of self-directed, peer-to-peer, experiential learning. At that point, the company has a choice. They can continue to rely on organic growth and see what happens next, or they can create a strategy that combines the employee-led movement with the leverage and reach of the institution. It’s that kind of purposeful step that makes it possible to develop skills, habits, and new perspectives at scale, making the kind of difference that inspired the grassroots movement in the first place.