When Working Out Loud is mentioned, people’s eyes light up if they’re already familiar with it. But if they aren’t, they’re confused. Working Out Loud — what’s it all about?
As a member of the #collaborate team that is implementing the DigitalLife@Daimler strategy, I’ve been dealing with this method for a long time. WOL, as we usually abbreviate the name, is not complicated. It’s a simple and effective way to reach a goal you’ve set for yourself by investing a small amount of time in cooperating with others — and it’s a lot of fun. Daimler started early on to promote this approach both within the Group and outside it, without giving it a great deal of publicity.
I have to admit that when I joined the #collaborate team led by Lukas Fütterer at the end of 2016, I had never heard of Working Out Loud. This concept had been mentioned during my job interview, so first of all I got a copy of the book of the same name by the New York-based author John Stepper, who developed the method and has supported Daimler’s use of it. I read the book and was fascinated by it. Working in a way that’s open and visible to others? By that time, I had already been doing it for quite a while. But thanks to my reading of the book, the stories of other practitioners and, last but not least, John Stepper himself, I found out that this process can be optimized and methodically learned.
Lukas had already started the first WOL circle, together with a small group of fellow enthusiasts, in early 2016 (I’ll tell you more about that later). So there was a small community around this topic, but its activities were not as yet very systematic. It was basically a typical grassroots initiative that had not yet made its breakthrough. And by joining the team I received the opportunity to help the grassroots go on growing.
How WOL works
Before I tell you how the story of WOL at Daimler continued, I should clarify a few basic principles. How does WOL work?
We first have to distinguish between WOL as a mindset and as a method. Many of us have already been practicing WOL for years without knowing that there’s a name for it. WOL means being willing to make your own work visible in a way that generates added value for everyone. It means making it available to others without any preconditions. It also means building up sustainable networks and, last but not least, working in a targeted manner. All of these attitudes define the WOL mindset.
WOL as a method is based on the concept of co-creation. Five people — who ideally don’t already know one another and work in very different units — get together and form a circle. Each person chooses an individual goal. For example, “I’d like to improve my business English” or “I’d like to create a network focusing on the topic of artificial intelligence.” The group has a one-hour meeting once a week for 12 weeks, either virtually or face to face.
During this hour, they follow a carefully worked-out guideline that assigns tasks and themes for discussion in order to help them reach their respective goals. Through the regular sharing of ideas and experiences, the group’s members help one another reach their individual goals. The motivational aspect of these meetings should not be underestimated. Everyone’s familiar with the motivation problem. Forcing yourself to do a sport on your own? That’s pretty difficult. Doing sports together with others? That’s a lot more fun, and it increases your sense of commitment.
WOL requires only 12 hours of effort in three months — and all the participants can reach their individual goals. Besides, they gain many additional benefits along the way. For example, they learn how to reflect on their own working methods and change them. They become more confident about speaking openly about their “work in progress.” They form networks with people who work and think in ways that are completely different from their own. They practice virtual cooperation and thus learn how to deal more confidently with the digital transformation.
People often ask me why this method has to be practiced for “such a long time” instead of simply being taught in an all-day workshop. The answer is simple: Stretching the process across 12 weeks enables every participant to grow step by step and slowly become accustomed to new experiences. Change takes time, and our experience has shown that a rushed process of change is often doomed to fail.
A captivating process
This method quickly fascinates many people. In our experience, people who have tried it out generally recommend it to others. In one of our surveys, 100 percent of the respondents said that WOL had made their work more enjoyable. Many respondents finish one round and immediately start planning the next one. One woman colleague has already participated in eight circles.
But in order for WOL to function, several conditions have to be met. For example, it’s important that all the participants are intrinsically motivated — in other words, they must really want to reach their goals rather than having the goals imposed on them from outside. In addition, each goal must be attainable in 12 weeks. Learning Chinese within this timeframe would be fairly difficult, but adding agile working methods to your store of expertise is quite possible. Thirdly, the goals should not be isolated. They should not be goals that can be reached without any help from others. Networking and (digital) cooperation are key themes of WOL. That’s why this program ideally fits in with #collaborate.
What WOL can do — and can’t do
In the ideal case, this method simultaneously helps the participants in many different ways. It helps them enter the new world of work, build sustainable networks, and initiate processes of change. There’s no question that this is valuable for Daimler as a company as well as for each individual participant.
However, this method is not a panacea. In spite of all the enthusiasm, that should be obvious. For example, it can’t produce any changes overnight, even though we may sometimes want overnight change in our fast-paced world. Change requires time — and serious effort. That’s why the intrinsic motivation I mentioned before is so important. We can’t force people to do things, and we don’t want to either.
How we use WOL at Daimler
Because we got involved with WOL so early and so intensely, we can also deal with its limits and obstacles effectively. For example, we’ve taken the “Circle Guides” created by John Stepper for the 12 sessions, and worked together with him to adapt them to the conditions at Daimler — and we’re still optimizing them. Among other things, we are specifically using the networking options offered by the Daimler Social Intranet.
That’s also the main focus of WOL at Daimler. In our rapidly growing Social Intranet community, I can find everything I need to know about the topics I’m interested in, and I can form a self-organized circle together with other potential participants.
In addition to the digital touchpoint, at Daimler we also have specially trained WOL circle mentors. They provide support for circles that are facing practical questions such as “What should we do if we can’t find a time when all of us can meet?” or “How can I find a goal that’s right for me?” A significant part of my working time is spent improving the framework conditions for successful circles, sharing tips and tricks, and establishing the WOL method even more firmly within the company. Incidentally, I’m not doing this entirely on my own. In the spirit of this method, I formed a co-creation team at the beginning of 2017 together with people from various specialist units and locations.
And that brings me back to the way we’re implementing WOL at Daimler. Since 2016, the grassroots initiative has developed very quickly into a movement. The first WOL circle has by now been followed by about 100 more circles, and more than 400 Daimler employees have already tried out this method and are recommending it to others.
One milestone we reached at the end of 2017 was the move of our community into the new Social Intranet. The community now has about 1,100 followers, and it’s steadily growing. Ever since the netWork Camp 2017, Working Out Loud has also been one of the five strategic pillars of #collaborate. Today we are invited almost every week to come into specialist units to present this method and the added values it creates.
WOL thrives on the variety of perspectives it promotes. There’s hardly another topic that promotes cooperation throughout the Group as effectively as WOL.
Our DigitalLife@Daimler initiative and Robert Bosch GmbH are among the main drivers of Working Out Loud in Germany. Bosch started using WOL even before we did, and we’ve learned a great deal from and with our colleagues there. Together with Audi, BMW, Continental, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Telekom, Kluge Consulting, Siemens Healthineers, ZF Friedrichshafen and Deutsche Post/DHL we are part of a group of WOL practitioners — the Working Out Loud Community of Practice, or WOLCOP for short. It was honored with the HR Excellence Award in 2017.
On October 31, 2018, our involvement experienced yet another highlight: the first “cross-company” Working Out Loud conference, #WOLCON18, at Daimler, which we hosted together with Bosch. The 400 participants were divided evenly between the two companies. There were 16 speakers, 15 sessions, and lots of support from the top management of both companies. Working Out Loud had reached a new level. We left the meeting with lots of new ideas and momentum, and we’re looking forward to future opportunities to set an example of networked cooperation. You can find more information about WOLCON18 on Twitter and LinkedIn and in our press releases.