This is the second in a two-part case study on the first wave of Working Out Loud Circles at Coca-Cola Amatil. The first post discussed how the Circles were set up and supported. This second post discusses the evaluation and outcomes.
Recall from the first part of this case study that this was the first wave of Working Out Loud (WOL) Circles run in the organisation, and that it was done as a grass roots initiative, with a senior manager as sponsor. The purpose of the experiment was to understand the potential value of the Circles in the organisation in order to get management support. We were also interested in how we could run future Circles effectively.
WOL Circle Stories
I read some statistics this week about the low number of people who make it all the way to the end of a blog post. So, I’m posting the bit that don’t want you to miss out on first. (BTW – there’s some good stuff further down so be sure to at least skim through – most of it is presenting visually and easy to understand.)
As part of demonstrating the value of WOL Circles some of the participants agreed to make a video discussing the value they got from being part of a Circle. These videos can be used in a range of ways to promote Circles in an organisation, including getting support of managers and encouraging people to join a Circle. Thank you to Navya Chandran and Justine Jardine for agreeing to their videos being shared publicly.
Two weeks after completing their Working Out Loud Circle participants were sent a survey – 13 responded. Topics covered in the survey were:
- Individual goals – what type of goals did participants set, how much progress did they make on their goal, and how did the WOL Circle help them to work on their goal.
- WOL program – program structure, duration, activities, materials, and participant time
- Individual value – what people can do as a result of participating in a Circle
- Organisational value – potential benefits of WOL Circles to the organisation
- General feedback and recommendation to others – including asking participants whether they would be willing to be interviewed and have their story shared with others
- Facilitator questions
Here is a link to the full set of survey questions. This survey was adapted from one used internally by Bosch since 2015 and generously shared with other organisational WOL Circle practitioners such as myself. Thank you to Cornelia Heinke and Katharina Krentz from Bosch for the support they provided me in getting started with WOL Circles inside an organisation.
I prepared a summary PowerPoint presentation and made a short screencast video. I shared both broadly via the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) and with a number of managers who had previously expressed an interest in WOL Circles.
Participants made good progress towards their goal with the support of the WOL Process and their WOL Circle peers.
Participants were positive about using WOL to make progress on a goal.
Participants overwhelmingly believed that Working Out Loud had improved their skills in networking, accessing information and expertise, and sharing knowledge. They also felt more in control of their professional development and career, and more fulfilled at work.
Potential Organisational Value
Again, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Participants thought that Working Out Loud could help the organsiation be become more collected and collaborative. Note that some of the statements in this section of the survey were aligned with transformation goals specific to the organisation. If you are going to run a similar survey I recommend customising the statements to your organisation’s strategy and goals.
All participants recommend Working Out Loud Circles to their colleages. 92% stated that they would participate in another Circle.
Social Proof – Participant Videos
John Stepper recommends internal social proof as one way to get management support for WOL Circles. Short participant videos discussing their Circle experience and the benefits of Working Out Loud are one way to do this. If you haven’t already done so, go to the top of this post to view a sample of the ‘WOL Circle Story’ videos that we made.
I was inspired to make these by the videos shared by the University of Melbourne.
What Next for WOL Circles at CCA?
The short answer is that I’m not sure. I moved on from CCA shortly after completing the evaluation of our first wave of WOL Circles, in September 2016. At the time of writing this post no further Circles have been run at CCA, which is in the midst of a significant change program. The first wave of Circles seeded some Working Out Loud champions in the organisation, and demonstrated how easy and low-cost it is to run Circles. There is also a WOL site on the SharePoint intranet where a record of the Circles can easily be found. My hope is that between these assets and the participants that remain in the organisation that further WOL Circles will be run.
There are a range of labels or overarching terms in use in Learning and Development (L&D) to describe different modalities or approaches to learning e.g. eLearning, mobile learning, social learning. My recent search to understand how the L&D profession defines the term ‘blended learning’ led me to think about the pros and cons of the way we use labels in the L&D field.
An Example – Blended Learning
There a range of views on what the term ‘blended learning’ means, exemplified by Taruna Goel’s 2010 post ‘Make It Blended‘ (As an aside, it was prescient of Taruna to product that the specific blend would change over time as more possibilities became available via technology). The situation had not changed In 2015 when Jane Hart ran a poll on what the term means. The poll results show a range of interpretations, with 49% selecting ‘a training programme containing a mix of face-to-face and e-learning.’ This dominant view is reflected in the Wikipedia definition.
Other people have suggested that in addition to using a range of delivery formats and media the range of aspects that can be blended include:
– social contexts* – individual / one-to-one, small group/cohort, community
– learning strategies* – exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration
– communications media* – same-time/synchronous, own-time/asynchronous
– learner opportunity to learn, do, share and teach
* source – More Than Blended Learning by Clive Shepherd, 2015
Clearly when discussing blended learning it’s important to explain what you actually mean by the term for people could have different interpretations. I like the approach taken by Chris Coladonato who told me “I don’t call it blended learning, I simply say we are creating a learning experience that is a blend or mixture of a few different media formats and delivery modes to create an experience that will achieve our desired performance outcomes….and meet your needs.” The point of sharing this explanation from Chris is not to propose that this is the correct definition of ‘blended learning’.’ Rather it’s to suggest that a plain language explanation of what you are trying to do and why in a specific context is clearer than using jargon that others might not understand, or may interpret differently to you.
Pros and Cons of Labels
What are the benefits of using labels such as blended learning, mobile learning, working out loud (add your own to this list – there are plenty)? When they first emerge these labels can alert us to emerging trends in our field – be they something that is genuinely new, or something that may have been around for a while but we have moved away from or have the opportunity to use in a new way, usually through technological advances. They can invite us to explore and have conversations. They prompt us to examine our practice both individually and collectively. They are triggers or reminders to consider a range of approaches – to be flexible in our practice, and an invitation to consider a wider range of options in designing learning experiences.
However, if we latch onto labels or get lazy in our use of them or thinking about them they can become unhelpful. It’s easy to throw a term around or focus on one aspect of an approach without taking the time to understand it or critically examine it. This leads to myths (e.g. social learning requires the use of technology) and unrealised potential. A ‘mini-industry’ can arise around an approach with people overcomplicating it and making it seem harder to implement and less accessible. Jane Bozarth’s ongoing reminders to keep ‘showing your work‘ simple and accessible is a plea against this kind of overcomplication. Different interpretations of a label can impede discussion and development of our practice rather than promote it. Confusion and rigidity can result, rather than openness, flexibility and increased effectiveness.
How Should Labels Be Used?
Labels can be useful shorthand to refer to learning approaches, however should be used with care. To help me use them effectively here are some guidelines I’m adopting:
- Take the time to understand a label before you start using it or applying the approach that it refers to.
- Identify the essential characteristics of the approach in order to avoid unnecessary over-complication.
- Consider whether the label is redundant. Does the approach it describes already exist under a different name?
- Consider whether the label is necessary. Use labels sparingly. Could you use a plain language description instead?
- If it’s appropriate to use the label, then clarify what you mean when you use it. Keep it as simple as possible.
What do you think of these guidelines – Agree? Disagree? Got something to add? Post a comment if you’d like to continue the discussion.
PS – My Conclusion on Blended Learning
In the case of ‘blended learning’ my view is that it’s too broad a term and has too many interpretations to be helpful. The important point is to be flexible in learning design.
My thanks to Chris Colandonato and Shannon Tipton for sharing your views on this issue with me.
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 we set up and supported these Circles. The second post discusses how we demonstrated value from the Circles and presents key 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.:
- The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud (Revisited)
- Article on Working Out Loud Circles that I had written for the Australian Institute of Training and Development magazine
- Link to Working Out Loud website
- Link to the Twitter #workingoutloud feed
(Note – if you are unfamiliar with Working Out Loud Circles suggest you read the first two articles now.)
I 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Learn more about Working Out Loud at workingoutloud.com
- Read an overview of Working Out Loud Circles
- Download free Working Out Loud Circle Guides to help you start and run your own Circle