I experimented with #wolweek this year. It was kinda cool. It feels like a useful “tool” in the kitbag, perhaps not one I will use all the time, but a handy one.
#wolweek14 is the hashtag assigned to Working Out Loud week. Initiated by Bryce Williams and championed by the brave thought leaders who explore the frontiers of the future of work John Stepper and Simon Terry. “Working Out Loud” draws attention to the practice of working publicly and collaboratively in order to amplify connections, networks, innovation and understanding. WOLweek came from a conversation between Simon Terry, Jonathon Anthony and Austen Hunter. One of the posts that really resonated for on the potential for Working Out Loud is Simon’s “Value is Fractal”. While this post is more focussed on the value of Enterprise Social Networks, I could see how this represented the value of WOL with the Connect > Share > Solve > Innovate value chain.
I had heard of it last year, but in thinking about getting on board this year, I was struck by how many WOL posts that felt to me like twitter did in 2008. That self conscious public declaration on what was on being had for breakfast (or now, what I am doing in my workday). People trying to WOL but somehow missing the mark ever so slightly, or not sharing anything of interest, a narcissistic work diary entry if you will. And so I struggled with the concept. If I was to WOL how would I ensure that the noise to signal ratio did not get worse? Don’t get me wrong, we all have to start some-where – but I wanted to fast track! How could I make it a practice that would add value to the organisation rather than just position me as another clever clogs trying something new… and how would do it in such a way that it added value to my practice?
Take a risk
Pick a project which people can contribute
Have a genuine invitation to make it better
Make yourself discoverable
Gold. I knew what I could do. It so happened at the same time I was working on an enterprise strategic and operational change plan to be delivered in rather complex conditions and in an accelerated fashion (read crazy deadlines). At the same time I was meant to be doing tactical stakeholder engagement, issues management and reactive project communications. The change in the organisation is rather high profile.
So I decided to run an open house on the change and communication planning. Set up for two days in a row in a meeting room from 12 pm – 4 pm and have all of my work on display for comment and discussion. I shared it on the internal yammer platform and positioned it honestly – I could do with the help – big task, executing at speed, with wide reaching impacts. Come along and work with me, regardless of your experience in the change industry. If you are just curious about the project, come along and find out more.
It was risky – there were no formal communications about the project out in the organisation, so my draft messaging technically could be seen by anyone. This is not the norm for organisations where there needs to be many levels of sign-off before the comms are shared. But, positioned as “these are our starting point, how do the messages resonate with you” those that visited gave great feedback.
It genuinely was a project which people could contribute to. And it was a sincere invitation. I had people come in and share their experiences of similar initiatives in other organisations, practitioners shared other enterprise artefacts so I didn’t need to re-invent the wheel. Weeks later, I am still being contacted by people who couldn’t make the open house but want to know more or share what’s going on their world (interdependencies). These people I could not have known about in my initial stakeholder scans – so a big tick to navigating the complex networks that we have in organisations.
There were many hours when I didn’t have anyone visit, so my Working Out Loud was well, weird… but I had all my team work in the same room so it gave us some really solid time to work through stuff together. It certainly wasn’t wasted time.
Would I do it again? I think there’s merit in this practice on a regular basis eg monthly, or quarterly, depending on the stage of the change project. I can see it being abused though – a highly scripted and controlled roadshow. I tend to think I work out loud (publically, transparently and collaboratively) as a default practice, so it did not feel all that risky. But the sharing it via the ESN definitely did amplify the benefits. As did the tonality of the invitation. I genuinely wanted help from my peers. I think simply sharing what you are doing probably lacks in value – the humility and openness to exposing where people can work with you is what makes the value-add. Food for thought!