How much is it worth?

I can only imagine what she felt like. A new job in a new country, thousands of miles away. And as soon as she arrives she’s forced into lockdown, alone and isolated.

This week’s story shows how, as much as Working Out Loud helps with business objectives, it goes far beyond that. It nurtures feelings of connection and confidence. It helps people thrive, even now.

Usually, when someone asks me about the value of Working Out Loud, I offer benchmarks and use cases and Net Promoter Scores. Now I will also talk about Maria Fernanda and the personal transformation she experienced in her Circle. I am grateful she shared her story with me, and allowed me to share it with you.

“How much is it worth for an employee to feel connected & empowered?”

“What’s the value of a happier, more confident person?”

***

“Hi John,

My name is Maria Fernanda and I am a first generation Mexican immigrant in the UK. I arrived, 24 years old, my first formal job contract, 2 bags and my cell phone on March 2020 to Heathrow airport, met my co-workers for 1 week, and then entered lockdown.

Even though I tried to train myself with all the vast material on the internet, I felt lost. Cultural work shock (imagine arriving to a new country and trying to understand the work culture via SKYPE), new methods of working for everyone, not knowing how to show my potential or how I could contribute to the team. 3 months passed like that and I couldn’t even unmute myself in conference calls without trembling.

But one day, a co-worker told me about a WOL circle, and that it might help us to connect and talk with more people. I joined because I was curious and craved for connection, but I didn’t expect to be touched the way I did. 

Apart from the fact that I was in a circle with truly remarkable women (5 of us), it was the highlight of our lockdown weeks. We all came from different places and different backgrounds, but all of that seemed to disappear, along with the worries of everything. It appeared like magic, a safe space; with time we realized we had deeply connected, we truly cared for each other and we could support our goals even though we are so different and we had never met in person. It helped us identify and concentrate in what we care about with all our hearts and how to track it in the middle of all the uncertainty and fear.

I was so scared to not be accepted the way I am, or to be rejected in a foreign country were I didn’t know anyone, but the WOL circle and the women that shared it with me made it go away with kindness. In the WOL circle I was accepted for who I am and that gave me the strength to show my abilities at work and in my personal life. The way the guides were written made me feel like I had a true friend that knew how to guide me, and I feel truly grateful. I now have the tools to make my life better John, and I promise I will make a difference with them, even a small one. I felt I was so alone in quarantine but I know I am not alone anymore.

Also, I can unmute myself and present powerpoints in conference calls which is a great step :-)

I hope you have been okay these last few months, and I wish you the best with all my heart. Everything will be better :-)

PS. My goal is to become a writer someday :-) so if life is kind, we might connect one day too. Thank you for all the hope and the support.”

Maria Fernanda - Thank you for the hope.001.jpeg

The Metamorphosis

For those working from home it can be an isolating experience. For some it’s overwhelming. Sometimes, it feels like your goal is simply to make it through, managing as best you can. The idea of investing in yourself, of developing new skills and habits, can seem like a luxury. 

Here are three people—in Turkey, Brazil, and Germany—who chose to make that investment anyway, and an example of how such individual efforts can lead to greater collective possibilities too.

Turkey

G?k?e emphasized the bonds that developed in her Circle:

Ten weeks ago, I started the WOL journey with four women I had never met. The purpose of the journey was to set goals and try to reach the goal for 12 weeks. In this journey, we supported, helped and cared for each other while trying to reach our goals and we continue to do these things. 

We know that for the rest of our lives, all the gains we have achieved through WOL will be with us, this is more than a 12-week process.

As one of her Circle members commented:

I feel very lucky and happy to take part in this journey with you. It was a wonderful and meaningful experience that I will always remember.

“a wonderful and meaningful experience that I will always remember.”

Brazil

Fernanda described a feeling of personal transformation, both for her and others in her group:

It has been four weeks since a started my first WOL Circle. In this time, I could understand that the idea is to collaborate, share, create, change experiences, personal and professional growth.

But last week, I could see beyond. I realized how far my new friends and I were going. Each one in its own time but all are changing from the inside out.

More than that, all of us are having the humility to open up our vulnerabilities. Those movements made me realize that the WOL Circle as our Mother Nature turns us, through metamorphosis, into beautiful butterflies.

Germany

Daniela wrote about the power and magic of personal development and peer coaching: “we worked, dreamt, and developed all together.”

My last week of holidays marked also the last week of a 12-week Working Out Loud journey that began in the middle of the lockdown. I was lucky enough to join a carefully chosen circle of four impressive and inspiring women.

In John Stepper’s profound programme, the insights and tasks were an inspiring framework to our journey on which we worked, dreamt, and developed all together.

I am sure our journey has just begun and can’t wait to see you all - in person!!

Beyond the Circle

The kinds of connection and transformation they wrote about can extend across teams and departments and even across companies. When it does, that’s when you are changing the culture in addition to building skills and habits.

In a recent post, for example, the Head of Global Learning at Merck, Laura Krsnik, celebrated a rare kind of collaboration across Merck, Novartis, and Roche, where more than a thousand people are in Circles. Inspired by their own experiences, they set out to exchange ideas and see what they might do together,

A team with a joint passion to support others in a world where the only constant is change through Working Out Loud and building relationships that matter—across companies. 

One of the participants commented:

What a pleasure being with like minded people who share a passion to cultivate a culture of collaboration, generosity, purpose and lifelong learning.

Whether you’re seeking connection or metamorphosis, whether it’s for you or your company, the growing set of WOL methods can help you make the change you aspire to make.

Next week, I’ll describe a brand new way to experience the full power of Working Out Loud for yourself.

Still … LIFE! “we worked, dreamt, and developed all together.”

“Be on the lookout for what is lost”

“Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, said he missed physical meetings in the office.”

It might seem like a strange thing to say, given how his company sells products to connect employees virtually. But in an interview with the NY Times, Nadella emphasized that he isn’t looking to return to the way things used to be, but to enabling and shaping how we can work together in the future.

“Be on the lookout for what is lost”

Respond, Recover, Reimagine

In the article he described the world going through three phases in dealing with the pandemic: respond, recover, and reimagine. The first two are tactical, dealing with the immediate effects and gradually figuring out how to resume basic activities. The third phase, though, is full of possibility.

In the “reimagining” phase, innovations born of necessity during the previous two phases will emerge, like remote control of manufacturing processes, A.I. bots helping diagnose patients and more effective distance-learning technologies.

He cites a wide range of technologies, but he went on to make it clear that technology would not be enough.

“What does connectivity and community-building look like?”

Nadella described what he misses about being closer to colleagues and the consequences of the way we are communicating now.

Mr. Nadella said that raw productivity stats for many of Microsoft’s workers have gone up, but that isn’t something to “overcelebrate.” More meetings start and end on time, but “what I miss is when you walk into a physical meeting, you are talking to the person that is next to you, you’re able to connect with them for the two minutes before and after.” That’s tough to replicate virtually, as are other soft skills crucial to managing and mentoring.

Switching from offices before the pandemic to an all-remote setup would be “replacing one dogma with another dogma,” he said. “What does burnout look like? What does mental health look like? What does that connectivity and the community building look like? One of the things I feel is, hey, maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?”

A time to try for something better

We’re already seeing that the future of work can be about video call fatigue, monitoring worker’s attention, and measuring the minutes employees spend on remote learning tools. “Replacing one dogma with another dogma,” as Nadella says.

Or it can be about something much more positive. What I’ve noticed in my own work is that there’s little room for pretense now. It’s as if we’ve all agreed to drop whatever professional facade we used to put on for each meeting. The tone of the conversations are typically much more personal and authentic. Even on a first-time call with a prospective customer, we get a glimpse into each other’s homes and each other’s lives. There’s an almost immediate feeling of “we’re in this together” and we feel connected as a result.

What if we could capture this feeling? What if we could we spread it? We desperately need to try, to find a better way.

“How can it be done?”

Today, the new edition of Working Out Loud is available, and there are new ways to help you spread the method. These comments from practitioners offer the best reasons for why I keep developing and spreading WOL. 

Building trust

Ricarda joined a Circle in a technology company and wrote that, “In these challenging times I read a lot and talked to different people about networking and building trust in the digital space. Is it possible at all? How can it be done?”

“Although I haven‘t met my Circle mates in person, they know more about me, my personal life and my work than most of my direct colleagues. Although we come from different fields of study and work on different projects, we created a space where we can grow and where we absolutely trust and support each other in reaching our goals. 

For me this is a really eye-opening experience and it shows me that creating trust and team spirit is definitely possible in the digital environment.”

Ricarda’s Circle at Voith

Humanizing the workplace

Christyl is in a Circle in a bank in New York City, and she shared how they use it to cultivate meaningful, purposeful connections. 

“How Do You Nurture Real Connectivity at a 250,000+ Firm? I  LoVe how the VP Academy Family breaks our Alumni into small “Working Out Loud” groups who Meet Virtually weekly.....to Connect, Learn and Grow TOGETHER!”

Christyl’s Circle at JP Morgan Chase

Surfing the uncertainty

Aneliya emigrated from Bulgaria and joined a Circle in her new company. She said, “We are constantly surrounded by change in our world. Who helps us to build our safety net in a life of uncertainties?” She decided to try and spread Circles in her company and they shared it on their official LinkedIn account:

The Working out Loud method combines many principles of agile work. It makes agility tangible. But it is also a mindset and a way to collaborate by building and using a reliable network.

Aneliya’s Circle at Metronom

Making the most of what we have

Building trust and connections. Navigating uncertainty. These are good reasons to Work Out Loud. One more reason—perhaps the one that most inspires me to do what I do—is that WOL can liberate people. It can, as Elisabeth writes, help them “develop more of that they have to offer.” 

That feeling of self-determination is powerful and freeing. My friend Daniella from Brazil describes it beautifully: “WOL gave me back my wings ?????♀?????”

To help more people have this experience

As of today, there are new web pages in English & German where you can schedule a conversation, download information on WOL Programs, and register for the free Corporate Starter Kit. Please go ahead and try them!

Next week, I will announce the best version of the Circle Guides yet, one that makes the method even more effective and easier to practice.

Doing the best with what we have

It is extremely quiet in New York City. No restaurants or bars. No shops or gyms. No tourists. The parks department even removed the basketball hoops from the local court so people won’t play there. And yet, amidst all of this, we find new ways to connect.

Last week, for example, my son’s teacher created a “virtual recess” for her 4th-grade class in addition to the new distance learning they’re trying. My daughter’s piano teacher gave her a virtual lesson. This Thursday, instead of a big event in K?ln for the WOL Community & the new book, we will have a virtual celebration with almost 500 people registered. (You can sign up here.)

And then, there was the virtual yoga class.

With all the yoga studios closed, my friend Mindy Bacharach tried to come up with a new way to help people practice (and a new way to make a living). She figured out how to use Zoom, put up a web page, and decided to offer live classes by video. When she told me, it seemed like a nice idea, but would anyone show up? Would anyone pay?

Early Sunday morning, my wife rolled out two yoga mats and made it clear we would both be going to class. “We need to support Mindy,” she said. We joined the call early and noticed a few people already there, then more joined, and still more. We caught glimpses of apartments in New York and New Jersey, and also in Michigan and Florida. Even one in Berlin. More than sixty people were in the class, triple the number that normally attends in person.

Mindy calls the online class, “It’s not pretty but it’s yoga.” For sure, it wasn’t the same as what we were used to. But it wasn’t ugly, it was just a different kind of beautiful. 

Kids and dogs came in and out of view while Mindy called out adjustments and instructions. Some people used towels instead of yoga mats. “If you don’t have blocks, use soups cans,” Mindy encouraged us. “Do the best with what you have.”

And that, really, is all we can do. And it’s all we can ask of others. “Do the best with what you have.”

My friend turned a desperate situation into an opportunity to create something new, and she wound up reaching more people than she ever could before. Seeing sixty strangers come together, for themselves and for their friend and teacher, filled me with inspiration and hope. Even when a pandemic forces us to keep our distance, we are hungrier than ever to connect and belong.

I can’t wait till next Sunday.

Virtual Yoga: “A different kind of beautiful”

We started out as strangers, now we’re friends

Our tendency to divide people into Us versus Them seems to be getting worse, in both the workplace and the world. But what if we can help people experience a better way? What if people can see how even strangers - people in different places and different circumstances - can come together in a way that provides mutual support and benefit?

This past week, Anna in Germany sent me a message about her WOL Circle. She told me her group is “between 25 and 55 years old - single, married, with and without kids, all different styles of living and different career steps.” She captured a feeling I’ve heard many times before, so I asked if I could share her note today.

I'm in week 6 of my first WOL experience - and I love it!!! My circle members are the best I could have chosen. I really appreciate them and how we are growing together. 

Our WOL circle is like magic. We started as 5 total strangers with such different backgrounds and last week we met for the first time in real life and it felt like we had been friends for years.  

Thank you so much!!!

Week after week on a video call, Anna’s Circle is experiencing a very human process of giving and receiving, discovering they have much more in common than they might have expected. Their exchanges deepen a sense of trust and relatedness between them, and they feel connected instead of divided.

Imagine if we could spread this feeling of “Us” instead of “Us and Them”? Once you learn how fulfilling it is to develop meaningful connections with four strangers, you can practice it with anyone. 

Spreading the Feeling of “Us”


The best meal in Florence

Duomo in FlorenceOverlooking the Ponte Vecchio  

 

 

 

For many travelers, their best meal in Florence might be high on a hill with views of?the Duomo. Or?along the Arno river, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. Or maybe in a piazza near the Uffizi museum.

But for me, while celebrating my 50th birthday this week in Florence, a small neighborhood place stood out from all the others.

The restaurant: I Carbonari

I CarbonariNormally, my wife would research restaurants and get trusted recommendations. But we were all tired on Tuesday night and so we chose the restaurant closest to our hotel. It was I Carbonari, ?less than 50 meters away and so new that there weren’t any reviews we could?read.

As soon as we walked in, the place felt inviting. The brightly colored kitchen was open and smelled wonderful. One entire wall was a chalkboard with an area reserved for kids to draw. Instead of a printed menu, they listed?a few specials based on what was fresh that day. And they also offered to cook other dishes based on what we liked.

I went with the classic dish listed that day: spaghetti vongole. It’s so simple - just spaghetti, clams, garlic, olive oil, some herbs - and yet somehow this was different. The dish sang and not a note was wrong. The amount of oil and blend of seasonings was pitch perfect. The clams tasted like they just came from the sea. And the pasta had a firmness and flavor that stood up to all of it. Despite a generous portion, I ordered a second helping.

And the wine! Again no menu, just a carafe of house wine. I chose red and it had a wonderful taste that I could only describe?as?- and I know this is a strange word to use for wine - “fresh.” I asked about it and they proudly told me the wine was made without preservatives. Making a stomping motion, he emphasized “with the feet.”

After we ate, the kids were tired and walked backed to the hotel with my wife while I sipped my wine. Now alone, I indulged myself with a 3rd glass accompanied by a slice of ricotta cheesecake like no other. I thought of my grandparents, Vito and Angelina Bruno who took the boat from Piaggine to New York almost 100 years ago. Perhaps it was the effects of the wine, but I felt more Italian than ever.

Contributions & curiosity

The daily specialsNormally, that would have been it. After all, restaurants for tourists are usually a simple transaction, rarely if ever to be repeated. But in writing about working out loud, I’ve developed a greater sense of curiosity and contribution. ?I wanted to know more about these people and to do something for them besides just say "grazie” and leave a tip. But what else could I do?

The most obvious contribution was to come back the next day for lunch. When we did, the Ciaos! and Buon giornos!?we exchanged had even more feeling. Immediately, I noticed a familiar dish on the counter. Pizza rustica?is a traditional Easter pie and the last time I had it was before PCs were invented. We started our lunch with 4 slices and some red wine.

Other people came and went, everyone wearing warm, genuine smiles. We?met the woman who baked the cheesecake from the other night and another chef (he was “the meat chef” as opposed to “the fish chef”). Seeing everyone interact in this small, friendly space made me feel like I was in someone’s home. I very much liked being there and that gave me an idea.

“Tomorrow’s my birthday,” I said. “I’d like to come back again.”

“Your birthday?! Really? She’ll make you a cake!” he said, excitedly, pointing to the baker. “What kind of cake would you like?”

The best meal in Florence

Kids at the kitchenThe next night, we got to know each other better.?I learned that Stefania and Fernando have been married for 20 years and just opened the restaurant recently. They met while doing other work in London and lived there for 10 years.

And we learned their restaurant is truly a family business. The meat chef is the brother of the husband. And Andrea (in the photo, on the right)?is the fish chef and their brother-in-law. He’s married to the wife’s sister, Gabriella, who's also the baker. Andrea is also responsible for the wine as it comes from a vineyard he owns in Puglia.

During all of this conversation, our family busily swapped plates, sampling everything. Whole squid stuffed with ricotta and vegetables. Marinated sardines and orata. Pasta with pureed asparagus that tasted like the sun itself. Between courses, the kids drew pictures for my birthday while I lost count of the wine glasses (both white and red this time).

My cake!And then came the cake. I had asked for “something with Nutella in it” knowing my kids would love that. Stefania dimmed the lights, Fernando lit the candles they’d purchased, and everyone sang. Then they presented us with a bottle of champagne and entertained the kids while we all talked and drank. We encouraged them to come visit us in New York City and we even connected on Facebook before we left. Back at the hotel, I saw they’d posted pictures of the cake and I did the same.

And that’s how I came to experience my best meal in Florence. We did eat at other places but I don’t remember the names of those restaurants never mind the people. At I Carbonari, we made a connection. And that’s what turned our meal into an experience and a story I wanted to share.

Mille grazie to my new friends.

 

Andrea, Stefania, and Fernando