Last year I was giving a presentation at an internal conference to a global group of emergent leaders within our company (leaders of our employee resources groups), talking about the benefits and behaviors of Social Business. As is my norm, I had the term “Work Out Loud” placed throughout the presentation to support the concepts.
I like to keep my talks interactive, so there were quite a few questions and a good amount of dialogue. Near the close as I was fielding questions, a gentleman stood up and suggested:
“I agree with what you are describing, in general. But you better stop using ‘Work Out Loud’ in this company because you will freak people out, they’ll fear compliance ramifications, and they won’t take anything you say seriously. You’re doing yourself more harm than good when you say that.”
How did I respond? Read on to find out…
Opening Up Behaviors, Not Information Security
Every piece of information has an appropriate audience. Sometimes that definition is easy to understand, other times not. Working Out Loud means maximizing the potential outcomes of the work we do by being as inclusive as possible to the widest appropriate audience. It’s not an invitation to be irresponsible.
Usually, in an act of control or a reaction from fear, we assume the appropriate audience is smaller than it really could be, likely because that boundary has not been clearly defined for us. I simply try to coach people to seek to understand the outer limits of the boundaries, to invite more value from network effects, instead of operating on an “until I’m informed by someone else that you need to know” basis.
Believe it or not I actually have an example from this week where I did some work in private with a small group of people, and consider it a win for Working Out Loud.
I was invited to contribute to some research that is somewhat sensitive, even within the company. My introduction to the effort and the work already completed? Somebody that was previously “in” on the conversation, apparently circling through about 6-8 people from different parts of the world, forwarded 12 emails to me so I’d be up to speed.
Egads! Talk about a painful example of email trees to weave through. To add to the issue, most of the participants are not people I’ve routinely worked with, nor met in person. A true example of a “swarm” team.
Being “new” to the effort I could have succumbed to the pattern already emerging. But I couldn’t bring myself to contribute to the information mess any further. I started a private wiki page and invited every person I had seen in the email trees as contributors. I summarized what I gleaned as important from the emails. I added my own brainstorming and perspectives, links to external research, and I added comments to it as my note taking method as I talked in person with my “team members.”
At first it was just me, capturing my stuff. Pulling content from emails sent by others to keep the resource current. But through conversations and metrics I could tell other people were checking it out. 3 people had bookmarked the page. But the emails were still flowing on the topic.
Finally, someone asked me via email to provide a specific framing of ideas. I did, by adding it to the wiki page and replying to his request with a link. That day I had two of the “team members” add comments to the page! Slowly but surely through my consistent behaviors I was helping the team realize the value of consolidated knowledge capture, of sharing in a place where all team members could contribute instead of creating email trees that resulted in a high number of “side conversations” on the topic.
I had “worked out loud” on a sensitive subject in an appropriate way and hopefully added value to the initiative by making the objectives, inputs and recommendations easier to retrieve for everyone involved. The ultimate value and outcome are yet to be known.
And for the sake of brevity, I won’t even get into the details of how I was able to engage a broader internal community to contribute to the research by posting a series of questions in a generalized fashion. Ultimately protecting what was sensitive, but crowdsourcing potential ideas and solutions nonetheless.
So how did I respond to the question during the presentation that day? (I am paraphrasing myself here because I likely wasn’t as succinct on my feet )
“I appreciate the feedback. Thank you. But this is an important change for all of us, and if I keep diluting the point in order to be accepted by all, I’m not helping anyone evolve to the extent we need. For those that aren’t ready to hear it, so be it. I’m focused on helping those that are ready.”