Celebrating 5 WOL Coaches

Back in February, in a post about how WOL could scale, I announced the first people I was working with in a formal way to deliver talks, workshops, and other training related to Working Out Loud. It was an experiment at the time, but it has worked so well that it’s now grown into something much more.

The new site for Certified WOL Coaches refers to them as “A global network of highly-skilled facilitators.” The five people listed have all contributed to the WOL Community for years. I work closely with each of them, and am inspired both by what they do and how they do it.

Sabine Kluge

Alexander Kluge

Katharina Krentz

Barbara Schmidt

Mara Tolja

I want to thank Sabine, Alexander, Katharina, Barbara, and Mara for their trust, and for the many ways they have made Working Out Loud better. In the future there will be other coaches in other places, and it will be hard to match the experience and commitment of these five people. 

“The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”

What if, instead of constantly trying to fight against some of our cognitive and behavioral weaknesses, we could use them to our advantage?

In praise of mindlessness.png

Hidden persuaders

The title of this post is taken from the last line of Mindless Eating, by food researcher Brian Wansink. In the book, he writes that we make over 200 food decisions each day, and that we aren’t aware of most of them. The result is that what we eat and how much we eat are determined by an astounding array of “hidden persuaders.” Here are a few of them:

  • size of the plate or container

  • shape of the glass

  • distance to the food/convenience of accessing it

  • variety of food

  • number of people you’re eating with

  • distractions present (tv, radio, phone, reading, etc.)

  • labels/descriptions of the food

  • presentation of the food

The most famous example might be the popcorn study. Wansink gave people a free bucket of popcorn at a movie theater. Some had a medium bucket and some had a large bucket, though each was big enough that no one could finish all of it. Importantly, all of the popcorn was stale, having sat in sterile conditions for five days. Despite patrons saying, “It was like eating Styrofoam peanuts,” people with large buckets ate 53% more - an average of 21 more handfuls (or 173 extra calories). 

Study after study show the impact of hidden persuaders. If you eat with one person you’ll eat 35% more, and up to 96% more when you eat with a group of seven. If you’re given a half-pound bag of M&Ms you’ll eat an average of 71, but you’ll eat 137 (or 264 more calories) from a one-pound bag. Even experienced bartenders mistakenly pour 37% more alcohol into short, wide glasses than into tall, skinny ones.

How to avoid a lifetime of suffering

If you’re like me, you may believe you’re not fooled by such things, that you’re in control of your own choices. Alas, two decades of Wansink’s research shows that everyone thinks this way.

“We all think we’re too smart to be tricked by packages, lighting, or plates. We might acknowledge that others could be tricked, but not us. That is what makes mindless eating so dangerous. We are almost never aware that it is happening to us.”

Instead of fighting with yourself to become more disciplined, Wansink suggests you adopt simple “reengineering strategies” that make it easier for you to choose what you believe is in your own best interests. Want to eat more vegetables? Serve them family style or on larger plates. Want to drink a bit less wine? Serve it in taller, thinner glasses and keep the empties on the table.

“As all of our research suggests, we can eat about 20 percent more or 20 percent less without really being aware of it. You can eat too much without knowing, and you can also eat less without knowing it. The goal is to make small changes in our environment so it works with us rather than against us.”

Beyond popcorn

Reading Mindless Eating has already inspired me to change my environment when it comes to food. But the core idea applies to all sorts of things - from how much we use our phones to what kinds of media we consume.

Yes, our innate human tendency for doing things in a mindless, habitual way can lead to unhealthy choices - choices that may well be driven by external influences and the interests of others. But a short period of making mindful adjustments to your environment can help you create a kind of “positive mindlessness,” one that leads to choices that serve you well.

The next time you overindulge on popcorn or social media, don’t waste time berating yourself. Think instead of how the things around you may have led to that behavior. Choose to control your environment rather than have it control you.

Who will you be when your company takes away your ID?

When someone asks what you do, what do you say?

My first full-time job was at Bell Laboratories, famous for inventing the transistor and discovering evidence of the Big Bang, among other things. I worked on more mundane projects that didn’t amount to much. So when people asked me what I did, I instead proudly responded with where I worked.

As my career progressed, titles became important. “Vice President,” “Director,” “Managing Director.” They all seem meaningless now. But at the time my sense of self-worth depended on them. With each step up the ladder, I would rush to order new business cards, eager to hand them out and show off the newly-upgraded me. 

Other people treated me differently too based on what it said on my badge. They didn’t know me or my work. It was the brand and my position in the hierarchy that determined whether I was relevant or interesting.

I learned the hard way that basing your identity on where you work is inherently risky and unstable. When my last company’s successes turned into scandals and fines, my pride turned to shame. When I was laid off, there was no longer a company or title to define who I was. It was just me.

It took me a long time to realize that I had a choice, that I could step out from behind a business card, make my work visible, and shape my own reputation. It took me a long time to accept that being “just me” was enough. I wish I had started sooner.

What about you? When they take away your ID, who will you be?

Who will you be when your company takes away your ID? .png

WOL Circle Guides now in Dutch

As I began to write this post about the Dutch translation project, I looked again at the letter that Marc Van De Velde wrote telling me the work was complete. After reading it several times, I realized there were no better words than his, and so I include his note in full below. His last paragraph on his motivation for doing it is especially powerful.

My only addition is to add my personal thanks to Marc, Annemie, Geert, Frederik, Natasja, Saskia, and Jeroen for their translation, and to Peter for his review of it. It is a tremendous effort, inspired solely by their desire to help others.

Annemie told me, “I am proud to have participated in this project. Grateful and happy to have met beautiful people who I trust deeply.” What a truly wonderful collaboration. I hope to thank them all in person some day.

***

“Amazed by the first steps I set myself in relation to Working Out Loud, I saw the richness that the Working Out Loud method has to offer to other individuals, teams, and companies. I also became convinced that it would be beneficial for many Dutch-speaking people to have the circle guides in their own native language. 
Triggered by the initiatives from Fiona Michaux and Tiago Caldas who translated the guides into French and Portugese, I contacted you in the beginning of this year to see whether you would agree that I would launch such an initiative. 
Grateful to have received your formal agreement I’ve launched a request for help on the WOL-facebook page and other networks I was involved in. I was proud that a group of six people responded enthusiastic and committed to help me out on this project. With the help from Fiona Michaux I was introduced to the way she and her team approached this translation into French so that our NL-team could have a head-start in our own translation project. 
On March 20th of this year I held the formal kick-off for our WOL-NL-Translation-project together with Annemie Martens, Geert Nijs, Frederik Maesen, Natasja van Schaik, Saskia Wenniger and Jeroen Brands. As a team we discussed on how to approach this project and divided work amongst each other. As in any project, also this project was not spared the difficulties and problems that we had to solve as a team. Every member did what she/he could in order to complete this project and to deliver a great result to you. 
Before delivering our work to you, the Dutch circle guides have been reviewed by Peter De Troch and are currently tested within the company Annemie is working for. 
I’m proud that we made it work as I am with the result achieved. I feel humble as I’m allowed by the team to deliver our great result to you and hope that you also like what we’ve done and that you will make the Dutch version of the circle guides available on the Working Out Loud website. As you will notice we’ve also tried to respect the original layout as much as possible although we’re aware that it might still need some corrections in order to be delivered in a final version. 
As to the question “Why we’ve done this?” I think I speak for the all team in saying that we have done this project out of generosity towards the growing WOL community while at the same time being convinced that this will help others in experiencing the fun and effect of Working Out Loud. Working as a team felt as in participating in a WOL-circle in which we all experienced how great it is to work with peers who are their to help and support the other when facing a problem, issue or difficulty. In being part of this each one has built on the intimacy level with other team members so we became more closely related with each other. As a result of this we’re now even explore on how we can do more things together.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to initiate this project.
Marc"

***

Annemie Martens

Frederik Maesen

Geert Nijs (Author of "De netwerkexpeditie. Slimmer samenwerken met sociale technologie" available November 2018)

Jeroen Brands

Marc Van de Velde

Natasja van Schaik

Peter De Troch

Saskia Wenniger

Thank you very much in Dutch.png

 

 

WOL Circle Guides now in French

An incredibly dedicated group of volunteers wanted to make it easier for French speakers to Work Out Loud, so over the past few months they translated the WOL Circle Guides

It’s a tremendous amount of effort. In addition to the work of translating, proofreading, and editing, there are all the challenges of navigating the different opinions, work styles, and busy schedules of people in different companies and countries. 

I asked them, “Why would you do such a thing?” Most said it was because they enjoyed their WOL Circle, and they wanted to help others experience it. 

“Having the WOL Circle Guides in French will open the potential of the WOL Method to our colleagues and beyond.”
“I hope that the French WOL method will spread a new way of collaborating as we did for the translation. This shows how it is possible to go ahead together without knowing each other.”

They wrote a blog post about what they did, and I smiled at the last lines. 

“Now the guides are ready to be read in the language of Molière, and I hope it will touch many persons and increase the chances they benefit from the method.
It doesn’t feel like the end but rather, as Humphrey Bogart said to Louis Renault in the movie Casablanca, it’s “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” between WOL and the French-speaking community.”

I am deeply grateful to everyone who contributed, and look forward to thanking each of the them in person someday. I hope these guides help spark a WOL movement in France and beyond.

Translations:

Christine Montes

Fiona Michaux

Marie Dalleur

Marie-Anne Schroeder

Proofreading & more:

Aude Latreille

Celine Sauriac

Charline Lomba

Howard Joanne

Malika Boussetta

Marc Van de Velde

Monique Roullet

Vincent Kosiba

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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. 

 

The courage to connect

If only she could see what I see.

We don’t know each other. But even a quick scan made it clear that she’s highly-skilled, has done interesting and relevant work in a company I admire, and is in a location I enjoy visiting and working in.

Her first email to me was lovely and generous. She had been following me and wrote to offer support and assistance - for free - just because she believes in what I'm doing.

Yet she almost didn’t send that message.

“I just finished part 1 of your book which provided me with the courage to reach out to you.”

I re-read that line several times. "The courage to reach out." It struck me that she has so much to contribute and was offering it in such a nice way, and yet she felt constrained, held back by a fear of some kind. I thanked her and shared what I was thinking.

“I'm thrilled that you took the time to write your note which was both kind and generous. Isn't it fascinating that we hold back even when we have such gifts to offer? If we could change that mindset and unlock more such gifts, the world and workplace would be better for everyone.”

We continued our email exchange (she’s also witty and a good writer), and I look forward to speaking with her about her work and to ask for her ideas and opinions about mine. Given her experience, I can easily imagine a wide range of collaboration opportunities. 

What about you? Is there something holding you back from reaching out to someone? Something preventing you from making the contributions and connections you want to make?

There are so many people who could benefit from all you have to offer. Developing the courage to share it just takes practice

Sketch by Janine Kirchhof -  janinekirchhof.com  &  @ THE_HR_GIRL

Sketch by Janine Kirchhof - janinekirchhof.com@THE_HR_GIRL

When it’s not a contribution

I don’t mean to judge you. If you recognize an item on this list as something you do, perhaps you have good intentions. Perhaps, contrary to my opinion, it is helpful to someone. Perhaps you simply do it without thinking.

All of these are things I’ve done myself, and yet they make me cringe now. I share this list in the hope that you’ll find it helpful and avoid the mistakes I’ve made. 

A partial list

I often tell people to “frame it as a contribution,” by which I mean the things you share should be be helpful to someone in some way. Here are ten of the more egregious ways I failed to follow my own advice.

Automated contributions -  You signed up for some on-line service and it starts spewing out how many people followed you on Twitter, that you Liked a particular video, or that you achieved a new level on a game few have heard of.

Impersonal contributions #1 - You hit a button to connect with someone and offer no explanation as to who you are, why you want to connect, or how the other person might benefit. 

Impersonal contributions #2 - You hit a button to share the latest news or blog post without adding why you’re sharing it or why others might care.

Complaints - You come across something that irritates you and you share it, amplifying your discontent in exchange for a feeling of validation that may come from others agreeing with you. 

Burdens #1 - You introduce people to each other via email without asking them first, thus forcing them to follow up or risk the embarrassment of seeming unresponsive. 

Burdens #2 - You send lengthy emails with requests hidden deep inside them, or  share lengthy articles without explanation.

Burdens #3 - You ask people you barely know vague questions via email or text - "How are you?" - that are just crude disguises to lure them into a conversation. 

Burdens #4 - You overwhelm someone with “helpfulness,” sharing a wild array of things - links, videos, articles, comments, feedback - that they didn’t ask for and can’t possibly keep up with. 

Purpose-less contributions - Your posts of food or cats or kids are too frequent (unless you’re in a food or cat or kid community).

Narcissism - Me, me, me, me. While sharing something you’ve done can be genuinely helpful, talking only about you and your accomplishments verges on narcissistic and creepy. 

I could go on, but you get the point. The theme throughout this list is that you make such mistakes when don’t listen. You think of sharing as a megaphone, amplifying who you are but at the expense of being sensitive to the people around you. Or, worse, you don’t think at all. Like the irritated driver honking in traffic, you see something and offer something without a thought as to how the other person might receive it.

The one technique you need

The trick to “framing it as a contribution” is to know that “helpful” is in the eye of the recipient. So to be genuinely helpful, you need to reflect and practice empathy, to put yourself in the position of the other person. 

Who might find this helpful? 

Why should they? 

How might I feel if I received this?

What’s my real motivation in sharing this?

Working Out Loud Circles make it easy to practice this. Week after week, you get the chance to make a wide range of contributions - from appreciation to visible work to vulnerability - with genuine generosity and empathy until it becomes a habit and a mindset. 

Over time, you develop a short pause before you send something, a tiny moment of reflection that can make a fundamental difference in what you share and how it’s received. It takes practice, but it’s worth it.

Working Out Loud in Brazil

I haven’t met Tiago Caldas yet. We haven’t even spoken on the phone. But after I gave a talk at his company in Germany last September, I noticed him join the WOL community from Brazil, form a WOL Circle, connect with people around the world, and actively promote WOL. Most recently (and incredibly), he organized a group to translate the Circle Guides into Portuguese.

I asked him via email why a manager in a global engineering company would do all of this, and he sent me a short blog post I said I would share with you. In short, WOL helped him and he thought it would help others, so he’s taking action to make that possible. 

I’ll speak to him for the first time in two weeks about ways to spread WOL in Brazil. I can’t wait to thank him.

Tiago Caldas with some of his WOL Circle members in Brazil

Tiago Caldas with some of his WOL Circle members in Brazil

 

Working Out Loud: a kind of dynamite for Brazilians’ improvement!

Everybody knows that we Brazilians are so open and we love relationships. We like to be connected with colleagues, friends, and family and there are no barriers for that. Five minutes are enough to invite someone for a barbecue, party, or to drink something together.

Therefore, sharing is in our blood! We are a mix of every kind of culture: Germans, Italians, Japanese, Americans, Indians, etc. This is also something that help us to be so flexible in dealing with so different characteristics and personalities.

So, why does Working Out Loud matter for Brazilians? 

I used dynamite in the title because in my opinion the advantage we Brazilians have in establishing relationships connected with an organized way to do that is extremely powerful. We can show our work and improve our networks at the same time.

The elements of Working Out Loud are real for us:

  • Relationships: We truly enjoy being together.
  • Generosity: Facing so many crises and difficulties, we learned to open our hearts and help each other.
  • Visible work: We like to talk and share! But we need to improve how we do it, and the 12 steps are a powerful tool.
  • Purposeful discovery: The heart moves us. We need motivation to discover what really touches us.
  • Growth mindset: We love life, and exploring more and more is our passion.

The topics above are what is moving me and I strongly believe that this concept is a powerful tool for Brazilians and other Latin Americans to develop themselves and use their natural abilities to make a difference in the digital world. This is why we are investing our time to translate the WOL Circle Guides into Portuguese, and a community of enthusiastic people will be involved in this challenge. (And I pray that as fast as possible we can have the book also translated to Portuguese!)

“People are messy” (and other lessons from self-managing teams)

A friend once shared some pithy wisdom about humanity that I’ve returned to time and time again. “People,” she said, “are messy.” 

As human beings, we’re wired to want control, and self-determination theory describes much of what motivates us. Yet we’ve also evolved a highly sophisticated sense of hierarchy and social status, spending much of our brain activity on calculating how everyone relates to everyone else.

The tension between these innate drives is particularly evident at work, where we desperately strive to find our place in the very hierarchy we don’t want submit to, and where we need to cooperate and collaborate to get things done. It’s even more acute (and interesting) when it comes to self-managing teams. 

Here are some things I’ve learned from observing such teams trying to spread Working Out Loud in their organizations. 

“Who will lead our self-managing team?”

The spread of WOL Circles in an organization usually begins when someone tries one, tells their friends, and Circles organically multiply. As they spread over a few months, a number of individuals emerge who care about WOL and want to do more. Now what? 

This is a critical juncture. If these early adopters don’t coalesce, the movement grows slowly or fizzles out as the early adopters move on. But sometimes the individuals tentatively come together to discuss their motivations and aspirations. They start to coordinate the next steps, and the first few seeds become the beginning of a grassroots movement.

Critically, leadership comes from contribution, not appointment. The people who care more tend to do more - more organizing, more experimenting, more outreach - and a “co-creation team” forms. It can be fragile, though. Conflicts at this stage, whether due to differences in style or substance, can cause the group (and the movement) to split or disintegrate completely. Somewhat ironically, ego can be the bane of self-management.

“The Grass Ceiling” 

As the WOL movement in an organization starts to grow, other possibilities and challenges emerge. The opportunities to integrate with existing programs and to scale to more locations and divisions may well require resources and the shifting of priorities.

This is another critical juncture. If the co-creation team continues to run without a budget and relies solely on volunteers, the grassroots movement hits some hard limits. Over time, the enthusiasm for the original idea is worn down by the slow pace of change and the bureaucratic resistance of the organization. 

Instead of trying to fight the way things are, successful co-creation teams leverage them. They shift from being a completely independent group to partnering with HR & other transformation managers responsible for existing programs. They seek executive sponsors for political cover and for resources.

The team may still be self-organizing, but they attach themselves to the hierarchy in a way that enables them to make a bigger, more sustainable difference.

A different kind of "secure attachment"

A more subtle example of self-management is a WOL Circle itself. Circles are purposefully designed so anyone can start one without budget or permission. The Circle Guides give people some structure, but how and when to do the work is up to the Circle members. They’re self-managing and often (but not always) self-organizing. 

But how do you get them started? What do you do when a Circle needs help? What if they struggle midway through or someone drops out? 

The varying responses to supporting Circles reminds me of attachment theory in parenting. Some organizations are completely hands-off. Others insist co-creation team members attend some Circle meetings or involve themselves in fixing issues a Circle may be facing.

The results are predictable. Without any help at all, some Circles aren’t as effective as they could be. With too much meddling, the Circle members lose their sense of autonomy and accountability, and start to see their helper as the person responsible for their progress (and issues). The co-creation team suffers too, as they struggle under a growing support burden they created.

The best approach is a kind of secure attachment. Circles are left to manage themselves and do the work on their own, but they know they can reach out to someone for support when they really need it. To facilitate this, some organizations are creating networks of certified experts across the company to ensure Circles can readily find trained help if (and only if) they want and need it.

Some remarkable results

Is this revolutionary? No. But it is remarkable that people can drive change using this kind of hybrid approach, combining self-managed initiatives with institutional support. 

As evidence of this are the results of the HR Excellence awards in Berlin late last week. One of the winning submissions was from a group of eight companies - Audi, BMW, Bosch, Continental, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Siemens, Telekom - who are spreading Working Out Loud. 

The recipients were the self-managing teams who, without budget or permission, introduced and spread a movement inside their respective companies. Even more remarkable, they decided to organize themselves into a cross-company community of practice to share innovations that could help everyone accelerate the growth of those movements. Their companies all celebrated their achievement, and several now have board-level support.

Yes, people are messy. But given enough space to experiment, enough confidence to resist fighting for status, and enough support to keep going, we can make work more effective and fulfilling than it’s ever been.