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 WOL Membership Network

“For those who’ve felt there could be more to work and life.” That’s who Working Out Loud is dedicated to.

You know you have more to offer, but to whom?

You feel there could be more to work and life, but what?

You believe your company could be more collaborative, but how?

WOL helps you discover answers to these questions. Joining the new WOL Membership Network makes it easy, and gives you access to coaching, support, resources, and new methods you won’t find anywhere else.

Time to Invest in Yourself

For every person who has experienced a WOL Circle, there are dozens more who want to try it but don’t have the time or energy to do everything themselves: finding other Circle members, organizing meetings, registering for materials, and going through the process on their own.

In the new WOL Membership Network, we do it all for you and with you. Once you sign up, we help you get started and get the most from your experience so your time is spent on the most important thing: investing in yourself. 

A Professional, Supported Coaching Experience

Your membership fee gives you access to a professional, supported, curated peer coaching experience. We:

  • Match you with Circle members

  • Get you organized & get you started

  • Offer live coaching sessions

  • Support you along the way.

It’s an annual membership, so for an entire year you can:

  • Join a WOL Circle or the new 8-week WOL Mindfulness Circle

  • Join multiple Circles over the course of your membership

  • Connect with people with similar goals & roles

  • Receive an official certificate for each Circle you complete

The Privileges of Membership 

So far, this kind of coaching and support used to only be available to big companies, with WOL Coaches helping them empower hundreds and even thousands of employees. Now you can experience it for yourself.

Maybe you’re looking for the next steps in your career or small business. Maybe you need coaching and development for your employees. Maybe you want to try WOL before introducing it in your company.

This is an opportunity to take a step you’ve been wanting to take.  

How do you join?

The first Circles will begin in January, including the new WOL Mindfulness Circles. (You can choose which kind of method you’d like to start with.) We will limit the initial group to only 100 people—and I will personally support you along the way.

This is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever worked on. After all that has happened in these past few months, I can’t wait to begin a new year helping 100 people invest in themselves and a better future.

To register your interest and get more details, visit signup.www.africanmango-slim.com?.

“A profound program, the insights & tasks were an inspiring framework to our journey on which

we worked, dreamt & developed all together.”

- Daniela, WOL Circle member in Germany

“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.”

- G?k?e, WOL Circle member in Turkey

Click on the logo to register for more details

Click on the logo to register for more details

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.”

The Starfish on the Beach Story (Part II)

Last week, I mentioned “the starfish story” to a woman in Germany as a metaphor for organizational change, and she instantly knew what I meant.

The story has spread widely, and you’ve probably come across it yourself. But did you know there was a Part II?

By Nhobgood Nick Hobgood - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6279893

Part I

The original version is a 16-page essay titled “The Star Thrower,” written by Loren Eiseley and published in 1969. Most people, though, are familiar with a short adaptation like this one:

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

Part II

I always wondered: What happened next? 

Well, the man moved on. Late for work, he smiled as he anticipated sharing this quirky story with colleagues. But the boy persisted. Hour after hour, in the hot sun, he gently tossed starfish into the water. 

By late morning, more people had noticed the boy and several stopped to help him. First it was another child and her mother. Then a second family, and soon a small crowd was spreading across the beach, carefully picking up starfish and returning them to the sea. 

By midday, the crowd was big enough to attract attention. Someone brought snacks and water for the volunteers. Someone called a friend at a news station, and a reporter arrived with a camera. A short “human interest” story aired that afternoon, and was seen by a local marine biologist and a member of the city council. 

The two met at the beach. By then it was late in the day, and they saw dozens of people still saving starfish. The marine biologist had ideas for how they could prevent so many starfish being stranded on the beach in the future. The council member asked him to send a proposal. With elections coming up, something like this could help him. And thus the town’s “Save the Starfish” program was born, ultimately inspiring other towns to create similar programs across the country.

What difference do you want to make?

Change is not just bottom up or top down. It’s both. Without the boy’s small act, there is no inspiration to change. Without the involvement of institutions, systems, processes, there is no sustainable change at scale. 

I think of the starfish story whenever individuals take small steps for a cause they care about. When someone is spreading Working Out Loud in their company, for example, and a manager or skeptic inevitably asks, “What difference can it make?” I encourage them to think of their own Circle experience as well as the thousands of other Circles around the world. “Well, it made a difference to that one!” Then we keep working, looking for ways to scale the change we started. 

If you want to make a difference, you can start right where you are. And with persistence, passion, and some luck, you can inspire and connect others, enabling new possibilities to emerge. You can create the chance to accomplish something together that no one person would or could have done on their own.


“The Small Group is the Unit of Transformation”

I can feel it in a WOL workshop, in a WOL meetup, or when I’m in a Circle. Not every time, of course, but most times. It happened two weeks ago in Hamburg and Berlin. It even happened on a video call, a kickoff of a new pilot we did yesterday. There’s a sense of possibility, of something bigger going on than just a few people talking. 

I struggled to describe this feeling until I read Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block, and a chapter titled “The Small Group is the Unit of Transformation”:

“We change the world one room at a time. This room, today, becomes an example of the future we want to inhabit. There is no need to wait for the future.”

“The small group is the structure that allows every voice to be heard…. It provides the structure that enables people to overcome isolation and experience a sense of belonging.”

“The small group is therefore the bridge between our own individual existence and the larger community. In the small group discussion, we discover that our own concerns are more universal than we imagined. This discovery that we are not alone, that others can at least understand what is in our mind, if not agree with us, is what creates the feeling of belonging.

When this occurs in the same place and time, in the presence of a larger community, the collective possibility begins to take form and have legs. The small group, three of us talking in a room full of other small groups talking is a close-at-hand example of the larger life and world we want to inhabit. It is evidence in the moment that change is possible. 

“The power of the small group cannot be overemphasized.”

Will one Circle or group of Circles change much? Probably not. But as Peter Block writes, it’s a bridge, an opening of a kind. It gives people a chance to experience a different way - “an example of the future we want to inhabit.” That step makes other steps possible until, gradually, a path to something new emerges.

WOL Camp 2019 in Berlin

A lifeboat in a sea of change

At the beginning of this year, I got a note from a woman whose department was undergoing a “transformation.” It’s a word I come across in every company I visit. While most people I meet may recognize the need for some kind of change, almost no one likes the process, or the uncertainty that comes with it. 

She wrote to say that she was in Week 6 of a Working Out Loud Circle, and that her “WOL family gave her stability." Despite anxiety related to the transformation, she was getting new energy from her network each day while she made progress toward her goal.

I wrote back:

“There are many times when I worked in a big company when my network was like "a lifeboat in a sea of change" (a good title for a blog post :-)) 
At first it was just a relief to interact with nice people at the firm amidst the fear and defensiveness that came along with "transformation." Over time, it came to be a source of ideas and ultimately a new career.”

A Circle offers you a safe, confidential space where you can work on your goals and your development without worrying about judgment or competition. For me, the relationships I developed turned out to be a source of strength in addition to a source of ideas and feedback. They gave me the perspective to see things clearly, and the confidence and encouragement to take action.

If you’re facing a change in your work or life, do you have a lifeboat? Who’s in it?

A lifeboat in a sea of change.jpg

Changing organizational behavior: top down or bottom up?

I’ve seen the change management movie so many times that I know the script by heart. 

  1. The dramatic descriptions of the burning platform and its dire consequences. 
  2. The overuse of the words “transformation” and “journey.” 
  3. The recognition of the difficulties ahead, and the appeal to everyone to engage despite them. 
  4. The management announcements listing who’s in and who’s out.
  5. The lack of actual change.

Some of the movies were pure farce. During one reorganization of a large IT department, thousands of people were forced to play a board game so we could understand the new operating model. Then there was the firm-wide program to change our culture, complete with new values on posters and mandatory meetings to discuss them. One executive made a video, making clear his impatience with the bad behaviors he had seen, only to be fired himself for those same behaviors. 

“Change management” has become an oxymoron, a caricature of bureaucracy captured in popular cartoons. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Grassroots or “Grass ceiling”?

I was thinking about this during a Knowledge Jam event organized by Cogneon in Nürnberg last week. All the participants were interested in change of some kind, whether it was developing more collaborative cultures and new kinds of leadership or more agile teams and engaged staff. One of the methods discussed was Working Out Loud Circles, and how they helped make change sustainable.

Then came the discussion and debate. “What’s they best way to drive change? Top-down or bottom-up?”

The trade-offs are obvious. If management leads the change effort, then employees know it’s expected as part of their job and is likely to have resources to implement it. If employees lead it, it’s because they believe in it.

As Peter Senge said, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” So, appealing to employees’ intrinsic motivations is important. Yet without the support of management, grassroots efforts can be trampled, or spread too slowly, or hit limits - “the grass ceiling” - that prevent them from driving meaningful change.

An emerging pattern

Now that Working Out Loud Circles are spreading in dozens of organizations, there’s a discernible pattern. 

Quite commonly, it starts with a single person deciding to form one or more Circles. They don’t need budget and they don’t ask for permission. They just find a few colleagues who might be open to change, download the free guides, and start. In most cases, the early adopters have such a positive experience that they tell others, a second wave forms, and they begin collecting feedback from people.

Then comes a shift. The people in the first few waves use the feedback they’ve collected to get management support of some kind. This could be in the form of an official event or other activities to encourage the spread of the practice. In some cases, HR will get involved in sponsoring the event or include it in their training offerings. Or they’ll commission customized guides that refer to company goals, examples, and technology. These kinds of things make it easier for more people to feel safe that they can join a Circle without fear of getting into trouble in some way.

Start where you are

When I worked in large corporations, we spent millions on messages and management related to change, but close to nothing on actually empowering people to do things differently.

One way to fix that is to help people help themselves. By equipping and empowering early adopters to drive change, you learn what works and doesn’t work while you collect real stories from real people about the benefits and possibilities. Then, armed with those results, you can leverage the institution to scale and accelerate the change you’ve begun to see. 

The best way to drive behavior change inside your organization isn’t top-down or bottom-up. It’s both. 

Next week, I’ll describe a new kind of on-boarding process that’s a good example of this.