Running a First Wave of Working Out Loud Circles in an Organisation

This is the first in a two-part case study on the first wave of Working Out Loud Circles at Coca-Cola Amatil.  In this post I discuss how I set up and supported these Circles.  The second post will discuss the evaluation and outcomes.

I had experienced the power of Working Out Loud Circles by participating in them, and had supported others outside my organisation to form and complete Circles.  I could see how Working Out Loud could benefit individuals, teams and my organisation as a whole.  Yet in early 2016 I couldn’t find a senior leader to sponsor a first wave of Circles.  Ironically, the leaders in my business unit were focussed on shaping a Transformation program and while some were curious about Working Out Loud, they couldn’t yet see where it fitted into the program.

So I took a different approach.  I set up some Circles and gathered data and stories to demonstrate the potential value and help explain how Working Out Loud aligned with the organisation’s Transformation agenda.

Attracting Circle Members

As the leader of a Learning and Development team I was in a good position to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) as an individual development opportunity.  I used our Enterprise Social Network (ESN) to promote the Circles.  I set up a Working Out Loud Circles site and posted some resources e.g.:

(Note – if you are unfamiliar with Working Out Loud Circles suggest you read the first two articles now.)

wol-5-elementsI ran an information webinar open to anyone in the organisation, which I promoted via a short video.  I made the video by screencasting a Powerpoint slide pack.  I  posted a webinar recording on the ESN.  I also presented to two groups outside my department who had expressed an interest in Working Out Loud based on my posts on the ESN over the preceding year.  People were invited to contact me if they were interested in participating in a Circle.

Forming Circles

I asked volunteers to confirm that their managers were aware of their participation and understood the time commitment (approximately 1.5 – 2 hours per week for 12 weeks).  There were 19 volunteers, who were allocated to four Circles, with diversity in job function, gender and background where possible.

Finding Facilitators

The first person I allocated to each Circle was an individual who would be a good facilitator.  I drew on my experience with Circles outside of my organisation where it can be difficult to find a volunteer for the facilitator role.  The facilitator role is fairly straightforward.  It is mostly coordination and leading each Circle meeting by following a Guide.  However, some people find the role title intimidating and have the perception that a special skill set is required to facilitate a Circle.  I now call the role ‘Circle Coordinator’ to make it seem less daunting.  Three of the people I invited to be facilitators were in my team, and comfortable with the title and responsibilities.  The fourth had previously completed a Circle, so understood what was involved.  All were enthusiastic about the opportunity, and had the support of their manager.

Circle Logistics

wol-bookThe primary material for participants are the Circle Guides which they can download themselves.  Although not essential, it’s helpful to have a copy of John Stepper’s Working Out Loud book to help bring the practices to life through stories and examples.  There are also extra activities in the book if anyone is keen to extend themselves.

Circles were asked to commence in the same week.  This was to make it efficient to support them.  It also meant that participants could discuss their experience and exchange tips between Circles in context of being at the same point through the 12-week Circle period. The actual start dates ended up being spread across two weeks, so half the group were one week ahead of the other in the program.

Note that it is not essential for different Circles to commence in the same week.  I simply felt that for our first wave it would be easier to support them this way, and to evaluate outcomes in a timely manner.

With one exception, the members of a Circle were located at the same working site.  This reduced diversity in the groups, but did mean that participants could meet face-to-face.  While Circles can readily be conducted virtually, my understanding of the CCA context suggested that the peer accountability would be stronger with face-to-face meetings.  Interestingly, the group that were meeting virtually had two people drop out early in the period, while the other groups remained intact.

Facilitators set regular meeting times with the Circle members, booked rooms and scheduled them into online calendars.  They managed ongoing coordination / logistics with their Circles.

Supporting Facilitators

 Early on I checked in weekly with facilitators on progress.  The Circle Guides are easy to follow and the facilitators were confident with their role.  They needed little support or guidance, and could readily communicate with each other for mutual support and encouragement.

We had two further touchpoints – one about mid-way through the program, and the other around Week 10.  There are some typical challenges that arise for participants as the program progresses.  These can include people struggling to make time for Working Out Loud, or to develop a system and regular habits.  The Circle Guides discuss potential challenges and include activities and tips to address them.  A group discussion with facilitators can help to generate ideas for addressing specific challenges within the Circles, and generate motivation by sharing progress stories.  We were fortunate to be able to join real-time videoconference session with John Stepper, which was very inspiring for the group.

Encouraging and Promoting Circles During the Wave

All Circle members were encouraged to follow the Working Out Loud site on the ESN where I posted a weekly update summarising the week’s focus and key activities.  For the first few weeks I also sent the same information in a weekly email before advising participants they would need to check their ESN Feed in future.  I also occasionally posted links to additional resources and relevant blog posts.  Some of the participants were active on the ESN and responded to posts.

In addition to supporting participants, posting on the ESN Feed had the benefit of building broader awareness of WOL amongst others who followed me or the participants.

Many participants also joined Twitter, so I created a Twitter list which I checked regularly and interacted with them on this platform.  One of the things people get a kick out of is when they tweet John Stepper that they are in a Circle or reading his book and he replies.

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I joined a WOL Circle too

The Overheads are Low

It takes very little effort to set up and support your first round of Circles in an organisation.  There is no program development required and the materials are readily available and easy to use.  No special skills are required, just a desire to help people take more control over their own development and career.  You can start it as a grass roots initiative from anywhere within the organisation, and anyone can participate.

The next post in this series will cover the approach used to evaluate the outcomes and potential contribution of Working Out Loud to the organisation.

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#WOLWeek Day 7 – Plan Next Steps

Last week (7-13 November 2016) was International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek). I used it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.

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Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

In addition to consciously completing the WOL activity each day I committed to writing a blog post about that activity.  My posts described both what I had done on the day as well as my experience with that activity during my current WOL Circle.  Over the past few days I’ve been reflecting what I’ve learned and what I will do differently in coming weeks.

Reflecting on my Goal

A goal needs to be something I care about in order to motivate me.  I’ve realised that to be a high enough priority for me to put sustained effort into it over the 12 week period of a WOL Circle it also needs to be highly relevant to my current work.  It needs to be something I can apply to a current project.  In the nine weeks since the start of this Circle my work focus has shifted.  I’ve started an assignment with a new organisation, but I didn’t update my goal to be relevant to this project.  Consequently my attention has moved to the new assignment and I’ve struggled to make time to progress my original goal.

Working Out Loud is a Force Multipler

On Day 5 I described WOL as a ‘force multiplier‘ – “it amplifies your presence and accelerates you work.”  Although it’s challenging to change your practices to build WOL into the flow of your daily work, the value of working in a more open, connected, generous way is tremendous.  WOL has helped me to:

  • build my network and forge deeper relationships
  • improve my practices and the quality of my work by helping me find resources, get early input and feedback from others, and build on the experience and work of others
  • make faster progress on my goals
  • create new opportunities

Power of Making Your Work Visible

Making your work visible (also known as ‘showing your work’ or ‘narrating your work’) is powerful for many reasons.  For me, one of these reasons that it forces me to consciously reflect on my work rather than plough on in a near-continuous stream of activities.  Secondly, it increases my accountabilty to make progress.  It also leads to connection and conversation.

Power of Conversation

When I work on a project, especially where there is something novel about it for me,  my thoughts shift over time.  There is a process of discovery where I gather information, start processing it, hypothesise, gain insight, make some progress then find something new which results in me updating my view.  The quality of my thinking greatly improves if I can ‘think out loud.’  I can do this by sharing my progress – making my work visible in any appropriate format.

Having a conversation about what I’ve shared is even more powerful, especially if it’s with someone who has some relevant experience or is able to challenge and extend my thinking through the use of powerful questions or different perspectives  The way in which I make my work visible can increase the number of helpful conversations I generate.  I can:

  • target who I share my work with
  • practice empathy and share my work with people to whom it is relevant, and explain why they should care (what’s the WIIFM?)
  • make it easy for others to consume and process by keeping it brief and clear
  • share early in the process
  • ask for input and help
  • maintain and communicate an open mindset
  • thank people for their help
  • acknolwedge the contribution of others

What next with WOL for me?

The reflection on my goal and the power of Working Out Loud have led me to change my goal for the remaining three weeks of my WOL Circle.  My new goal is:

“to Work Out Loud in the flow of work in my current role.”

This goal will help me to build my network in my new organisation, find people with an interest in the work I am doing, access a range of assistance, and reduce the risk that I duplicate work that has already been done.  While waiting for access to the organisation’s IT infrastructure I have had the opportunity to present in person to a range of forums, and have accepted all subsequent invitations to meet with interested people.  I have IT access from today, and look forward to the experience of using Yammer within an organisation for the first time and observing how the learning community is connecting and collaborating online.  I will use Simon Terry’s 3 tiny habits to build working out loud into my day as I familiarise myself with this new environment.

On the flip side, I felt that while I was blogging daily last week I spent more time in ‘output’ mode than in ‘listening’ mode in my networks.  I feel a need to redress the balance and listen more in my public networks over the next few weeks, looking for opportunities to engage and contribute too others along the way.

What did you learn during WOL Week?

Please post below to let me know what you learned during WOL Week, or at any other time when you have worked out loud.

 

 

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#WOLWeek Day 6 – Celebrate Help

International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) is 7-13 November 2016. I’m using it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.

7-days-ofworking-out-loud

Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

I’m now into Week 9 of my current Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle.  Today I celebrate the help I have received from the three people in my Circle as I’ve worked towards my goal to “to clearly explain the impact of knowledge and expertise on Australian organisations.”   Among the contributions my Circle buddies have made are:

  • suggesting how I could find people relevant to my goal
  • offering a different perspective on reading recommended in each week’s Circle guide, giving me the opportunity to strengthen my WOL practices – even though I’ve read these articles several times in previous Circles, new insights and examples continue to arise in Circle discussions
  • providing a safe space to reflect on my progress each week, discuss my WOL challenges, and helping me to identify adjustments to get me back on track with my WOL habits and routines
  • encouraging me to keep going when I was tired or busy (or both!)
  • inspiring me with their own progress
  • showing me different ways that Working Out Loud can be accomplished, reminding me that there is no one best way and to stay flexible and open in my practices
  • giving me a sense of responsibility as the WOL Circle coordinator to set a good example
  • holding me accountable to do what I say I will each week

This is the fourth WOL Circle I have participated in.  It will not be my last.  It’s a joy to share the experience of Working Out Loud with others, to see them make progress and experience the impact of generosity on relationships and the value of working in a network.  The peer accountability and structure of activities over the 12-week period also move me consistently towards a goal, helping me to achieve far more than I ever could without support.

Have you been in a WOL Circle?

If you have been in a WOL Circle please take a moment to share below about the contribution that your Circle buddies made to you.

Further resources:

 

 

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#WOLWeek Day 5 – Share A Need: WOL is a Force Multiplier

International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) is 7-13 November 2016. I’m using it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.

7-days-ofworking-out-loud

Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

Working Out Loud is a ‘force multiplier.’  When you Work Out Loud it builds your network – both in terms of breadth (the number of people you are connected to) and depth (familiarity or intimacy with specific people in your network).  Others in your network then start to act on your behalf.  When you share your interests and needs, others send you relevant resources and connect you with people with the same or related interests.  On Day 5 of WOL Week I didn’t have to share a need – because someone in my network did this on my behalf.

Based on my Day 1 WOLWeek post where I shared my purpose, Bruno Winck shared my need with the #PKMChat community via Twitter, with a specific request (communicated via the use of ‘ping’) to Stephanie Barnes (@MPuzzlePiece).  Stephanie replied with an invitation to contact her.

It’s wonderful the way that Working Out Loud amplifies your presence and accelerates your work.  If you have a story to share about how someone in your network has helped spread the word about something you needed help with please share it in reply to this post.  Stories are a good way of communicating the value of Working Out Loud.

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#WOLWeek Day 4 – Share Your Progress: Resources on Impact of Knowledge and Expertise in Australian Organisations

International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) is 7-13 November 2016. I’m using it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.

7-days-ofworking-out-loud

Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

My Purpose

On #WOLWeek Day 1 I blogged about my current WOL Circle goal:

“to clearly explain the impact of knowledge and expertise on Australian organisations.”

My Progress

For six weeks I played internet detective and asked people in my Australian network for advice on case studies and research relevant to my goal.  I did start out with some case studies from conferences, but was looking for more comprehensive research and analysis.  While there is a lot of online content on Knowledge Management (KM) I haven’t yet identified many detailed case studies or research that directly addresses my goal.  The most promising resources are:

Australian Studies in Knowledge Management (free online access) – This book is a compilation of articles by Australasian academics and practitioners founded on their research and experience. It brings together a range of approaches seen in Knowledge Management (KM) research and practice in a logical sequence incorporating the most important elements of knowledge management.   It explores knowledge management frameworks and identifies some common elements that are explored in subsequent parts of the book.  Of particular relevance to my goal is the chapter ‘The Strategic Question: Why Manage Knowledge.’  This book was recommended by Rob Wilkins, who works in Information Management in the NSW Department of Education. Rob suggested that although this book was published in 2003 much of the content remains relevant.

Knowledge Management Survey (available to purchase for 95GBP = approx. AUD$160) –   This report on a global survey conducted by Knoco in 2014 includes data and analysis of a range of KM aspects in organisations including:

  • The focus areas, business drivers and strategies for KM across business sectors.
  • The benefits delivered through KM, in dollar terms, and intangibles.
  • Business metrics impacted by KM.

I hesitated to spend the money on this report, but did eventually as I’d not found any free / cheap data elsewhere. I’m waiting to receive my copy and hope that it will provide a geographic breakdown of data or commentary on common trends versus differences by region.  Even if it doesn’t, the global data should be of considerable value towards my goal.  Thanks to Ian Fry for recommending this resource and for our ongoing dialogue on KM from a practitioner’s perspective.

KM Body of Knowledge (BOK) Site Mockup – This is an interesting resource which was recently created as an example of what an online BOK might look like.  It was automatically generated using a data compiler (visit the site for more information on how it was created).  It provides links to a range of KM resources including book lists, communities of practice, capability frameworks, and tools.  I’ve given it an honorary mention as it is a launch pad for further discovery, and also as I think I could use this compilation method to efficiently create and maintain similar resource gateways for other knowledge areas. I discovered this resource by following a discussion on the Australian Society for Knowledge Management forum http://www.auskm.org where the community is ideating about a KMBOK.

My Next Steps

  1. Focussed effort reading these resources and identifying the information that will help me construct my explanation of the impact of knowledge and expertise on Australian organisations.
  2. Start compiling a list of relevant Australian case studies.
  3. Start drafting my explanation in response to my goal.

 

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‘Speed’ Mentoring – My Responses

AITD Mentor Qs.pngI’ve participated in the mentoring program run by the Australian Institute of Training and Development for the past two years – first as a mentee, then a mentor.  Last night was the end of program celebration event in Sydney, which Neil Von Heupt facilitated.  Neil ran a ‘speed’ mentoring activity.  Each mentee had a two minute conversation with each mentor to discuss their response to the three questions on the flipchart below.

 

The mentors were not forewarned of this activity, so our responses were very ‘top of mind.’  With the possible exception of the first question, my responses would be unsurprising to anyone who had worked with me in the past two years.

Most important aspect of my work

My gut reply to this when asked was ‘conversations.’  It’s not what I expected, and if I’d had more time to think about my response I may have crafted a different response.  However, I think it’s true and is at the heart of much of my professional practice and development.  I find it vital to talk with others to help me reflect, solve problems, ideate, explore, strategise and plan.  As an Learning and Development leader, having a performance consulting conversations with people who ask for a ‘program’ or ‘course’ helps in identifying underlying causes of performance gaps and appropriate solutions (which may not require training).  Conversation is also at the heart of social learning.

I’d like to acknowledge the influence of Harold Jarche in shaping my awareness of the power of conversation in learning  – fittingly, through two very memorable conversations we have had at Edutech conference in 2015 and on a Skype call earlier this year.

edutech-conversation

In conversation with Simon Terry at Edutech 2015 – photo taken by Harold Jarche

Favourite tool for L&D

As a personal and professional development tool, it’s definitely Twitter for me.  It’s turned my learning on it’s head since I started actively using it three years ago by enabling me to access people to engage with in a mutually beneficial interchange of sharing resources, ideas and experiences.  It’s one place where I have useful conversations.  Need more convincing?  Read what others have to say about Twitter as a development tool.

 

Hot career tip

Make time for reflection using whatever method suits you.  It’s vital to make sense of your experience, figure out what’s working and what you’d like to improve, and to inform your future actions.  I do a daily reflection in Evernote using a list of prompter questions on this linked list.  I write a dot point answer to those that seem relevant.  At the end of the week I then use the weekly reflection questions in my list to draw out key themes.  When I have the capacity I also blog about my work.

Which leads me to my second hot career tip – Work Out Loud.  In essence this is what I do on my blog.  Make your work and working processes visible to others – both when it’s a work in progress and when it’s complete.  Search on social media platforms or an internet search tool (#WOL #showyourwork and #WOLWeek) for a wide range of examples of how you can make your work visible.  Follow Jane Bozarth who provides practical guidance and examples to help you get started simply and quickly.

To maximise the career benefits of making your work visible, adopt the expanded Working Out Loud practice using the Working Out Loud Circle Guides.  Adopting Working Out Loud has radically altered my professional development, enabled me to build a contribution-based network, and created many opportunities.

Your Turn

How would you respond to these three questions?  Post a reply below or share your response on Twitter with #LNDcareertips

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#WOLWeek Day 3 – Make A Contribution

International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) is 7-13 November 2016. I’m using it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.

7-days-ofworking-out-loud

Image source: WOLWeek.wordpress.com

My Purpose

On #WOLWeek Day 1 I blogged about my current WOL Circle goal:

“to clearly explain the impact of knowledge and expertise on Australian organisations.”

Todays Contribution

Today’s #WOLWeek challenge is to “take the time to make a contribution to another person who is connected to your purpose.”  The day is drawing to a close.  While I have made contributions to others today, I have not made one specifically to someone connected to my purpose.  So today’s post is a reflection on my contributions during the eight weeks of my current WOL Circle as I worked towards this goal.

My Contributions During Current WOL Circle

My purpose is fairly specific in it’s Australian focus, and I did not start with well-developed relationships with relevant people. Most people have an online presence of some kind so I started searching for people I had met at Knowledge Management Australia conference to see if I could find an online social media account, a blog, or other online content they’d published.

When I found people on LinkedIn I sent them a personalised invitation reminding them of our prior contact, and identifying our area of common interest.  If I found them on Twitter I followed them and sent a short tweet with a similar message.  Following someone on social media and making a short introduction gives the simple, unobtrusive gift of acknowledgement.  Where I was able to find content they had published online I looked at it and, if I found it valuable, I liked it, commented on it, or shared it online with a brief statement about the content.  The intent of these small contributions is to move the relationship forward just a little, to make them aware of me, and extend a light invitation to engage without imposing an obligation.

One person did start a dialogue with me via email, and I was able to make further contributions by commenting on their work and asking questions about it.  I asked if they were aware of Australian case studies or research relevant to my goal.  They recommended a global study that contained some Australian data, and suggested I join the AusKm forum and post my question there.  I’m going to leave this thread of the story there for now as it leads into #WOLWeek Day 5: Share A Need.

On reflection, during my current WOL Circle I’ve not moved beyond simple contributions.  This has impeded my progress toward my goal.  I’ve been very busy recently with significant changes, including resigning from a job to commence working independently, moving house, and time off work during school holidays.  I’ve struggled to maintain a habit of keeping an eye on what relevant people are sharing online, reading longer content that they have published or referred to me, and identifying contributions I could be making.  Nonetheless, I have made progress – which I shall summarise in tomorrow’s WOLWeek post.

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