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.”

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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.

What’s the opposite of a zombie?

I still remember where I was when he used the word to describe many of our colleagues. We were leaving the office after a meeting, and the regional head of our division was talking about what he saw in the lobby at work each day.

“You look around,” he said, “and there’s no spark. They’re like zombies.” 

He wasn’t saying they were untalented or weren’t good people. Just that he noticed a palpable lack of energy. They were going through the motions of work but exhibited a kind of lifelessness.

What would the opposite of that be, and how might you help more people feel like that instead?

In Alive at Work, Professor or Organizational Behavior Dan Cable described his research on the topic, including an experiment involving the on-boarding of new employees at a Wipro call center in India. (The experiment was also popularized in The Culture Code by Dan Coyle, and replicated in other environments.)

New hires were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group went through the traditional Wipro orientation, which focused on skills training. The second went through an orientation in which a senior leader talked about the company, asked newcomers to reflect on why they might be proud to work at Wipro, and gave them a Wipro-branded sweatshirt. In the third condition, the new employees were asked about “times they used their best characteristics” and then ask to share their personal stories with other new employees in the group. At the end of the session, they were given a sweatshirt with their name on it. 

Six months later, the researchers found that the employees in the third condition had significantly higher customer satisfaction ratings, and employee retention in the group was better by 32%.

Dan Cable calls the approach and the feelings it engenders “activating your best self.” The founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, calls the feeling “zest, a positive trait reflecting a person’s approach to life with anticipation, energy, and excitement.” In Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte describes it as a feeling of vitality.

Companies need the contributing vitality of all the individuals who work for them in order to stay alive in the sea of changeability in which they find themselves. They must find a real way of asking people to bring these hidden heartfelt qualities to the workplace. A way that doesn’t make them feel manipulated or the subject of some 5 year plan. 

What the on-boarding research shows is that even small efforts which individuate employees and humanize a company can lead to measurable business benefits.  (“But in all my years of working with companies,” Dan Cable writes, “I have not seen a company use this approach.”)

One of my goals in spreading Working Out Loud is to show we don’t need to be limited to research experiments or to a few techniques in the first days at a company. We can help employees activate their best selves on their own, throughout their career, so instead of zombies at work we have more people feeling fully alive.

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A better way to welcome people to your organization

Imagine for a moment what it’s like to join a new organization, particularly a large one spread across locations. Don’t worry if it’s been a while since you started a new job. Things haven’t changed that much.

You go through an orientation process, largely about rules, tools, and values. You get access and accounts, a desk. You meet the people on your team and a few others sitting around you. 

Then, over a period of many years, you slowly build your network and learn how to navigate the organization. The more connected you become, the easier it is to find who and what you need to get things done. The richer your network, the more valuable you are to the organization. 

Here’s a way to significantly speed up this process.

Day 1

As part of the orientation process, you form people into Working Out Loud Circles, peer support groups of 4-5 people. They can be in different locations or different divisions, depending on your process and on the kind of connectivity you’d like to develop.

Normally, in your very first meeting, you start by picking a goal and listing people related to that goal. These Circles for new joiners will be even simpler, since each person already has a goal of getting to know people in their new organization. To make it easy for them, you provide a curated list of relationships that would be helpful for them given their particular job. This list will include relevant groups and influencers, as well as management.

Over the coming 12 weeks, each Circle will follow simple steps in the Circle Guides customized to include your organization’s examples and technology. So the exercises each week will refer to specific people and specific channels, making it straightforward to start building meaningful relationships at work.

Day 10

By the second meeting, the Circle members have already bonded as a group. They’re all going through the same process together, helping each other, and they feel it’s safe and confidential. It’s rare that anyone at work has a trusted mentor, so being part of a trusted group of peers can be quite powerful.

Together, they're already making small contributions to people in their relationship lists. It might be as simple as offering recognition by pressing a Follow button on the intranet. Or they might offer appreciation with a comment thanking someone for work they’ve done or a resource they’ve shared. They’re using a range of tools, not for the sake of digital transformation but to build relationships that matter.

After the second meeting, their network is already bigger than it would have been using a traditional on-boarding process. 

Day 100

Week after week, following the steps the Circle process, the group continues to do a wider range of things in the service of building relationships. They’re joining communities, asking questions, helping other new joiners, finding and sharing useful resources. 

While they further expand their network and deepen relationships with the people in it, they are developing a new mindset and new set of habits: working in an open, collaborative way. 

By their last meeting, they're able to Work Out Loud towards any goal. That’s a capability recently described as “perhaps the most fundamental digital workplace skill.” For their next project or problem, whatever it is, they’ll be able to find people that can help them and build relationships so they’re more likely to collaborate.

The results

When you welcome employees this way, you increase engagement and connectivity, and you reduce the time it takes to be productive. Instead of learning from binders in classrooms, new joiners learn by doing and collaborating in peer support groups.

Now imagine if all your new joiners, in their first few months, developed the habit of working in a more agile, visible, networked way. Imagine the positive change in your culture, the improved effectiveness of your people, and the greater return on your technology investments.

When you change how you welcome people to your organization, you have the chance to create sustainable change that feels good. But only if you imagine a better way, and take a step.