Working Out Loud: the 12-week program

12 weeks - enough time to develop the habit of working in a more open, connected way

12 weeks – enough time to develop the habit of working in a more open, connected way

In trying to help people work out loud, I’ve tried a variety of techniques. I wrote getting started guides and stories of people who did it. I gave presentations at work and one-on-one career insurance sessions. I even taught a 3-month course.

None of this produced much change. People seemed to like the idea of working out loud, but only a small percentage of people started working differently. For most people, it was just too hard to change work habits.

Recently, though, I’ve been using an approach that helps people actually change. It’s a work in progress (yes, I’m working out loud about working out loud), and your feedback can make it better.

The problem

Most people have one or more issues that prevent them from working out loud and building a purposeful network. Here are the ones I see over and over again.

  1. They don’t have time.
  2. They don’t know how to start.
  3. They don’t know which people to connect with.
  4. They don’t know how to connect with people.
  5. They don’t have a system for connecting or contributing.

After all the time I’ve spent trying to persuade or teach or inspire people, I finally realized what people really need is help. Help to do the things I was writing about and help changing their habits so they could do those things regularly.

The 12-week program

The program is really just structured, one-on-one coaching in which I help people apply the same principles I taught in the course I mentioned (“Building a Purposeful Social Network”). It’s by helping people work out loud consistently over 12 weeks that I help them develop new habits. And those habits result in a more open, connected approach to work that’s both sustainable and fulfilling.

The first step is a one-hour meeting where I get to know the person better and we frame a goal. Some might want more recognition in their company. Others might want to explore other possibilities in a different field or in a different location. We also talk about their experience with social tools and with writing about their work.

Based on that first conversation, I lay out 12 weeks that, based on their skills and their goal, help them build a network and publish more about their ideas, their work, and their learning. Then, we’ll meet once a week for 12 weeks. I may also help them with specific situations in between meetings.

Generally, the first week or two are about reading and exploring online. Some simple things to get the started: finding content relevant to their goal; updating their own online profiles; thinking of people relevant to their goal and finding them online (Twitter, LinkedIn, or a blog if they have one).

The rest of the program is largely about 2 things.

What we do each week

The two things we work on each week are connections and contributions. Pretty quickly, we develop their first relationship list – people relevant to their purpose. It may not be a long list, but we always come up with at least a few specific people. Sometimes they know their name (“Sue is the head of my department”) and sometimes just their role (“someone at Company X who does what I do”).

Then each week we work the list. For everyone on the list, I help the person I’m coaching answer the question “What do I have to offer that can further develop the relationship?” Although I’ve written about how to get started and about things we all have to offer, it’s actually practicing generosity with specific people in specific contexts that seems to make all the difference. (When we don’t have a name for the person we want to connect with, then I help them think of networks they can leverage to find out the name.)

Each time I help someone work their list for the first time, they start to see the many ways they can connect with others via contribution. And they tend to have a similar reaction: “I never thought of it that way before.” Week after week, they get better and more creative, adding more people and tapping into new possibilities they simply didn’t see earlier.

By the 4th week, we start to work on their writing. Working out loud, after all, is about making your work – your ideas, your passions, your learning – visible and discoverable. Very few people write regularly, so I help them see how they can turn what they’re working on and learning into written contributions that can help people in their growing network. Then we use those contributions as we work on their relationship lists.

Over the 12 weeks, we make adjustments as we go. Depending on the person and how they’re progressing, we might spend more time on writing skills or on a better system for managing their time and their relationship lists.

Yes, it’s working! And…

The way the program is structured addresses the top barriers associated with changing any habit: it gives people a simple way to start, structures their time, helps them think more deeply about relationships, and provides support while they practice consistently. After just a few weeks, the people I coach seem to develop new ways of looking at themselves and their work as well as how they can contribute to and connect with others.

I’m excited to see more people take control of their careers and do so in a way that’s authentic and fulfilling. And yet I know my approach is incomplete and that personalized coaching has many issues. (I can’t possibly coach 100,000 people at my firm, for example, never mind the millions I hope to help over time.) So I’ll keep working with individuals while I ask for feedback on ways to make the approach more effective and scalable.

What do you think? What would you do differently? How can we help more people work out loud and take control of their careers?

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
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32 Responses to Working Out Loud: the 12-week program

  1. In terms of scaling this concept, I’ve had the idea for a while of creating something similar with weekly activities laid out, but inviting 10-20 people to participate together…with occasional web conferences, videos and online discussions to facilitate it like a reusable online class. We organized something similar that was three days focused with about 2 hours per day, but it was more tool focused and not as “behavior” focused. You’ve got me thinking here about actually putting that idea in action as something to kick off in the new year 🙂 Catchppeople when they are most likely to be thinking about personal changes! Great list once again.

    • John Stepper says:

      Hello, Bryce!

      I tried to facilitate meet-ups as you and Moyra suggest and I had 3 problems:
      – inconsistent audience (who showed up at a given session)
      – if the group went beyond 3-4, we couldn’t work on each individual’s needs
      – there was no consistent work from week to week – eg we didn’t work on the same, growing relationship list each week

      Maybe an experienced coach could address those issues. Or maybe one-on-one coaching truly is the most effective approach and the way to scale is to help more people serve as coaches.

      We’ll see. And I’ll be sure to write about what we learn. 🙂

      • Jess says:

        We developed a program at Target for our senior leadership population. Focus was on collaboration tools, mobile and social capabilities (any “emerging tech”) We also found inconsistencies in success. However, now that I look back at it, maybe in some of the relationships; the content was tailored TOO much to their needs / wants of the leaders and not to the needs of the organization or their team. Look like you tried group learning – which may be good if you’re further in the program – week 9 or 10; but in the beginning the 1:1 approach would probably be the most impactful. Good luck!

  2. I meant “Great post…”. #Dyac

  3. moyramackie says:

    Coaching works! If done right it’s the most fail safe way of achieving transformation. But the success lies in the intensity of the one to one relationship.
    So scaling up? How about running a “coach the coach” workshop where any alumni from your programs can get the support and tools to go out and coach others?
    Also, have you considered alternating one to one coaching sessions with one to three or four? That way you become the facilitator of their learning and they build a network while going through the program and you can see more people, more quickly?

  4. Janet says:

    Nice post! I appreciated hearing about some reasons people are hesitant/unable to jump into working out loud and I really like how you link connecting with others with contributions. That aspect of relationships and support might be the key. Have you ever worked with helping people implement working out loud as a team or group?

    • John Stepper says:

      Hi, Janet. We’ve seen teams do this organically, usually helped by a linchpin who’s taken to working out loud and is now helping their team do it.

      My attempts at groups of people that aren’t in the same team have not worked out as well so far. Perhaps it’s the lack of shared purpose..or perhaps I need to be a better coach!

      The idea Moyra suggested in the comments seems the most practical to me. Coach individuals (and teams) and try to turn some alumni into coaches so we can help more people.

      Does that sound right to you?

      ps I really liked your article at

  5. Great post, John. I’ve been narrating my work for a few years now and the one thing I would add to this is do not see text as the default option for sharing what you do. Think audio, video, images as we have the tech to create this content just as easily – in fact more easily – than text. And I don’t think people should sweat over whether they are a good writer. That can be a barrier. Sadly, business defaults to text when they are so many other, more engaging, options. This then leads on to an understanding of what tools to use to curate what you do, but that’s all in the learning.
    PS my experience is that people don’t feel they have something to share – getting over that is where coaching can really work.

    • John Stepper says:

      Thanks, Martin. You’re right about using different media. (My bias is clearly writing. :-))

      And thinking broadly about what you have to offer is indeed one of the main points of the weekly coaching sessions. It’s why “working the list” week after week is so important. After thinking 50+ times about contributions they can make to different people on their list, they don’t need my help any more!

  6. Great article John.
    1. Empathetic.
    2. Simple.
    3. Practical.
    4. Honest.

    There are a few people consulting on WOL; more who are doing it (I try); but very few who are coaching it. Bravo.

    • John Stepper says:

      Thanks, Jonathan.

      It’s ironic, perhaps, that I was a bit uncomfortable writing this post as the program is such a work in progress. Yet working out loud about it helps elicit feedback while forcing me to think through it to the point I can (hopefully) describe it coherently.

  7. Irene Johansen says:

    Hi John. Really helpful thoughts. I like the structured approach, with enough flexibility to take care of individual needs. I second (third? forth?) coaching coaches. Provide coaching to the linchpin, and they’ll do the rest. Keep up with them, and offer feedback, and more coaching. This is parallel to a Lean & CI concept: facilitators and coaches (“sensei”, believe it or not) encourage people local to any process or department to think in terms of problem solving, the idea being for those same “linchpin” people encourage everyone else and carry the problem solving on into the future. It’s like the bifurcating branch – by the 10th iteration, you can have hundreds, even thousands of practitioners… Your job would be to keep in touch with the “coaches”, and regularly check out what’s happening on the ground (“gemba” or go to the source) to make sure the message is being translated correctly, and to learn from the learners, by being the first connection in everyone’s network… That is, you’d keep an eye on the “network”, to see what’s happening.

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  13. Samantha Scobie says:

    Another great post John, thanks for your insights. It made me reflect on how your approach might apply to the adoption of collaboration tools & working out loud across the business, specifically in relation to the development and success of our champions network – who we tend to “coach” and support in big groups via online webinars and training masterclasses. I’m going to give some more thought to your learnings and the comments above to consider how we can improve the effectiveness of those relationships and how they can positively influence others in the business, perhaps via a 1:1 – champion the champion approach 🙂

  14. Marie-Louise Collard says:

    Hi John
    Coming to this late in the day – but because you referenced it in your recent blog “Brooklyn Castle” I found myself on this page!
    What you offer and the way you do it is inspirational and I have no doubt that many people have benefited greatly in their pursuit to take charge of their careers – or work out loud – from being coached by you!
    However I would like to add one more point to your excellently defined list on “The problem” – of what issues prevent people from forging ahead:

    6. They are not ready

    They do have some time, they have an idea of how to start, they have connections and a system at work for contributing (as a start)– but they feel the time is wrong for them in that journey.
    The 12 week 1-1 course is different as I would imagine those investing in that commitment are ready and really want to do it now!
    Your “help” in this offering would put them on a fantastic path to achieve something that is “sustainable and fulfilling”.
    So it might not be about “persuasion” – but allowing them to take responsibility for their actions simply by understanding what you are talking about and by the inspiration you offer to achieve it – when they are ready
    That hasn’t been lost. At all.
    You should never underestimate the effect of those initial 1 hour engagements – even if you have not seen any “visible” and immediate change 🙂

  15. John Stepper says:

    Such an insightful, comment, Marie-Louise. I think it’s hubris on my part (or overconfidence or some other attributes the Greeks wrote plays about) that makes me think I can help anyone change. Of course I can’t and it’s not about me anyway. If an individual isn’t ready (for whatever reasons), then no book or 12-week program will make them change.


    While they may not be ready now, a book or program might help them in some other way. Perhaps it plants an idea they use later in life. Or maybe they tell a friend and it helps them. Or maybe they just smile at the universe more. 🙂

    I think you’ve helped me stop trying to tally coaching successes and failures. Instead, I’ll focus more on making the gift as good as I can and let people do with it what they will. The best gifts are free of expectations, anyway.

    Thank you.

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