Case Study: Scaling a company’s WOL movement by 5x

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. 

Normalize

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.

Globalize

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.

Infrastructure

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. 


Announcing WOL Enterprise Solutions

If you want to scale an employee-led movement, you shouldn’t “leave it alone” and hope for the best. Instead, you should leverage your company’s resources so you can reach more people and help change the culture.

Whether you’re in the early days of spreading WOL inside your organization or you’re looking to expand the grassroots movement you created, there are now products and services that can help you.  

The WOL Roadmap

A pattern has emerged from the many different companies spreading WOL and it generally has four phases, identified by the approximate number of people in Circles and by common milestones we see. Although the initial Pilot phase can be started by anyone in the company using free PDFs, moving to the later phases is much more likely with professional materials and support. 

3 Ways to Ensure Success

Based on our experience with companies who’ve successfully used WOL in many locations and departments, there are three things that make Circles more effective and easier to spread.

1. Customized Materials

The Video Guides & Journals announced last week make the Circle experience more convenient and professional. Increasingly, employees expect e-learning to be available via video and mobile, and the Circle Journal makes it possible to capture progress in one place. 

Customizing the Journal makes it easier to see how WOL relates to your company specifically. By including your brand and welcome message, you let employees know WOL is officially supported. Including your own examples each week shows them how to practice at work using the company’s technology.

2. Professional Support

The volunteers who support the Pilot phase need assistance as WOL spreads. Professional support, offered by me and a growing network of certified WOL Coaches, helps grow the movement while ensuring good results for Circle members and program owners. WOL Mentor Training enables you to develop your own internal capability across locations & divisions.

3. Additional Programs

In the later phases, going beyond the basic WOL Circle method allows you to reach a wider range of employees in different kinds of work environments. Here are several WOL programs that are available now or are under development:

  • WOL for Leaders pairs executives with reverse mentors

  • WOL for Managers & On-boarding are add-ons for these specific groups

  • WOL: Self-Care improves employee wellness

  • WOL: Purpose reduces busy-ness & information overload

  • WOL for Operational Employees enables front-line workers to experience the benefits of WOL

Enterprise Solutions: Basic, Advanced, Partner

As your movement succeeds, three annual subscription packages - Basic, Advanced, and Partner - offer you a range of options and support. For more about the products and services in each package, including pricing, contact me at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com.

By taking your WOL efforts to the next level, you can help thousands of colleagues feel more confident, develop new skills, and realize more of their potential. We want to help you make the difference you aspire to make.

“Grass doesn’t grow faster when you pull it”

Though it’s often described as an African proverb, I first came across the expression via an email from Petra in Europe.

Thank you for introducing WOL to the business world. I really hope we can change the culture of our company, but I know we have to be patient. “Grass doesn't grow faster when you pull it.” :-)

Petra made me think about the grassroots movements that sometimes form within organizations. There’s something almost magical about an employee-led movement, the earnest coming together of people who share a passion and commitment for making a difference. 

Individuals participating in these movements are sometimes skeptical about management initiatives that try to accelerate what they started, “pulling the grass” as it were. Yet if your goal is to reach more people in your organization, management isn’t something to be avoid. Rather, their support is exactly what you need for your grassroots to grow, and it can come in many forms and from many different people. 

  • Support could be a Learning & Development manager putting WOL Circles in the Corporate Academy, making it easier for employees to join and making it clear that personal development can be done on “work time.”

  • It could be the right structures, such as an on-boarding, talent management, innovation, or diversity program, that gives the grassroots new fields where they can spread.

  • It could be a board member issuing a press release, communicating how this kind of development helps the company.

  • It could be managers enrolling in Circles or WOL for Leaders (a reverse mentoring program) so they experience the benefits themselves and signal to others that these kinds of “WOL behaviors” are encouraged.

Because “grass doesn’t grow faster when you pull it” we ensure Circles are always optional and confidential, so management can’t dictate participation or the choice of goals in WOL Circles. But grass does grow faster - and is healthier and more sustainable - when you have the right conditions. Just as the landscapers in my local park provide nutrients, water, structures (fences), and protection (a cover in winter), it’s possible for management to provide a fertile environment conducive to growth.  

If, like Petra, you’re hoping to change your company’s culture, then part of what you must do is find managers open to change and make it easy for them to support you in some way. Doing so is key to scaling your efforts, helping more people, and making the difference you want to make.

My view as I wrote this post in the local park: Healthy grass roots!



A recipe for changing your corporate culture

This isn’t the only recipe, of course, nor is it a guarantee. Perhaps a more accurate description would be “a list of ingredients you need to have a chance of making a difference.”

To begin, it’s easier to start with three things that don’t work.

Rebels. As much as I admire people who break the rules for good reasons, their actions tend to be futile when it come to changing a company. The rocks they throw at the corporate machine tend not to make much of a dent, and eventually the rebels becomes disheartened and move on.

Grassroots movements. I want to believe that change at work can be democratic. Yet grassroots movements inevitably hit a kind of “grass ceiling.” Despite their good intentions and good will, there are limits to what they can do without changing structures and processes.

Change from the top. If it’s difficult to order your children to change behavior, it’s impossible to order thousands of adults. Yes, managers do have significant influence, and they certainly have authority to allocate resources and make certain decisions. But they cannot decide on a culture, a mindset, or the behaviors that employees will adopt.

Sustainable change isn’t just driven from the top or by rebels or grassroots efforts. It requires a bit of all three. An example that makes me optimistic about this recipe is something that’s happening at Bosch and Daimler..

Back in 2015, it was a “rebel” at Bosch who introduced Working Out Loud there. Her skill, passion, and perseverance enabled her to build a grassroots movement of several hundred people. She then inspired a rebel at Daimler to do something similar, and they continued to collaborate informally.

As the movements expanded, there were now many people - not just rebels - making their work visible and actively growing their influence. They self-organized, and purposefully and opportunistically reached out to different divisions to find places where they could integrate WOL into existing programs. Over time, WOL found its way into the Corporate Academy, the on-boarding program, mentor programs, and more.

Their latest milestone was this past October 31st, when Bosch and Daimler teamed up to jointly sponsor WOLCON18 for 400 of their employees. In attendance were two board members, the head of industrial relations (including HR) at Bosch, and the Chairman of the General Works Council at Daimler. Though they’re typically on opposite sides of the negotiating table, a photo below shows them together supporting the grassroots movements to become something much bigger (and even wearing WOL hoodies with their company’s logos on them). Daimler issued a press release about it.

"Working Out Loud proves that the digital transformation does not need to instill fear and worry. It comes down to how it is designed. If you make your work visible, you also learn what it is worth. And if you network, you find additional possibilities of belonging and recognition. 

If 100 percent of all users of a new method have more fun doing their job, the method is right and makes work more humane. And as the works council, we can only support this.”

The movements now include thousands of people. What was formerly rebellious has been embraced and institutionalized. What would have been unthinkable less than a year ago is now normal, and new possibilities keep emerging.

Whatever change you’re hoping to bring about, the point is that the recipe for change really can start with you - and also that it must go beyond you. You have to connect the people who believe what you believe so you can amplify the benefits and make them visible. That’s what makes it possible to gain the management support you’ll need to scale your efforts, and to make the difference you want to make.

18C0901_10.jpg
BOARD MEMBERS FROM BOSCH & DAIMLER (HEAD OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS & CHAIRMAN OF THE GENERAL WORKS COUNCIL)

BOARD MEMBERS FROM BOSCH & DAIMLER (HEAD OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS & CHAIRMAN OF THE GENERAL WORKS COUNCIL)

18C0901_01.jpg