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 Goal Clinic

The first members of the WOL Membership Network signed up this weekend, and it’s already an amazing mix of people.

Creating this new network opens up possibilities for individuals as well as companies of all sizes. Here’s one of the first things we’ll do together, and the kinds of people who will benefit from it.

The Goal Clinic

All the Circle methods, including WOL Mindfulness, begin with a goal of some kind. It helps you orient your activities throughout your Circle and tap into your intrinsic motivation.

But what should you choose? Though there are instructions in Week 1, I’ve seen how people benefit from getting some coaching to help them choose or refine their goal.

That’s what happens in the Goal Clinic. Before our new membership Circles even form, we will give people the chance to share their goals, listen to others, and explore tips and possibilities with me and others in the network. That will help them get off to a great start with a meaningful goal they can make progress towards.

We’ve been doing this with our biggest corporate customers, and now we can do it for everyone in the new network. Even better, we can offer ways for members with similar goals to continue to connect and exchange throughout their membership, expanding our chances for learning and growing together.

The Goal Clinic.001.jpeg

Five Kinds of Members

Some of our new members work for themselves and some in big organizations. Some joined as part of their personal development program at work and had their company support their membership. Here are five types of members we’ve seen so far.

Career Builders who want to develop their skills and access more opportunities.

Joining my first Working Out Loud Circle was one of the best decisions I made.

- Lea on her WOL Circle experience

The Curious who are looking to explore new topics and make new connections.

[WOL Mindfulness gave me] a maximum outcome with a minimum investment of time. It helped me to reduce stress and to realize how much good is happening in my life. My new habits have become an integral part of my everyday life.

- Melanie on her WOL Mindfulness experience

Supportive Managers who want to offer their staff personal development and coaching opportunities that are proven, cost-effective, and easy to administer.

Many are simply astonished by the number of opportunities that they were offered while applying their WOL practices.

The employees indicated that WOL has changed the way they approach and value others as well as the way they treat and value themselves." 

- Nadine Skerlavaj, “Why is WOL accepted by employees?” [Bachelor Thesis]

Small Company Executives who would like the kind of employee and culture programs that large companies have, so they too can foster a more agile, collaborative workplace. 

An ideal method to further develop our learning and working culture.

- Dürr Systems AG, sharing their WOL experience on LinkedIn

Working Out Loud can provide some of that “social glue” that enables organizations to move forward cohesively. Whether it’s a virtual team or one physically together.

- Shirley on joining a Circle as a new joiner

Progressive HR Professionals who are looking for new ways to help employees collaborate and feel connected, especially in a time where more people are working remotely. Some are even looking for cross-company networking.

We are 70 leaders on a journey towards better collaboration culture and decided everyone should start a Circle. 

- Sebastian Kolberg, Leading Digital Transformation & Change Projects, Bayer

The future of corporate learning is self-directed and social. WOL is an important part of our learning strategy.

- Laura Krsnik, Head of Global Learning, Merck KGaA

Can you relate to these roles and these quotes? Are you looking for new skills, opportunities, connections, or ideas? The WOL Membership Network makes it easier than ever to invest in yourself. 

Learn more at: signup.www.africanmango-slim.com.

The worst employee orientation experience ever

There’s so much invested in finding, attracting, and retaining good people. Yet the worst employee onboarding experience is happening every day in many of the best companies.

I’m not referring to the usual info session in a bland corporate conference room, overstuffed with uninspired Powerpoint. Nor is it how new joiners are typically discarded after they start, left on their own to figure out how to navigate the company and get things done.

The worst experience is when all the familiar rituals for welcoming and connecting new employees no longer exist. No walk around the floor to meet some colleagues. No socializing in the pantry and cafeteria. No impromptu sessions in front of a whiteboard.

All gone. Replaced with a few video calls and a hope that things will return to normal someday.

But hope is not a strategy for having engaged, productive people in your company. There’s plenty of research showing that employees perform better and stay longer when they have meaningful relationships at work, or feel they can be their “authentic selves” when they join, or are part of a psychologically safe group

Customers who integrate WOL Circles in their on-boarding process give employees the chance to experience all of this, enabling them to feel just like these Circle members:

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.”

“Here, in Brazil, we've managed to connect different generations and different social classes. I'd like to thank all people "living" in the WOL universe because it has been a powerful tool to build strong bridges.”

“Through my WOL Circle I have turned “just me” into “us” and it feels great to collaborate with others in my company.”

"It is amazing how life becomes more meaningful when we interact genuinely with people.”

Before the pandemic, onboarding was the most common WOL use case, and the most obviously beneficial. That’s true now more than ever.

do youR new employees Feel connected? Photo by Anna Kate Jordan

The top challenges of the L&D department

You might think their biggest problem is a shrinking HR budget. Or the difficulty of holding traditional in-person workshops. 

But while those things are challenging, they’re not what Learning & Development managers mention first. Instead, they consistently talk about these three areas.

#1 - Remote Work

While working remotely “works” for many jobs, something is missing. In an interview with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft (which sells the tools most companies use for remote work), he warned companies to “be on the lookout for what is lost.” And so L&D is looking for ways to help employees continue to feel engaged and collaborate even as many of them work from home.

#2 - Crossing Silos

This is an old connectivity problem, and we haven’t made much of a dent in it. The repeated reorganizations that break down silos only cause new ones to form. So L&D is still looking for ways for employees to build connections across departments & locations. There is a general recognition that all the attempts so far—from job rotations to employees resource groups to “lunch roulette”—are not nearly enough.

#3 - Sharing Knowledge

The third most common challenge is more of a culture problem. Again, not much has changed in the last thirty years. Though we have technology that makes it much easier to share and find what we need to get things done, most companies don’t have the culture of doing it. So a global organization of a 100,000 employees can feel and operate more like a 1000 companies of a hundred people each, with innovation and agility suffering as a result. 

What to do? The Future of Corporate Learning

When I spoke to Laura Krsnik, the Head of Global Learning at Merck KGaA, she shared her strategy with me.

“The future of corporate learning is more self-directed and social,” she told me, and she’s changing the company’s learning offerings to reflect that. She’s making them more efficient and effective while providing more choices in more learning formats, including peer coaching. “Working Out Loud,” she said, “is an important part of our learning strategy.”

If you’re in L&D, what are your top challenges? What do you think about the future of learning?

How companies are already using the new Circle Guides

Since I announced a new version of the Circle Guides last week, hundreds of people have registered to receive them.

Some are individuals looking to try the method for the first time. Many more are employees in companies where WOL is spreading. These companies range in size from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand, and they’re in industries including pharmaceutical, engineering, technology, consulting, insurance, and finance. 

Here are three ways that organizations are using the latest material.

Do-It-Yourself grassroots efforts

Depending on their personal preference as well as company policy, individuals are signing up and conducting their Circle meetings in different ways. Some employees register using their private email address and meet during lunch or on their own time. Others use their corporate email and meet during work time. 

Each week, they receive their new Circle Guide and some helpful tips via an email in English or German (and in Portuguese, Turkish, and Mandarin in the coming months). For those who prefer to have all the Circle Guides in one package, there will be a hardcover WOL Circle Workbook available soon wherever the book is sold, and we’re investigating options for a digital version too. 

If you want to try and grow a grassroots WOL movement on your own, a free Corporate Starter Kit is available which includes a wide range of resources to help you support and spread Circles.

Supported Programs (aka “The Easy Button”)

The DIY method is good for individuals and companies who want to experiment with Circles. But when it comes to introducing WOL in a more formal way, the vast majority of HR directors I speak with prefer a professional implementation with structure and support, one that can be tailored for their program participants (e.g., leadership development, on-boarding, diversity, culture change, etc.).

As one manager in Learning & Development told me, grassroots efforts are nice but they’re a lot of work and unpredictable. “What I want,” he said, “is an easy button.”

That’s why I created “WOL Programs.” In these programs, the WOL Coaches do the work of launching Circles, sending custom content to participants each week, and providing support along the way. As I described it last week:

The additional content and access to support throughout the 12 weeks makes it easier for participants to relate the practice to their own situation and to make progress that’s relevant for them. It’s also easier for HR departments to integrate WOL Circles into their programs.

In addition, the delivery of content and support directly to a Circle members makes it possible for me to tailor the method for all sorts of different goals and audiences. Already, there are pilots using this new method with job hunters in Switzerland, teachers in Germany, and a female empowerment network in Turkey. 

Enterprise Solutions

For companies that already have hundreds of employees in Circles, there is another option. Typically, these organizations have already introduced WOL in a programmatic way and have seen the benefits. Now, they’re looking to internalize the ability to tailor the method and spread it. It’s a kind of “train the trainer” approach. For that, they procure training for internal mentors who can provide distributed support throughout the company, and they purchase an annual subscription to host and modify the Circle Guides.

You have a choice. You can Do It Yourself or get professional help from Coaches who have implemented WOL across multiple companies. What’s right for you depends on your experience with WOL and the resources you have. 

For more details about all of these options, or to schedule a call with me about WOL Programs, visit the website in English or German. I look forward to talking with you.


“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.

Especially in these times

There is no manual for this. For when you’re suddenly in a world where a well-intentioned handshake can feel like a threat. When you’re aware that every door handle is a connection to hundreds of other people. When you start to wonder, both for yourself and your company, “How will we ever get anything done?”

At this point, we’re all making it up as we go along.

There are already many excellent posts on remote work, on staying healthy, and slowing the spread of the virus. What I hope to contribute is to make it a bit easier for you to feel connected and also productive, whether that’s learning about a topic, developing a skill, or accomplishing something with others. 

For you

Yesterday, I noticed posts on LinkedIn that mentioned that WOL could strengthen our sense of belonging “especially in times of forced home office” and how “the current global situation is what WOL was made for.”:

A lovely “Monday Morning Inspiration” by Victor Mahler. (We worked together at Deutsche Bank.)

A lovely “Monday Morning Inspiration” by Victor Mahler. (We worked together at Deutsche Bank.)

To make it easier for individuals to practice Working Out Loud, I’m accelerating the rollout of some new resources:

  • FAQ videos to answer the most common questions. You can see the first ones on youtube.com/workingoutloud today, and I’ll be publishing 30+ videos in the next few weeks.

  • Version 6 of the Circle Guides: I’m in the final stages of getting this improved version ready, and should be able to make them available in English & German next month, along with a new means of distributing the Guides that allows me to provide helpful tips throughout the 12 weeks. (More details in a future post.)

For your organization

In the past few days I’ve also spoken to HR managers looking for virtual training. All the workshops are canceled, they say, and there’s a limit to what you can learn with online videos. These HR managers want to help their colleagues thrive in the “new work environment” that has been thrust upon them, while also giving newly-isolated employees a feeling that they’re not alone.

My friend Alexander Kluge summed it up nicely.

In response to a tweet by Winfried Felser asking, “How can we use WOL to fight Corona?”

In response to a tweet by Winfried Felser asking, “How can we use WOL to fight Corona?”

To help organizations, I’ve created two resources to make it easier for HR to use WOL Circles as a virtual training method.

  • Version 2 of the Corporate Starter Kit: These are free resources to help you form WOL Circles in your organization. The first version came out in November. This new version includes use cases, case studies, and much more. (If you already registered, you’ll be receiving these updates via a new email series.)

To help you register for the free Corporate Starter Kit or to arrange a call about a WOL program, there is a new chatbot on the website. We’ll expand the use of this tool when I introduce the new version of the Circle Guides.

The new WOL chatbot. Try it!

The new WOL chatbot. Try it!

The important things

A member of my WOL Circle said that now is the time for doing important things, the kind that you might normally put off because you’re usually too busy. 

Maybe for you that means playing with your children or helping your neighbors. Maybe it means contributing to members of your community whose businesses are hit hard by the pandemic. If you’re lucky, maybe it means you have time to invest in yourself and your colleagues, and work on new ways of getting things done.

Whatever your situation, the most important thing is to take good care of yourself and those around you. Especially in these times. 

***

Note: As part of a virtual celebration of the WOL Community on Thursday, March 26th at 2pm EST/ 7pm CET., we will hear stories from community members who are featured in the new edition of Working Out Loud. 

Over 350+ people have registered so far. Here is a registration link for the event. I hope you will join us.

“A great way to strengthen the feeling of belonging together.” (PHOTO CREDIT: KATHARINA KRENTZ & BOSCH EMPLOYEES)

Use Case: WOL for On-boarding

Whenever I talk to an HR professional about WOL, I describe the on-boarding use case. It helps them see, in just a few minutes, the benefits for new employees, HR, and the company.

WOL Use Case - On-boarding

Traditional on-boarding

Despite the extraordinary amount of money and effort spent on recruiting and hiring people, the process for on-boarding them hasn’t changed much in decades: There’s an orientation event, usually 1-2 days in person, that’s largely about rules, tools, and values. New joiners get their badge, various accounts, and a desk. They meet the people on their team and a few others sitting around them.

Then, in a slow, tentative, uncertain dance over a period of many years, they gradually build their network and learn how to navigate the organization to get things done. 

Challenges facing employees, HR, and the company

The problems with the whirlwind orientation are obvious to the participants as well as to the HR managers who run the program.

  • New employees are overwhelmed. The process emphasizes delivering information to new joiners but at the expense of connection and acculturation over time. After orientation at one company, 83% of new joiners said they wanted “more networking,” but there was nothing to offer them.

  • HR doesn’t have enough resources. HR is well aware of the shortcomings, but making orientation longer would be seen as too much time away from work, and they don’t have the people or other resources to provide any support afterwards.

  • The company needs people to be more productive more quickly. The 2019 Retention Report by the Work Institute asserts that “turnover trends demonstrate an 8.3% increase over 2017 and 88% increase since 2010.” Increasingly, new employees don’t stay long enough to learn how to effectively navigate the company.

A lightweight solution

WOL Circles complement existing on-boarding programs to address these challenges. (The ideas in this post are based in part on pioneering work by Katharina Krentz at Bosch, Janine Kirchhof at Daimler, and Stefan Lapenat & Nele Krey?ig at the HR Performance Institute.) 

Here’s a high-level outline of how it typically works for a new employee:

  • During orientation, you learn about Working Out Loud and you’re offered the chance to join a Circle, usually starting some weeks or months after you’ve settled in.

  • You are matched with one or two other new joiners as well as experienced employees from different departments or locations.

  • You use customized materials (there’s a license for that) that includes company examples each week as well as links to internal tools.  

  • Some customers assign a trained WOL Mentor to each Circle. These are volunteers who have been through a Circle and are trained to answer questions and provide simple support if and when it’s needed. This helps each new joiner have a good experience without giving HR an additional burden. 

For most new employees, the goal is obvious: find more people who do what you do. The diverse Circle gives them an instant network outside of their team, and over the 12 weeks they learn to use the company’s technology to find the people and knowledge they need to get things done. 

Sustainable benefits

Like the WOL use case for leadership development, the goal isn’t to spread WOL. It’s to address real business challenges. 

When you make Circles a part of how you introduce employees to your organization, they learn by doing and collaborating in peer support groups instead of learning from binders in classrooms. For them, this “new way of working” is the new normal.

As the company hires people month after month, this way of working spreads across locations and divisions, increasing engagement and connectivity while reducing the time it takes to be productive—all in a scalable, low-cost way.

When they do things I could not do

I remember how hard it was when I worked in a big company. Trying to get budget or even attention was like running some Dilbert-ian gauntlet. Trying to make an actual difference was harder still, and I often wanted to give up. 

So when I see people working in large corporations doing what I could not do, I look at them with genuine admiration. How did they do it? Why? Today I want to celebrate some of these people. The list below is by no means complete, and that makes it all the more amazing.

Janine Kirchhof works in HR at Daimler. She felt her WOL Circle helped her tap into a sense of purpose, so she proposed combining Circles into Daimler’s on-boarding process. She secured the support she needed and kicked off the first pilot last week. Going forward, each month she'll be helping new joiners become more productive and connected more quickly.

Katharina Krentz is a pioneer in spreading WOL at Bosch, and she’s the only person (besides me) whose full-time job is spreading the practice of Working Out Loud. She formed a co-creation team that built a movement within the company that has already reached over 500 people, organized the first-ever WOL Conference, piloted WOL for Teams and WOL for Leaders, and now partnered with HR to integrate WOL into their on-boarding program. She even worked with Communications to share what Bosch has done in this wonderful 2 1/2-minute video and this incredibly useful post on LinkedIn.

Three people at BMW - Jasper-John Schaefer, Ilona Libal, and Andreas Schorn - started their WOL efforts from different divisions. Things developed slowly at first, but through a combination of creativity and persistence they got the attention of top management of the company. They now have the support to create their own movement there, and the potential to go further and faster than others who started before them.

I’ve written about the Daimler team before, where Lukas Fütterer and Melanie Rassloff astound me with their creativity, generosity, and the sheer range of what they do. They too have formed a fantastic co-creation team that is spreading Circles and leveraging talent throughout the company to institutionalize WOL as a skill everyone should have.

Bernd Zimmerman is at Siemens, where he’s introduced new methods for developing “senior leadership excellence.” He saw how WOL could be adapted and applied to innovation, fostering a sense of experimentation and prototyping in the company, and helping individuals bring their ideas to life. The first pilot he led quickly turned into several more, and he’s only just begun.

Two upcoming events

These days, I find myself saying “See you in Berlin” quite often, which in itself is a kind of miracle. I love the city and the people I’ve come to work with there, and on Tuesday, May 9th, I’ll be participating in two special events.

The first is re:publica 2017, “one of the largest and most exciting conferences about digital culture in the world.” Over 8,000 people attended last year, and part of this sprawling event is an HR Festival run by IBM. The theme for 2017 is “Love Out Loud” (great theme :-)). I’m excited to run a workshop: “Working Out Loud: Making work more effective & fulfilling” which is designed to give you the experience of a Working Out Loud Circle in less than an hour. I’m grateful to Sven Semet from IBM for making this possible.

The second event is a Digital Workplace Meetup (#BerlinDWM). There I’ll get the chance to meet Dr. Ursula Schütze-Kreilkamp, who’s responsible for personnel development for more than 300,000 employees worldwide. We’ll be talking with the audience about “how companies can master the challenges of digital transformation through internal networking and open communication.” I’m looking forward to this interactive discussion, and I want to thank the organizers - Alexander Kluge, Luis Suarez, Ole Wintermann, Siegfried Lautenbacher - for creating such a special event.

If you're in Germany, please considering coming to re:publica and the Digital Workplace Meetup, or pass along the information to your German friends. It’s a thrill to be working in such a wonderful place, and meeting some of you there would make it even more special.

“See you in Berlin.” :-)