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Leadership of the Inner Loop, Outer Loop and Transition

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Leaders need to change their style of work to suit the different types of engagement in different domains.  Leaders should recognising that open collaboration in platforms like Yammer focuses more on leading by influence. They can also play a critical role in helping people see the opportunities to work in different ways through coaching and mentoring

One of the areas for further discussion I called out in the post on the role of Transition in Inner and Outer Loops was the area of leadership. It is important to note that leadership in this context includes hierarchical managers but is also wider, including the leadership actions of peers and other champions. Leadership, in the sense of inspiring action in others, might be a key expectation of managers but we know that not all managers are leaders. This post examines how leadership fosters collaboration in each domain and the role leaders play in tranitioning between domains of work. In the previous post, I said

People don’t need to know ‘what to do where’ so much as they need to know when their current mode of work is ineffective.

Leaders, whether hierarchical or peer leaders, help people see these opportunities to change.

Inner Loop – Leading Performance and Execution

Most managers are familiar with the approaches to achieve performance in teams focused on execution and continuous improvement. The challenge is usually the consistency of a manager’s leadership behaviours.

Inner Loop platforms can help increase the volume and velocity of communication of managers in these teams, addressing a key challenge for many managers in their performance and their leadership.  Better awareness across the team and its stakeholders of key issues and challenges will also enable managers to chose to lead in more relevant ways that drive better performance.

As teams embrace the potential of the Inner Loop, transparency, autonomy and rapid communication, also increases the potential for peers to play a leadership role. The Inner Loop should also enable greater sharing of customer feedback and voice to guide performance and shape the improvement opportunities pursued. Hierarchical leaders should be encouraging customer focus in decision making in this domain and encouraging other leaders to take action to drive improvements in performance.

Agile has seen rapid adoption as a work practice because of its potential to support autonomous teams reacting to new customer feedback where leadership can come from any role.  The Inner Loop of rapidly adapting teams, both hierarchical and cross-functional, is a great environment to develop the leaders of the future.

Transition – Leaders Create the Need to Change

We can get so focused in our execution challenges or so enthusiastic about our communication with a wide network that we don’t see the need to change our behaviours. In both the Inner and Outer Loops of collaborative work, coaches and mentors can play a key role in helping individuals to improve their performance.

Coaching is critical in encouraging individuals and teams with a focused pursuit on delivery to reflect, to consider alternatives and to ask for help. While many people in focused work feel that stopping to look around is a waste of precious time, the advantages of being able to reuse work, borrow capabilities or have new insights deliver an exponential return on the time invested.  Great coaching questions from leaders will foster this reflection and the opportunty to try another approach.

Mentoring is a way to spread learning across the network. Like coaches, mentors can prompt reflection in either domain that will help foster change. One of the reasons to underpin an organisation collaboration strategy with a ready team of champions is to create a force of mentors to help your users with issues, ideas and new ways of working.

Investing in coaching and mentoring programs in your organisation is a key part of a balanced focus on performance using the 70:20:10 model of learning. That investment in coaching and mentoring will help you leverage improvement in work across both the Inner and Outer Loop.

Outer Loop – Leading by Influence

All employees in your organisation benefit from better understanding the dynamics of influence in the networks of the outer loop. This is a realm where the writs of power run shorter than many hierarchically powerful leaders expect. Networks value contributions and contributions create value.  Insistence on decision making power or overreliance on orders weakens an individuals influence in networks because they have the ability to treat blockages as something to route around.

To gain influence in networks, leaders of all types need to practice some key fundamentals:

  • to stand for something – a vision, a purpose, some values, or a goal
  • how to win trust & respect – authenticity, credibility, showing alignment, showing capability and delivering for others
  • be known for your own action – set an example, demonstrate capabilities and values, put evidence behind your reputation, give generously of your time, capabilities and experience
  • create motivation – using a vision and narrative, shared goals and personal connection
  • foster action – highlighting gaps, making action safe, encouraging experimentation, encouraging reflection in others, fostering tensions and being provocative.

Working out loud by sharing a persons work can help foster these conditions of influence. The genius of John Stepper’s five elements of working out loud are that they are well aligned to creating the ideal elements for influence:

  • Focus on relationships
  • Generosity
  • Visible work
  • Purposeful discovery
  • Growth mindset

These characteristics can be rare or unusal to traditional managers brought up in the domain of hierarchy. To enable them to be effective leaders in outer loop context we need to build their capabilities to act in new ways.  We also need to foster and reward the champions and other leaders who demonstrate these approaches to encourage all employees to leverage the potential of the outer loop.

transition loops

Solving Work Problems Out Loud & Outside

Working out loud can sometimes seem quite abstract. The benefits can seem a little obscure. Here’s a little story of how purposefully sharing your work in progress can create a great experience that makes work easier and more effective.

A Story of Working Out Loud Outside

I interact a lot with the Customer Success Team for Microsoft Office. We are both trying to help clients to find the best ways to implement Office capability. These situations can vary from client to client because each one has a different strategy, a different culture and a different plan. There’s always something new to learn and a new problem to solve.

Today as I travelled to work, I got an external Yammer post from Avi Sujeeth, a Microsoft Customer Success Manager in the US. I’ve known Avi for a while through online interactions only.  Avi was in discussion with some of his colleagues around an issue about organisational structures for IT teams that he needed to solve for a client. Avi had previously seen a post I had written on the same topic in the Microsoft Tech Community.

By @mentioning me into that thread in Microsoft’s Yammer Community, I was able to join into that thread of conversation between the Microsoft team from around the world. The thread appeared as a notification in my inbox in my ChangeAgentsWorldwide Yammer. I answered the question to the best of my abilities.  Over the next 30 minutes, in and around other tasks I was doing, we had a quick back and forth to clarify some issues.  I went on with my day in Melbourne.

Breaking Down the Benefits

When I next checked Yammer, I saw a new notification of a follow-up message in the thread from Avi pointing out the power of what just happened.  Included in that post was the following quote (shared with permission)

I had no idea where this conversation was going to go. I don’t have Simon’s email. I did it all in about 30 minutes because of async communication. Work Out Loud rules.

There’s little reason to believe that I could have contributed to solving a problem for Avi if he hadn’t his work in progress, based on a mutual understanding from a history of sharing our work. I don’t have Avi’s email. I didn’t know he was based in Texas until I looked up his LinkedIn profile to include it above. I don’t have a clue what he is doing other than what he shared with me. He was on a deadline that I didn’t discover until the last post. The ease and the curiosity with which Avi could share that challenge with me made it incredibly easy for me to quickly understand the issue and reply to the best of my ability. The whole interaction took less than 10 minutes of my time.

Importantly, Avi wasn’t sure what he might get from his question to me. Avi took a risk putting the message out there. I could have been in a workshop or on a plane. I might not have had anything of value to say (I’m still not sure that I did). There’s some comfort that he probably got better answers to his question to me from his peers while I took my time responding. Having shared a work challenge out loud his colleagues could all jump in to the conversation too.

Would Avi have got the same answer asking me publicly or privately on Twitter or Linkedin? Maybe, but then he may not have got the participation of his colleagues and I wouldn’t have had the same sense of engaging in a team response to a problem. Being part of a purposeful team is highly engaging, even if it is just a single thread. Because this was one thread with many other people from organisation I know well, I knew I could trust the team and I felt safe to share my thoughts and get feedback – the dynamics of responding were better and a better solution resulted.

Working out loud is a powerful tool for solving work problems because when people share work in progress purposefully with relevant communities. Examples like these are what we need to achieve to move the conversation in collaboration from sharing to solving work problems. Once people work out loud consistently organisations and individuals see benefits quickly further driving collaboration internally and externally.

PS:A short comment on external collaboration features:

Many organisations turn off external messaging and external groups in Yammer because they don’t understand the experience or have fears of security or data sharing breaches. This example of an agile and fluid form of external collaboration is a what is lost in that decision. Avi could have got my email from a colleague and emailed me but it would have been the same information, just slower and less engaging. More and more organisations need to work not just across silos, but across organisational boundaries in rapid collaborative teams.

Work Out Loud on Priorities

The changing nature of work accelerates the demands on everyone. Both employees and managers are coping with busier schedules, more messages, more decisions and more challenges on a daily basis. If you are helping a manager focus on letting them do what they do best – set priorities. Don’t dumb down the decisions or you risk disempowering yourself.

This week I spoke to a client who was working for a busy senior manager. In an effort to make life easier for the manager, the client was breaking decisions down into small parts and getting quick sign-off one step a time. Despite how easy this process seemed, the relationship was growing difficult and the manager wasn’t always happy with the process.

As we explored this situation it became apparent that what the manager liked to do most of all was set priorities across the whole sweep of my client’s work.  The manager had hired someone that had the skills and experience to succeed. He expected small decisions to be made quickly and the work executed well.  The manager was looking to shape the work and ensure that it was on track and delivered in the right way. He didn’t want to make decisions all the time, even easy ones and especially not ones that were so carefully packaged there was no way to say anything other than yes.

In our efforts to make matters easier for senior managers, it can be easy to make the process too simple. Managers don’t want to be managed. They want to do what they do best which is tackle complex challenges, manage multiple priorities and shape the deliver of work. If we simplify the decisions too much we are depriving them of this opportunity and also depriving ourselves of the chance to make the simple clear cut decisions.

Working out loud on the priorities in your work with a senior manager can be a way to satisfy their need to understand the whole context, help with complexity and manage priorities. It also empowers you to get on with the obvious work. Focus on the priority calls and ask managers to assist you with these. Little straightforward decisions are best made by the person with most knowledge, which will always be you.

The Practitioner Benefits of Working Out Loud

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Convincing an employee to take on the new practice of working out loud depends on being able to make a credible case for their personal benefits. Working Out Loud sounds new, different and risky at first.

Preconditions: Culture

Amy Edmondsen has done extensive research on team collaboration and demonstrated that a key component of participation in collaboration in teams is a sense of psychological safety for individuals. People need to feel it is safe to take interpersonal risk to learn, collaborate and experiment together. It is challenging asking people to Work Out Loud if the leadership, performance or other aspects of the culture make that personally difficult or disadvantageous.

One of the reasons that the Value Maturity Model above works to build collaboration and working out loud up from connection and sharing is that it is a way to build trust and develop the culture of collaboration from safer foundations. Focusing sharing and solving around work needs and goals through working out loud can make it easier to change the culture leveraging work needs and key strategic priorities.

Working Out Loud can contribute to changing an unsafe culture, but that will take the work of Change Agents to role model the way and to run the risks of pushback. The kind of Change Agent who will take on a harsh culture to drive change is rarer than we would like.

The Practitioner’s Hard Benefits

A lot has been written about the human benefits of working out loud. Deeper connection to others, richer learning, personal purpose and fulfilment, the personal rewards of generosity and collaboration are all real and lasting benefits of working out loud. However, business is business and some users are looking for ‘hard’ financial benefits as their sole focus for change. The more demanding and siloed the performance environment, the more likely you will need to build your story on financial returns.

There are few sectors more focused on hard measurement of value than financial services. When I worked in banking we used to say there were four things you could do to create value for a customer. Our customer propositions were focused on the bank’s ability to:

  • save time,
  • save money,
  • enable people to make money, or
  • protect money or other assets (from risk)’.

A variant of these four holds for the personal financial benefits of working out loud to a practitioner:

  • Save time: avoid search, avoid learning time, avoid wasted work & prevent duplicate work
  • Save money: prevent duplicate work, improve alignment, avoid coordination costs, avoid expensive learning, avoid errors & rework, improve personal productivity & effectiveness
  • Make money: better align to needs, leverage diversity of ideas and solutions, leverage broad contributions & agility of teams, reuse intellectual property, make experience a transferable product
  • Protect: benefit from experience & learning of others, manage experiments easily, reduce risks, improve quality, etc

Each practitioner’s potential benefit equation will be unique. Work with their needs and circumstances to identify a suite of hard and soft benefits that engages their attention and provides an incentive for them to start the journey of working out loud.

Every Day Work Creates Every Day Trust.

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Effective collaboration in your organisation depends on trust. The best way to build trust in your organisation is through collaborative work.

Trust is a consistent theme of this blog because it is fundamental to effective performance in organisations and social relationships. However, we mostly take it for granted and organisations often go out of their way to remind employees that they are not trusted and should not place their trust in the organisation.

Trust in the Work

One commenter on my recent post on collaboration and every day work suggested I was missing the need for trust to support collaboration. My response was that trust comes through actions and interactions.  Organisations often talk about trust as an abstract and something that can be worked on itself.

The reality of most trust building activities is that they create no trust unless they are connected to the fundamental interactions of the organisation. Trust is a manifestation of the expectations of interactions in the organisation, i.e. culture. Trust is human. All the fancy trust building exercises will fail if people believe the real interactions that support the work will occur differently.

Founding trust in and around the work to be done is important. Collaboration can deliver this new foundation for trust.  Transparency helps employees better understand what is going on in the organisation.  Networks leverage that transparency to deliver new accountability to help people have confidence in the work of others. Collaboration networks better enable employees to judge the intentions and capability of others based on the past performance in public interactions with others. Each of these interactions fosters a better level of understanding of the potential for trust.

Most importantly of all, collaboration networks can increase the interactions and the experience of generosity between employees. We all find it hard to trust strangers. Sharing a social network enables people to develop a deeper understanding of all of their peers not just those in their own teams.

Organisations that want to increase the level of trust between employees can benefit from focus on encouraging employees to work out loud and seeking opportunities for collaboration in their everyday work.

Get Out of the Way

Organisations also need to take care that they send signals that reinforce the value of collaboration and trust in every day work. Treat collaboration as inherently risky and you will discourage your employees from participating, trusting their colleagues and trusting the organisation.

When collaboration technology enables new interactions in an organisation, it can be easy to identify all the new risks that can be created. The traditional corporate approach to risk is risk elimination. Why not turn off the solution or the feature that creates the risk so that there’s no exposure to one poor decision by an employee. However, to avoid a rare event, this approach either excludes collaboration opportunities from the organisation or signals to employees that they cannot be trusted.

A better management of those risks is to place accountability on employees to manage the risks, both for themselves and others. That is a signal of trust in your employees and your willingness to make them responsible for a better workplace. That’s usually how you manage those risks outside collaboration technology where you have less control over what employees say and do anyway. Treating collaboration technology as specially unsafe is a bad signal for trust and ignores the opportunity to teach employees to the benefit of all the work.

This last point is significant. Trust, collaboration, agency and agility that you grow in your collaboration platform doesn’t stay there. Each of these capabilities are based in our human characteristics and follow wherever your employees go. They spread through the whole organisation. Manage trust well in the collaboration of every day work and the whole organisation will benefit.

From Sharing to Solving

Sharing Out Loud

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.

Work Out Loud When It is Easy Too

When we begin to incorporate the practice of working out loud into our work we can inadvertently fall into an unhelpful pattern of seeking help only when work is hard. Working out loud when it is easy is important to balance the risks of working out loud by building relationships of trust and collaboration.

We Work Out Loud When It is Hard

Working out loud when work is hard is obvious. If you are facing a big challenge, there can be real benefits of getting the insights, ideas, resources and support of others. Your network when aware of your challenges can make a big impact.  For many people sharing challenges is where they want to start their working out loud. Working on a big challenge together with others can bring many rewards, including the feeling of heroic leadership.

However, working out loud when work is hard is a time when we feel the risks of sharing can be greater. Bigger challenges bring their own sets of fears. Do we look incompetent? Are we creating an impression we need help a lot? Are we too demanding on our networks? What if nobody can help because the task is too hard?  Many of these fears can be managed through careful framing of our requests for help, choosing where we share and by considering the needs of others. However, it is also important that we don’t just share our big challenges. A consistent practice of working out loud helps.

Work Out Loud on the Easy Work Too

When work is easy, we often forget to work out loud. There are a number of reasons:

  • We want the exclusive credit for our easy successes.
  • We assume there is no better way
  • We can do them so quickly we forget to share or don’t reflect on our experience.
  • We don’t value the things that we do well.
  • We assume everyone else knows

Whatever the reason we are missing opportunities for shared value. What is easy to us is not always easy or obvious to others. Others can learn from our easy work. Sharing credit with your network can be a great way to give back to those who help us when times are tough. Importantly, showing people what you do that works well helps build a great profile and balances out the traditional risks of sharing when work is hard.

Building a relationship of trust and collaboration with your networks is far easier when you are consistent.