Working out loud: Getting started

Getting started

Getting started

When it comes to career opportunities, working out loud is the great equalizer. It enables everyone to demonstrate what they can do and opens up access to people and possibilities. It’s not just for senior management or for extroverts. If you work, then working out loud is for you.

But many people still don’t know where to begin. So here’s a set of simple steps I use to help people get started. This simple progression, combined with deliberate practice, can help anyone make their work more effective and more fulfilling.

The basics: reading and writing

While it seems everyone is comfortable using the internet at home, many people, particularly at large firms, simply don’t know how to use the internet for work. At the office, their main tools might be email, meetings, a notebook, and their own computer. And they’re so busy – and so used to how they work – that they simply don’t know what else is available.

So the first thing we show someone is how to find relevant people and content. This is easy if you use a collaboration platform at work like Jive or Sharepoint. But we’ll also help them find useful blogs, LinkedIn groups, and people on Twitter. They’re almost always surprised at the richness of what’s available and how easy it is to find it.

Basic capabilities Finding relevant people & content
Putting your work where others can see it

The other basic capability they’ll need is to find a place to put their work. Many people still store their work in a private space (a notebook, a local drive). We show them how they can put much of that in a place (typically their firm’s collaboration platform) where others can see it, discuss it, share it, and build on it. And we show them examples of how this openness can improve everything from meeting agendas and minutes to presentations and policies.

This won’t change anything yet, but it’s enough to show them that other ways of working are readily available.

Making it easy

If you want to change behavior, you need to make it convenient. Sometimes, the biggest barriers to change can be removed with a few simple adjustments.

Convenience Make it part of your environment
Make it part of your routine

The first adjustments we make are to the person’s work environment. We’ll change their default home page, for example, so their collaboration platform is only one click away. We’ll make sure their mobile device is set up and has the right apps in a convenient spot. We’ll put a physical reminder – “Work out loud!” – on their monitor. These simple nudges make a big difference.

Then we schedule time to work out loud. For executives it might be as little as 15 minutes a week. For others, it might be an hour a day. Once it’s scheduled, they don’t have to think about it. They have an appointment with themselves for building the skills they need to work in a better way.

Making generosity a habit

What exactly do they do with that regularly scheduled time? Most people I speak to are daunted by the idea of a blog or even a status update. (Senior people who manage thousands have told me “You’ll never get me to blog!” or “I don’t know what to say.”) So we take small steps and show them how some simple actions can help them achieve their goals while also making their work more fulfilling.

The first and most important lesson is to help them frame their work as a contribution, as a gift to others. This idea of “leading with generosity” is critically important to working out loud. You shape your reputation through your contributions and the public feedback they attract, not by promoting yourself. And leading with generosity is also the best way to build relationships.

Then we start with a simple one-click gift – Like-ing someone else’s contribution – and we slowly build from there.

Habitual Generosity Giving feedback by Like-ing
Giving feedback by commenting
Sharing content
Connecting people
Creating your own original gifts

We show them how a single click can be a sign of appreciation as well as public  reinforcement of work or behaviors they value. Their first comment might be a public “Thank you” or “Well done”. These simple steps demonstrate that the person is listening and participating, that they’re willing to engage. And this openness, in turn, makes it easier for others to contribute.

Next, we help people narrate what they’re doing: who they’re meeting with, what they’re reading, what they’re working on, what they’re learning. Such contributions, even  if they’re only a sentence or two, inevitably lead to other relevant people and content. In a short time, people learn – by doing – how their own contributions help them discover people and content that’s useful for their work.

We continue up this gradient, gradually helping people make more significant contributions. Putting project materials online. Sharing drafts of works in progress. Articulating their opinions. Sometimes it’s just a gift with no expected return. And sometimes, many times, those gifts attract interest and expertise, making the work better.

Changing behavior

It took me years to learn that verbal persuasion and the one-off tutorial don’t change much.

To change people’s behavior, you need a more comprehensive approach, tapping into all the sources of influence. You need to immerse them in the activity so they can learn by doing. You need to give them small, achievable goals so they become increasingly confident. And you need to provide immediate, relevant feedback so they can get better quickly.

There are more advanced techniques for working out loud, but getting started is the most important step and often the hardest.

Helping people take that step is extremely rewarding. I love seeing the joy people experience when they get public recognition from something they’ve contributed. The glint in their eye when they realize they have a voice and they have control. And the hope they have when they ask me “What’s next?”.


About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
This entry was posted in Self awareness and improvement, Social Business, Working out loud and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Working out loud: Getting started

  1. Ana says:

    Loved this post John. You’ve translated into a simple yet comprehensive writing a series of small steps that can go a long way when it comes to changing behaviours. I’ll surely use this sort of step by step framework! And I think I might have a small challenge for you. More on that later 🙂

  2. Great job articulating this stuff that many of us get but have a hard time translating to others. One tip I give during the scheduled windows of learning, is to find one email per day that either needs an answer from you or that you recently replied to that has potential shared value beyond the person you addressed it to. Find 4-5 in a one week experiment and see what kind of results you get.

    That way they aren’t having to think of anything new to contribute, just sharing something they already were, but in a more transparent place.

    Thanks again for your great posts, John!

    • John Stepper says:

      Thank you, Bryce, for coining the phrase “working out loud”. It’s proving to be very useful for many people.

      And I like that tip. Do you have others? Perhaps write them up on your blog? 🙂

      • It’s next on my to do list 🙂 In all seriousness, I have been craving some more external engagement / sharing of late. It’s been a while.

        Another tip…we’ve had a little success providing personal interest communities (food, health, craft beer, photography, gardening, sports) as a place for people to get comfortable with interacting in the open first…providing both some social collab experience as well as some tool familiarity…then triggering ideas and comfort in doing so for business purposes. We view them as a catapault to productivity, not a distraction from work. Not to mention the engagement benefits. Our Health and Fitness community is probably our most engaged community overall.

        That concept works well with some, and lands like a brick with others. Depends on personality and perceptions of engagement’s role in productivity.

        Coming soon to a blog near you… 😉


  3. Joachim says:

    Excellent reference to the use of notebooks as a non-shareable, private space (camera, anyone?).

  4. Sam G says:

    Good post John. I like the conversational feel of it. If I see another “quick tips” list I think my head is going to explode!

    • Sam G says:

      I notice you didn’t include “write a status update”. I think these really turn people off (unless they are contributing something very specific).

      • John Stepper says:

        I think what you and Bryce hit on is how the “handbook of working out loud” needs to include a variety of techniques that accounts for the different styles and experiences of different people.

        Great ideas. Keep them coming!

  5. I find the concept of “leading with generosity” very inspiring. Instead of focusing on what we can get from people, it’s nicer to focus on creating symbiosis by helping people do great things!

  6. Sam G says:

    I posted this on my company’s jive site. My my introductory comment was to the advocates of the platform to suggest they use this as a tool to show new people how easy getting on jive or other social media could be. I figured addressing the skeptics/non-users directly wouldn’t have the same effect! 🙂

    • John Stepper says:

      Thanks, Sam. In fact, it was an advocate at work who inspired this post by asking “How can I help others get started?”

      Let me know if it works or if they have other ideas we should add to our starter kit.

      • Sam G says:

        This provides an excellent framework for a junior and senior person to start a “reverse mentoring” discussion.

  7. John, as always, your post is spot on. I like your acknowledgement of the fact that anyone who leads an organization into social behavior through collaboration tools, is in fact coaching people in new ways of working and reengineering their thinking around ‘tried and tested’ organizational behavior. Your tips make for a good foundation of that coaching. It goes way beyond straightforward evangelism of a new tool – something that some in that space may not get (atleast initially).

  8. Great article John. Totally agree with the comprehensive approach you mentioned. Thank you for sharing, Rachel

  9. I think it’s accurate to identify “getting started” as being crucial. In my experience of working with knowledge professionals, they tend to want their first foray into new fields to be “perfect”. By encouraging and supporting them to take small steps, you’re reducing the fear of both the unknown and the fear of getting it wrong. Would second your opinion on “Never Eat Alone” – THE key to successful relationship building in any media.

  10. Julia Gregson says:

    Exactly what I needed right now, John. I’m still glowing on the learnings gleaned from reading “Switch” and “Habit” and so I appreciate this article for its accessibility as well as its ability to inspire. Thanks for the gift!

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