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Working out loud is a way to discover new network connections and new capabilities in your existing network. The value of working out loud is in who and what you don’t know.
Collaboration is straightforward if you know someone and know that they have the ability to help. You have to get over the inconvenience of asking for help. You might have to negotiate a little to win their support. Either way, it is a straight line from need to outcome.
When you don’t know who can help, finding a partner for collaborative work or learning is less simple. Searching for help is time-consuming frustrating and daunting. The power of working out loud is it enables you to break the traditional networking mantra:
“It’s who you know”.
Working out loud opens up a wider network of partners for collaborative work and learning because it changes the dynamic from “who you know” to “what the network knows about you”. Working out loud leverages the value of what you don’t know:
“It’s not who you know. It’s who you don’t know and what they know about you.”
Sharing work in progress with a relevant community is a step towards discovering new people who can help your work or learn together with you. When your goals, status, and current efforts are narrated openly for others to follow, word gets around. Intermediaries can start to make connections between you and those who can help. Your close network ties will find the weak ties who can add value to your work for you.
The unique value of working out loud as a way to engage your network is that for both you and your network it opens opportunities to create new connections based on new understanding of your work. Don’t be discouraged that you don’t know those in the know. Work out loud and let them find you instead.
When we think about our organisations we often fail to notice the essential role of trust. Trust enables or disables our work, structures, or processes. As we move more into the future of the network economy we need to make trust explicit again.
What We Don’t See
We forget about trust because the process of trust is second nature to us. Trust is deeply engrained in the way we manage relationships, transactions and exchanges. This role of trust makes it critical to the way we organise our work, the way we exchange information and the decisions we make. Any organisation that is not explicitly managing the level of trust in the organisation and with its stakeholders is losing value.
Trust plays an outsized role in my work. Customers pay a premium when they trust an organisation. That customer trust is directly related to the internal trust relationships inside an organisation. They won’t give an organisation greater trust than its own employees. When Change Agents Worldwide wrote its first book, my chapter was on the need for organisations to trust their employees to enable the benefits of the future of work. A critical underpinning of the Value Maturity Model is its ability to develop the mutual trust in organisations that facilitates effective collaboration and supports execution of strategy. Trust is key to any complex and uncertain challenge in leadership, learning or innovation.
What We Work Around
Much of business history back to the beginnings of time has been managing trust. Ancient businesses of the Phonecians and Greeks, operating in the era of an absence of information used family relationships to ensure trust. Over time businesses built processes to enable wider networks of trust in trade, in banking, in record keeping and in management of businesses. Our organisations are built of thousands of individual interventions to manage trust in relationships.
Organisations are often tempted to see the goal as creating a trustless environment. Build the processes & structures such that you no longer care. Blockchain promises a trustless ledger for example. The gig economy promises to make employees fungible units of production where trust in the individual is irrelevant. We trust platforms, not people. We undoubtedly can continue to build more transparency, processes & accountability to extend work relationships further down the curve of trust.
The Cost of Trust
When we engineer trust out of our relationships, it does not go away. We continue to evaluate trust in our work because that instinct is a deeply human one. When we engineer trust out of our relationships, we accept a new set of stresses and new set of demands on performance.
- We worry about the effectiveness of our trust-replacement solutions. We stress about the quality of our human relationships. Absence of trust is a high stress situation for humans.
- We over-invest in these systems and bear an unnecessarily high cost to performance. Look at any compliance regimes where risk avoidance dominates thinking.
- We are reticent to share information which results in suboptimal decision making
- Those who don’t receive trust, don’t give it. Trust is reciprocal and an absence of trust in one direction will result in customers, employees and other stakeholders who don’t trust.
Organisations that want to perform effectively in the future of the work cannot place all their faith in processes, structures and platforms to manage trust for them. They need to remember the human relationships of trust. Create and manage an organisational culture that is rich and generous with its trust.
As we begin to explore the collaborative potential of connection, co-creation is becoming increasingly important solution to problems. Organisations are increasingly looking to employees, partners and suppliers to be a part of efforts to co-create solutions to complex problems. Collaborative co-creation is a key part of the Solve phase of the Value Maturity Model. As we practice co-creation, we discover bigger opportunities to create value.
Most co-creation begins with some kind of crowd-sourcing of ideas to solve problems. Diversifying the sources and inputs into the creation of a solution can enable big steps forward. Often new stakeholders have solutions to hand, see potential to reuse capabilities or bring opportunities to do things in new ways. Crowd-sourcing can be a fast and effective way to gather inputs from a large group of people towards a solution.
Efforts at crowd-sourcing solutions need to plan for two main challenges:
- Lack of Connection: To contribute meaningful solutions, people need to feel connected to the problem and to each other.
- The Volume of ideas overwhelms Execution: ideas are great but the exercise to sift and integrate diverse ideas can be a drain on execution. This is why many efforts at crowd-sourcing turn into a show of ‘engagement’ with no traction on the ideas submitted.
Co-Creating the Work
The next level of co-creation is when people come together to take a solution and execute it. The challenges of a problem don’t stop when you have an idea. People need to solve all the little issues and manage the idea until it is successfully implemented.
Make sure the expectation in you co-creation community is that work will be done to solve the problem. Give the community the autonomy to follow their ideas. People will contribute better ideas if they think that they have to see them through. Co-creation is more meaningful to a community that has been asked to work the problem together. Challenge them to take their ideas and see them through to implementation.
Co-Creating the Problem
The final level of co-creation goes back to the start and looks at the system from a higher view. This level removes the constraint that the problem definition is externally imposed on the community. At this level of co-creation, the community has responsibility to find, create and implement its own solutions. To do this the community is going to need to start to ask questions about Purpose, the scope of the system and what goals they have for the system. Bring a diverse group of stakeholders in to shape the problems and you may discover new problems and that some of your current problems aren’t such a big issue. The third level asks the community to own co-creation from Purpose, through Diagnosis, and then to the Design and Execution of any solutions.
A recent conversation with Cai Kjaer and Laurence Lock Lee of Swoop Analytics about the Value Maturity Model highlighted a key point that is at the heart of many organisation’s struggles to get value from enterprise social collaboration. Too many organisations are stuck below the Share>Solve boundary. Once you connect enterprise social collaboration to work, the benefits for users and the organisation expand exponentially.
Sharing Out Loud
The first reaction in many organisations to an enterprise social network is to see it as a chance to share out loud. What people see first is the potential for status updates, sharing of articles, links and other stories of interest. This is natural human behaviour and it will be heavily influenced by the culture of social media use in your employee base.
As we have discussed in previous posts, sharing adds value in helping provide transparency, shared context, reducing duplication and enabling better alignment. If Sharing Out Loud is as far as the Working Out Loud goes then it can add value. Sharing is the core concept behind the knowledge worker productivity case for benefits of enterprise social collaboration. Share information and it is findable. Findable information can be reused.
Any organisation that does not move beyond Sharing will face a number of key challenges. Sharing is where there is a lot of noise. Filtering the sharing with groups and other approaches becomes important. Users get frustrated that there is so much information and so little value. Networks can alienate users because a few loud or extroverted voices dominate the traffic and shape perceptions of what an enterprise social network can contribute. Senior executives will quickly lose interest in a network that does not reflect their work and their strategic priorities. A network that is only sharing will need sustained energy from community management or passionate users to survive.
The Launch Point: The Sharing-Solving Boundary
When an enterprise social community crosses the boundary from Sharing to Solving, the dynamic changes. Bringing work into the community provides a momentum and new benefit cases for all users. The purpose of the community and the benefits it can provide begins to clarify and the distinction between an enterprise social and other forms of social media can clarify for people. The work itself begins to provide the energy, rhythm and momentum of the community.
We can help users to turn a Sharing Out Loud community into a Working Out Loud community through strategic community management. We can provide the right context and strategy for the use of collaboration. We can structure the opportunities for Connection, Solving, and Sharing around the key interactions and challenges of the work of the organisation. We can focus on the culture of collaboration and generosity in helping others. All of this helps users to sustain their activity in the Solving domain.
One other benefit of focusing on moving above this boundary is that you are building key foundations for innovation. Employees who develop confidence in an enterprise social collaboration solution as a place to solve their problems will begin to explore how to fulfill their new ideas there. People move easily from How? to What if? Employees who learn to create agile teams to solve problems can apply those same teaming skills to new ideas. The growing wirearchy of work can be reused to provide an engine to innovation work in your organisations.
Creating an environment where employees (& others) can work out loud on real business problems and challenging customer opportunities is the work of strategic community management. The value created beyond the Sharing-Solving Boundary is exponentially greater than that before. If you want the attention of the business stakeholders to support your community, you will need to Work Out Loud.
If you are interested in exploring further how to the Collaboration Value Canvas, enables organisations to conduct a two-hour workshop with business stakeholders to ensure that the business has an integrated plan for its community management and adoption work. Contact Simon Terry to discuss how this could be applied in your organisation.
For suggestions on how Swoop Analytics can help you measure this transition see Cai Kjaer’s post on Linkedin.
We live between norms and force. When norms lose their power, force becomes the alternative option. For effective organisations and civil society, we need an ongoing conversation about expectations of behaviour.
David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement address begins with a story
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,
“What the hell is water?”
Social norms are often like water to the young fish. In the Oxford dictionary, norms are defined as:
A standard or pattern, especially of social behaviour, that is typical or expected
We don’t even notice they exist. They are simply baked into our expectations of social interactions. We follow the most common norms without reflecting on their existence. Often the first time we focus on them is in our outrage at a breach of a norm.
Norms shape group and individual behaviours. Norms that are undiscussed, and in some cases undiscussable, can have real consequences for individuals and societies ability to manage and change. These norms are also a critical component of group connection. Loss of shared norms will impact cohesion, sharing and collaboration in a group.
While many norms are taken as given, they are not fixed. Our expectations are constantly adapting based on our experience of the behaviour of others. Sustained violation of norms can and will cause change. This is one reason that so many protesters violate social norms. They want to disrupt a range of expectations to gain notice and to influence people to reflect on the need for change. Where change has been driven by social change movements, the changes are largely positive for society with new norms being more inclusive, equitable and better able to support civil society.
The Power of Norms
We live between norms and force. When norms lose their power, force becomes the alternative option to regulate social behaviour. The functioning of our organisations and our civil society depends on effective norms.
Over summer I read Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, a book that examines the lessons from traditional societies. The book explores how many tribal societies experienced life that involved continuing violence. The violence was an outcome of the challenges of sustain norms between tribal groups, leadership within tribes depending on authority and because disputes were often resolved by force. Many of the mechanisms we expect to prevent violence, such as peaceful acceptance of strangers, were not norms in these societies, because they represented real dangers to individuals and the group.
Change movements often seek to smash existing norms. Equally important is the need to foster and develop the new behavioural expectations that will follow. In the absence of shared expectations, any group will increasingly have to use force to maintain behaviour in a group or fail in its shared endeavours.
Let’s consider an example of the justice system. What makes our laws effective is not the courts or a constitution. The first element is a community expectation that we will follow the law, respect the courts and honour those decisions. When individuals fail these norms, the executive branch of government has a range of force to bring to bear on social behaviour and enforce the law. We simply expect that the courts and the executive will collaborate to maintain the law. The history of the breakdown in civil societies around the world shows us that this is one of the first norms to fail.
Norms in Organisations
In organisations, the equivalent force is the power of exclusion. Few organisations have the power to use force against their employees except to show them from the premises. Misbehave persistently and you will be sacked and denied an ability to remain in the community. Exclusion presents a cost to the individual and a loss of capability to the organisation. Exclusion of large groups can be incredibly disruptive as strikes and lockouts show.
Organisations depend on norms to keep the peace and to foster cohension and collaboration. A few of those norms are on posters. Many are inherited from the society in which the organisation operates. As our organisations involve more temporary workers and as they become more open to the networks around them, managing these group norms becomes more important.
Most of those norms are never discussed. Some are seen as undiscussable. Rather than force people to exit when they have an issue with norms, we have offer people the alternative of voice. Exit is too easy in our networked era. Voice should be the easiest option. Encourage people to discuss their issues openly, especially those seen as hardest to raise. Celebrate resistance as a form of engagement. When norms are often invisible, it can also be a great learning experience to leverage the insights of those who can see.
The functioning of our society depend on explicit and implicit norms of behaviour and interaction. Let’s invest in the conversations and actions in community necessary to sustain norms and keep the use of force at bay.
Working Out Loud can generate a lot of confusion for people who are new to the term. Being clear on whether your goals are best advanced by a Chat, a Conversation, or a Collaboration will help the effectiveness of your working out loud.
The Many Interactions of Working Out Loud
Working Out Loud involves sharing work purposefully with communities that can help your work or can learn from it. The concept is deliberately a broad one. The concept covers a lot of different kinds of interactions.
There is no one right way to work out loud. John Stepper has written a fabulous book on one approach to working out loud to achieve personal and career goals. Jane Bozarth has an equally great book full of examples of people showing their work in many and varied ways and for many reasons. The WOLWeek website has a range of interviews with Working Out Loud practitioners and many practices are described. There are more approaches.
Working Out Loud is inherently adaptive. There is no one perfect way because nobody else has exactly your situation, your needs, and your network. Learning how to navigate networks through generosity, transparency, and collaboration is a big part of the challenge and the source of the benefits of working out loud.
Chats, Conversations, and Collaborations as Working Out Loud
One way to reduce the confusion around working out loud and to improve the effectiveness of your practice is to be clear on what it is that you are looking for when you work out loud. Are you looking for a Chat (shared information), a Conversation (shared understanding), or a Collaboration (shared work)? Each of these kinds of interactions involves a different level of engagement and add a different amount of value to your work. Each of these will require you to have a different relationship with and deliver different value to the other people involved in the interactions.
Understanding which interaction will best support your goals will help you choose the community and the approach. Many people get disappointed when they work out loud on twitter and they don’t get an immediate response that advances their work. Others get frustrated that people working out loud use twitter and appear to be engaging in self-promotion. In both cases, we are seeing a misalignment between the individual and the expectations of their networks.
More Effective Interactions
Reflecting on the desired interactions and the best communities to support them can help you improve your working out loud. After alll omproving the effectiveness of your Working Out Loud is an ongoing adaptive exercise:
Look for Shared Goals: If someone doesn’t share your goals then even a Chat is a distraction. Both Conversations and Collaborations require strong goal alignment. Look for individuals and communities who share your goals.
Invest in Relationships First: People are more likely to give if they see you as equally generous. People are more likely to care if they think you care. People are more likely to notice if you have noticed them. Use Chats, Conversations, and Collaborations to build relationships in your networks. Remember that in transparent networks people see not just your interactions with them but with others as well. You will have a reputation that is the sum of your interactions.
Choose Networks that Suit the Interaction You Want: Communities each have a dominant mode of interaction. Is it chatty? Do people help each other or engage in long debates? Pick communities that are suited to the interaction that will best suit your work. If you are looking for a richer interaction, such as a collaboration to solve a difficult work challenge, then choose networks where the relationships will support that interaction or where people share common approaches to interaction. No community is 100% one mode but aligning to the dominant approach first will help you be most effective and allow you to branch out later.
Be Clear on the Purpose of Your Working Out Loud: Ask for the help you need. Be clear on the kind of responses that will advance your work. Help others to best help you and also reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding or embarrassment.
Start Small and Experiment: The adaptive nature of Working Out Loud means that it will take some experimentation for you to develop your own approach, develop relationships and to find the networks and interactions that best foster your work. Start small and experiment to learn how best to leverage working out loud in your work.