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 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

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.


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.