Woking out Loud on ‘Working Out Loud’!

Sunder posted these questions, on Twitter and elicited a barrage of wonderful responses, as only he can. 🙂

The questions he posed were these :

  1. “What does #WorkingOutLoud mean to u in a tweet?”
  2. “How r u building the #WorkingOutLoud culture in ur Org?”

Having dabbled with both the idea and the practice of Working Out Aloud” for a bit and getting mixed results, my thoughts ran beyond containment in a tweet. So here is a blogpost!

(The first time I spoke of “Working Out Loud” and explained the meaning and the benefits of doing so, a very conscientious colleague asked curiously, if it should be rather be “Working out Aloud” and not “Working out loud”! That was the first objection! )

Well, lets get the basics of what it is out of the way, quickly. John Stepper points here  as the origin of the term and I am going with him. He lucidly says, “Working Out Loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work”. 

John captures the five elements that make WOL, here.  There are others including Dave Weiner who have written on this, and WOL I have noticed in the last few conferences, getting more than a ‘normal’ share of mention and attention!

At its core, it is documenting your work and sharing it with your network, to make it better, as the network shares its views and ideas on what you shared. This could lead to new insights to you. Or / and to the network! In a sense, your work doesn’t get experienced after you have completed it, but rather, as you work on it. Of course, when the work is completed, it is much better than what it would have been, without the sharing. Digital sharing tools and platforms have made it very easy and accessible to do this on the go!

Thats that.One step at at a time

After working on it for sometime now (present continuous tense), it is only easy to see that  WOL and concepts like WOL are, ‘alien to’ (to put it strongly) and represent a very different rhythm the way organisations are currently structured, performance is monitored and rewards distributed. The biggest hope (and all my successes) have come from the fact that it is people who do the work and people have always been talking about their work! 

Yet, the road to widespread adoption of WOL, in the way its outlined has its challenges in an organisation. It is a function of several things, which I’ll discuss here.  The percolation of ‘social’ in the ‘digital’ way is key. Leaders and leadership teams working on this actively is a big deal.

We need to contend with the fact, that very few organisations and leaders are alive to a reality that they are soon to contend: A very open transparent reality, where the what and the how of leadership is very different from now. Sudhanshu Palsule captures it nicely here .When leadership buy-in and/or walking the talk is absent, very little gets done to scale. 

The Why element :
WOL is not an end. It is a means to something larger. Harold Jarche nails it well (as he usually does) here explaining how WOL could be a good starting point to perhaps creating an organisational transformation. For engineering a change in a ‘way of working’, across a cross section of people and sustaining it requires coordinated effort and a strong ‘why’!

So, going back to Sunder’s question, how does one build a culture of WOL in an organisation? There is no one magic wand answer that applies to all and solves our collective challenges.

Context & Culture : One size fits one. Organisational contexts vary. For example a highly successful organisation’s need to change its established ways of working are abysmally low! If you throw in cultural facets like a highly competitive environment, siloes and an employee demographic that straddles different age peaks, your challenge gets compounded.

Rhythm of work : Within an enterprise, the flow and rhythm of work within it, varies and so does adoption of new ways, over established ways of working. Mandates don’t work and are plain silly in this landscape. Different functions take to it differently. The rhythms of working of say teams in Finance and Marketing are, well, different to put it mildly! Plus different people in these different functions take to it differently. (That is where opportunity lies nestled)

The How: Often times, WOL can get regarded as ‘one more activity’ to be done AFTER work is done and hence, adding to the work that is relentless in its piling up! The moment it is regarded so, the inertia it sets off, is tremendous! To be able to embed WOL onto the job, and help employees to adopt this as a way of working and not an activity to be done after work, is key.

There is a skilling element (however small it may seem), and a space for working on this and a plan to sustain it all.  All of these three ( skills + space + sustenance) are needed in different combinations in different pockets, to create a certain threshold level of adoption to WOL across the spectrum. “WOL” is a change that is being brought to a way of working. Not a one time initiative.

Enterprise wide adoption doesn’t happen by default. Sustained change management work, is required here. This happens by design!

So, its all bad?

Wonder if I have made it sound that its all bad. Sorry if I made it sound so. Having personally experienced the many benefits of WOL, to become a convert happens by default ( after experiencing it) and it is indeed very common to become a cheer leader once you have embraced it!

Having said that, from an enterprise context, It needs to be orchestrated for adoption keeping in mind the current realities of how large enterprises work. Seeding the idea of WOL and nurturing it for widespread adoption is a very different ask. Sunder provides examples of how the L&D team is working on it.

Am going to explore a few ideas and dilemmas in another blogpost and will of course be delighted with your inputs. 🙂

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