Working Out Loud Revisited

Stan Garfield

I recently was interviewed by Lauren Trees of APQC for a podcast and two blog posts on current trends in knowledge management. One of the key trends I discussed is Working Out Loud, about which I had previously written. This resulted in some good discussions in Twitter and LinkedIn, which are included here, along with some additional thoughts.

1. APQC: Working Out Loud is KM’s Most Transformative Trend

Working Out Loud is a growing movement that encourages employees to narrate their work and broadcast what they’re doing so others can interact, respond, learn, and apply that knowledge to their own work.

When I asked Stan which KM trend he thought was the most transformative, his answer — which focused on Working Out Loud — both surprised me and made perfect sense. I was thinking about the trends most likely to change the KM discipline, but Stan interpreted the question with a broader lens and talked about more fundamental shifts in how people communicate and get work done.

“The power contained in [Working Out Loud] is that organizations tend to be insular — they have hierarchies, people communicate only in narrow groups, and there is still prevalent use of email instead of enterprise social networks for more transparent communication,” he said. “There’s lip service given to the idea of using an enterprise social network, but then people revert to their old ways of communicating in small groups. I only send the email to people I know and trust, and I don’t want anybody else to know.”

“If we’re going to have a true digital transformation … we need to move from a need-to-know basis to need-to-share. That’s a radical change that organizations aren’t really ready for, but if … we can work more transparently… that has a chance to make a major change in organizations being much more effective than the way we’ve traditionally worked.”

2. APQC: KM Experts on KM’s Role in Digital Transformation

Working Out Loud (WOL) combines observable work (creating spaces where others can engage with your content) with narrating your work (posting in social software). Leading by example and persuading others helps create an open culture of truth, transparency, and trust, provides feedback loops, and spans organizational boundaries.

3. My earlier article: 8 reasons for working out loud and narrating your work

  1. Multiple people may need to know what is going on, to read updates, and to reply
  2. Provide transparency in thinking, decisions, and processes
  3. Enable and exploit serendipity
  4. Allow others to benefit from seeing discussions
  5. Keep a record of discussions
  6. Build your personal brand
  7. Avoid fragmentation into different email threads and different sets of people
  8. Move from old ways of working to new and better ones

4. What would you say to 400 knowledge managers? by John Stepper

To increase both the supply & demand of knowledge, you have to create an environment where people are intrinsically motivated to share & search for knowledge as part of their everyday work. But how?

5. Tweets from the 2019 APQC KM Conference

  1. Employees are out of the habit of talking to each other. John Stepper discussing Working Out Loud process to return to talking to each other by exchanging ideas, challenges — can happen in person or virtually.
  2. Working Out Loud circles provide a safe environment to build a better network, enhance communication skills, and gain greater comfort with online tools. Ultimately, employees feel empowered with a voice, something to contribute; they have new bonds.
  3. Working Out Loud circles are a way to foster/create a connected workforce and bring people together to humanize/rehumanize the culture.
  • Daniella Cunha Teichert quoting John Stepper quoting me‏: Working Out Loud is a great method and mindset to promote a culture where knowledge is alive and flowing, generating opportunities for innovation and growth!

My Thoughts on the LinkedIn Thread

1. Actually I think it’s all about driving a Knowledge Seeking culture, not Sharing.

Seeking is part of knowledge management, but not all of it. Of the SAFARIS activities, three are seeking (asking, finding, and soliciting input) and five are sharing activities (sharing, answering, recognizing, informing, and suggesting):

  • Share a link, tip, trick, or insight
  • Ask a question to collaborate with others
  • Find a resource, person, or site
  • Answer someone’s question
  • Recognize a colleague’s contribution or achievement
  • Inform about what you are working on, where you are, or where you will be
  • Suggest an idea and solicit input using a poll

In Does Your Organization Have an Asking Problem?, Nancy Dixon wrote:

  • Knowledge sharing begins with a request, not with a solution. No matter how much knowledge is presented at conferences, held in databases or emailed to colleagues, knowledge won’t be reused unless a team has a need, something they are struggling with.
  • Managers sometimes tell me that people in their organization have a problem with sharing knowledge; but more often than not, people aren’t “asking.” The organization has an asking problem, not a sharing problem. When people ask, the sharing problem becomes moot.

2. You can share all you want, but if I still am in the mindset where I know better than you, or I have the answer, or, more importantly, if I am rewarded for doing it all myself, then sharing knowledge won’t produce the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness you seek.

  1. Sharing broadly allows your team’s thoughts, plans, and actions to be tested, challenged, and adopted.
  2. This enables growth, innovation, and proof of value.
  1. Helps you learn: by doing research, synthesizing multiple viewpoints, and crystallizing ideas
  2. Gets others to also share, which may ultimately benefit you
  3. Strengthens your knowledge: others can confirm, point out flaws, or improve what you know

3. When there is a need and when there is a relationship, people share their knowledge. It’s a much easier mindset to change. But changing the hubris of “know it all and better than you” is a more difficult mindset to change. And you have to expose it before you can change it. So when we continue to focus in “sharing knowledge”, making information available, we miss the behaviors that are required to make all of our KM efforts successful.

People don’t always know what will be useful to them until they become aware of it. When they see it in a feed to which they have opted in, in a newsletter to which they have subscribed, in a notification or alert they have elected to receive, or by monitoring the activity in a community, group, or team space, they can gain useful insights, learn, and otherwise benefit.

Many people are reluctant to ask for help, but are thankful if someone shares something they can use.

  1. It’s a paradox that the one option with the greatest chance of success is the least likely to be tried.
  2. Why is this? One common reason is that people are afraid of asking a question in public because it may expose their ignorance, make them appear incompetent, or subject them to embarrassment.
  1. The rule of thumb is that only 10% of people will post at all, and only 1% will regularly be active.
  2. 90% will not post at all, but can benefit from what is posted by the 10%.

4. ROI increases when we first seek out knowledge. Then we can capitalize on the sharing. If you don’t seek first, sharing’s impact is sub-optimized.

If I waited to receive questions before I shared my knowledge, I would miss out on helping a large number of people. If people seek information using a search engine, and it has not already been shared by posting, publishing, or previously answering queries, they will be unable to find it. And those who neither ask nor search will be out of luck.

As a personal example, as of today, I have 393 blog posts, 8,442 LinkedIn followers, 6,211 tweets, 3,944 Twitter followers, 18 SlideShares, 2 books, 4 book chapters, 30 web pages, and numerous community posts, articles, interviews, presentations, podcasts, videos, and webinar recordings. Many people have told me that they value what I share, and most of them have never asked for my help or searched for my content. They only see it because I share it. Here are some examples of feedback I have received recently.

  • Thanks for sharing. I have enjoyed reading all the profiles you have featured. Fantastic work!
  • Thank you for the gold mine. Very helpful.
  • A real treasure trove. Thanks a bunch.
  • Thank you so much. We are growing up with you. It’s very generous.
  • Many thanks for sharing the link to such a vast library. I was able to find and make use of several documents.
  • Thanks for your generosity in help and support.
  • Thank you for your amazing contributions to the KM body of knowledge.

5. And in addition to get people to be willing to share knowledge if needed — i.e., creating a balance between push and pull. To connect the demand and supply of knowledge is KM’s task.

A balance between supply and demand is desirable. But if you only wait for knowledge to be sought, and don’t have some people who share without being asked, then people who never post (about 90% of community members) will be unable to benefit from a large supply of valuable knowledge.

Supply does not mean push. Push means forcing content on people who didn’t ask for it. Supply means making it available for those who subscribe, search, or are explicitly mentioned.

Sharing can be done without pushing. It can be done by posting in team spaces, group chats, and communities; by mentioning and tagging; and by reaching those who opt in and subscribe.

Types of Knowledge Management Strategies

  • Supply
  1. There must be a supply of knowledge in order for it to be reused. Supply-side knowledge management includes collecting documents and files, capturing information and work products, and storing these forms of explicit knowledge in repositories. Tacit knowledge can also be captured and converted to explicit knowledge by recording conversations and presentations, writing down what people do and say, and collecting stories.
  2. A supply-only strategy will not be very useful to an organization. Even if every possible document and knowledge object is captured and stored, there is no resultant benefit unless there is significant reuse of all that content. Be sure to keep supply and demand strategies in balance.
  • Demand
  1. Demand is the other side of supply. It involves searching for people and content, retrieving information, asking questions, and submitting queries.
  2. Demand-driven knowledge management takes advantage of networks, supply, analysis and codification. It is stimulated by dissemination and enabled by making it easy to find resources.
  3. Focusing more on just-in-time knowledge management and less on collection, content can be provided at the time of need through networks such as communities. By only supplying information which is actually required, unnecessary knowledge capture can be avoided and time and resources used more efficiently.
  • Disseminate
  1. Even if captured knowledge has been analyzed and codified, it will not be of value unless potential users are aware of its availability. Thus, its existence must be disseminated, both widely to inform all potential users and narrowly to inform targeted consumers.
  2. A variety of communications vehicles should be used to distribute knowledge. Newsletters, web sites, and email messages can be used to spread awareness. Blogs, wikis, and podcasts can be visited online or subscribed to through RSS feeds. Content can be dispersed through syndication and collected through aggregation, including the ability to personalize web sites to display only relevant information.

Knowledge management doesn’t happen until somebody reuses something

  • Reuse is the other side of capture. It represents the demand for the knowledge supply which results from a knowledge capture process.
  • In order for reuse to succeed, there must be a good supply of reusable content, it must be easy to find, and it must be in a format suitable for reuse.

Collect and connect

  • Both collection and connection are valuable, and neither one should be emphasized over the other.
  • Without context, content is not very useful.
  • But without content which can be referenced and reused, communities and social networks will continually need to share information stored on personal hard drives or web sites.

Stop being so pushy; use the power of pull instead

  • Allow people to choose which ESN groups or communities to join and how they wish to be notified of new communications, instead of sending out email messages to large distribution lists.
  • Allow opting in and out of membership lists, using tools and services which allow people to subscribe and unsubscribe easily.
  • Make your content so desirable and valuable that people will ask you to provide it to them, eagerly await updates, and be disappointed if updates are not frequent enough.

6. Do you believe people will take the time to search and browse the ESN? They don’t even pay attention to well documented lessons learned they can easily find and access.

Most people will not search and browse the Enterprise Social Network (ESN). They may ask a question that has been asked before, or about something that was previously shared. In that case, it’s easy to answer with a link to the previous thread. And a newsletter can serve as a monthly reminder that there is good content being shared in the ESN, and provide links to it.

  1. Provide news updates, success stories, event announcements, recognition of individuals, and other content which subscribers are likely to find useful
  2. A newsletter can serve as a monthly reminder that there is good content being shared on a web site, in ESN or social media posts, or during events

7. If you look at the primary intention of WOL (individualistic self-marketing) do you think this is an appropriate trend for KM?

That is not the primary intention of working out loud. The primary goals are allowing multiple people to know what is going on; providing transparency in thinking, decisions, and processes; enabling and exploiting serendipity; and allowing others to benefit from seeing discussions.

8. Just think about an organization where everybody is working out loud (in order to build their personal brands).

Not everyone will do it. Generally, only 10% of any group will post. But even if everyone does so, as long as they do it in the most relevant groups, communities, and streams, that will be a good thing, not a bad thing. It will make their coworkers and fellow community members aware of what they are working on so they can benefit, participate, or offer advice.

9. Who else is then really working? If you look at the history of WOL #6 in your post is actually #1.

Working out loud is not mutually exclusive with working. It is a way of working transparently that makes others aware, allows them to benefit, and enables them to weigh in and assist if appropriate. People can narrate their work in such a way that just those who can benefit from it will see it. This can be done by sharing in a team space or group chat, posting in a community ESN group, or using a hashtag or topic. This allows others to opt in or subscribe if they wish to be informed, and opt out or unsubscribe if they don’t find it useful.

10. Personal branding is THE driving motivating factor to engage in WOL. To get there from a ME to an US/WE is probably not achievable. You’ll maybe get a WE but ME behavior, which is still what I mean… individualistic.

Personal branding is just one of the eight factors I cited, and most people will not do this. People appreciate receiving likes and thanks for sharing, but that is not the only motivation for doing so. Many people do so because they want to help the organization and their peers to succeed. They have empathy for others and genuinely like helping them. And writing about their work helps them to learn and improve.

Discussion Threads

1. Twitter Thread Part 1

Bruce Boyes‏ Working Out Loud looks to have great merit, but evidence base only starting to emerge. To get best from it I’d like to see more research around WOL incl. on personality & cultural differences in working styles

Lena RossMar 21 Thx for pointing me to a great article! #WOL is an important element in new ways of working #NWOW & aligns well to agile practices eg. Kanban & ESNs, which support the practice of #WOL nicely. Once u see the productivity & knowledge gains, it’s addictive!

Stan Garfield Thanks, Bruce. I am copying @johnstepper@TheBrycesWrite @catshinners @howardseth @elsua@JaneBozarth to request their thoughts on your suggestion.

Luis Suarez‏ Have you seen @Dennis_Pearce’s PhD dissertation on the topic? I think it’d be a great start into #WOL & what you’re looking for.

2. Twitter Thread Part 2

  • Jane Bozarth You are talking about WOL as “circles” approach, etc? That’s Stepper’s area. My work is based in tacit knowledge sharing/knowledge mgmt. Lots of lit/research. Start w Brown, Collins, Duguid & Wasko & Faraj.
  • John Stepper Right. I think there’s no question that “making work visible” is helpful to individuals & orgs. My focus is on how we can equip/enable/help more people to put those ideas into practice.
  • Bryce Williams My 2 cents on personality is anecdotal from teaching here. Have experienced that introverts show as much if not more uptake w/ WOL than extroverts…b/c can share ideas/info/knowledge while thinking…instead of extemporaneously. Don’t have to interrupt in mtgs to be heard :) Adopting WOL can level the playing field for introverts, if not flip it a bit in terms of scale, vs. a standard meeting-heavy work environment where extroverts typically have the upper hand in spreading knowledge / influence / ideas.

3. LinkedIn Thread

  • Boris Jaeger If you look at the primary intention of WOL (individualistic self-marketing) do you think this is an appropriate trend for KM?
  • Stan Garfield Boris, I don’t agree with that primary intent of WOL.
  • Boris Jaeger Stan, just think about an organization where everybody is working out loud (in order to build their #6 personal brands). Who else is then really working? If you look at the history of WOL #6 in your post is actually #1.
  • Dennis Pearce I think building a personal brand is a byproduct of WOL, not a goal. I would make two points here: (1) John Stepper’s book does a good job detailing how the WOL mindset is about sharing in ways that add value for others, not just for yourself. And (2) the original definition of WOL that Bryce Williams proposed is that it equals narrating your work + observable work. People often focus on the narrating part and overlook the fact that you can also DO work openly, not just talk about it. When a team decides to use a collaboration platform instead of email, they benefit immensely as a team. But when they go the additional step of using that platform in an open way so that the rest of the organization can see the work in real time as it happens, they benefit the entire organization.
  • Bryce Williams Dennis Pearce, concur. I focus quite a bit with people I teach about this to shift their collaboration focus from a “What’s in it for me?” mindset to more of a “What’s in it for us?” when making decisions about how to go about their work on a daily basis. Share in the view of few or many? Understand the search & discovery & reuse ramifications of how I respond to this specific inquiry? And the “What’s in it for me” benefits still occur through recognition, deflection of future requests, reduced repetition of sharing, new opportunities, etc…just more downstream than in the moment as our typical work patterns provide.
  • Boris Jaeger Personal branding is THE driving motivating factor to engage in WOL, Dennis Pearce. To get there from a ME to an US/WE is probably not really achieveable, Bryce Williams. You’ll maybe get a WE but ME behavior, which is still what I mean… individualistic.
  • Bryce Williams Boris Jaeger, I have to disagree, Boris. We have it happening here every day, where it’s expectation and a preferred method for people to get info to help get a job done, how experts support our organization regarding their area of expertise, how they have to disseminate what they know to others needing that info to get stuff done. I know people that do it and hate doing it, but they need to…otherwise they’re not meeting the expectations of our culture that needs that expertise to be openly available & reusable in order to locate it quickly on demand. They’d rather live in the shadows, but their role for helping people solve issues or understand a process must draw them out to assist openly. Without an established presence, the community will create one for you Now, can we expect an entire organization to be 100% all in on that mindset, absolutely not. Sure we have people sharing a bunch to create a personal brand. I’m okay with that too, as long as it results in sharing and the spread of knowledge. But there are people who shift their behaviors not because they want fame & recognition…but because the work culture we’ve cultivated over the years of open info sharing, reusable knowledge and “social support” expects it of them.
  • Joan Elmore Our KM program has turned into strictly Social Media. Since the massive retirements we have lost all of that amazing knowledge. Before we would have conducted exit interviews and passed their wisdom and successful procedures onto a new generation of govt employees. All is lost while we tweet, post and Instagram.
  • Dennis Pearce Companies are notorious for not documenting internal processes and procedures. WOL can help with that because if people are doing their work on an ESN platform rather than through channels like email, the activities creating those processes and procedures will be captured as a matter of course rather than as a specific effort that no one ever seems to have time for. Granted, they won’t be slickly packaged documents with tables of contents, but it’s better than nothing, which is what usually happens. Plus you also capture WHY decisions were made which helps down the road when someone is looking to update and make improvements. It also makes exit interviews less critical because employees have been documenting their work all along.

— — Social Business Discussions Are The New Documentation

  • Boris Jaeger Do you believe people will take the time to search and browse the ESN? They even don’t pay attention to well documented lessons learned they can easily find and access.
  • Lisa Belsito Austin Actually I think it’s all about driving a Knowledge Seeking culture, not Sharing. You can share all you want, but if i still am in the mindset where i know better than you, or I have the answer, or, more importantly, if I am rewarded for doing it all myself, then sharing knowledge won’t produce the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness you seek. When there is a need and when there is a relationship, people share their knowledge. It’s a much easier mindset to change. But changing the hubris of “know it all and better than you” is a more difficult mindset to change. And, you have to expose it before you can change it. So when we continue to focus in “sharing knowledge”, making information available, we miss the behaviors that are required to make all of our KM efforts successful.
  • Boris Jaeger And in addition to get people to be willing to share knowledge if needed — i.e., creating a balance between push and pull. To connect the demand and supply of knowledge is KM’s task.
  • Stan Garfield A balance between supply and demand is desirable. But if you only wait for knowledge to be sought, and don’t have some people who share without being asked, then people who never post (about 90% of community members) will be unable to benefit from a large supply of valuable knowledge. I will have more to say about this in a blog post next week. I will link to it here when it is published.
  • Dennis Pearce I wrote a blog post on this topic. I see WOL as a third way beyond the traditional push and pull views of KM. I like to think of it as a way to make knowledge a utility, similar to water or electricity.

— — If Knowledge is Power, then “Working Out Loud”​ is the Generator

  • Lisa Belsito Austin Interesting. WOL is exactly what my KM game Search for the lost gold of Atlantis, proves. ROI increases when we first seek out knowledge. Then we can capitalize on the sharing. If you don’t seek first, sharing’s impact is sub-optimized.
  • Rachel Happe This is a great summary of the key elements of building a knowledge-centric, learning culture. What’s interesting to me is that sharing, the heart of WOL, is not typically a normed behavior in most organizations and it has a lot to do with the technology. People don’t share much via email because it’s inherently an interruption/push behavior which can feel obnoxious (who emails 50 peers with a completed RFP without being asked, for example). In an ESN or customer community, however, the environment is such that it feels like a generous behavior… i.e., posting in case it’s helpful to anyone. Huge difference in social dynamics, which makes WOL possible
  • Todd Nilson WOL in virtual communities can work. But as you say, it’s not the norm. The generosity might happen organically but is best cultivated by modeling the desired sharing behaviors at all levels of the organization. That’s a role for community managers to not only live WOL themselves but also to evangelize to others, including executives, managers, and highly engaged employees.
  • Rachel Happe Todd Nilson exactly, until the behavior is normalized in a population it needs to be modeled and rewarded extrinsically (by a community manager).
  • Catherine Shinners One must meet people in their day to day experiences — the how… Individuals need direct, active support in understanding how to develop what I call ‘network agency’ — they have to consider their own connections, showcase their own background and knowledge, as a key knowledge asset for themselves and their organizations. Working digital means they have more opportunities to activate and make visible their know-how, not just their know-what — and that creating means sharing. It’s also about very specific training and guidance in convening social groups across and organization — through community management and community of practice techniques. Too often technology is thought of as the primary framework for bringing together people into new ways of collaborating and learning together — but the TECHNIQUES OF ENGAGEMENT are vital. Companies invest a great deal in project and program management, but for innovation, continuous learning and accelerated productivity — you need direct support for communities — a foundational social structure for the Digital Workplace, for a building a Working Out Loud culture

— — NetWorker: Mindsets, Skills & Social Structures for the High Performance Workforce

  • Daniel Jorge Quiñones Mindsets need to change. And of any change that sticks takes time. To get to the “Need -to-Share” we have to tackle all of the tenets / beliefs the “need-to-know” attitudes. For example, what is the first thing you hear from a ‘need-to-knower”? It’s “WHY, do you need to know?” Another one is “Who is asking?”
  • Dennis Pearce For anyone who wants to dig into this topic more deeply, I did my doctoral dissertation on WOL and in the first third of it I tried to capture the history of social business and WOL, before that historical trail evaporates. The middle third is the statistical gobbledygook that was my actual research, but in the last section I try to show the organizational benefits that come when the entire enterprise is working out loud. I also summed those benefits up in a blog post where I argue that WOL is going to be an essential trait for any companies looking to move toward a flatter, more holocratic organizational structure.

— — Developing a Method for Measuring “Working Out Loud”

— — How Working Out Loud Can Reshape Your Organization

  • Sundar Raj Venkataraman Enjoyed the conversation. In my opinion a lot of organization lack process maturity. If they have a mature process coupled with good KM practices they can achieve great results.
  • Catherine Shinners As Jonathan Anthony says — “sharing is the new save”
  • Asif Hashmi This holds so true and relevant in many KM around the organizations: “If we’re going to have a true digital transformation … we need to move from a need-to-know basis to need-to-share. That’s a radical change that organizations aren’t really ready for, but if … we can work more transparently
  • Glen Ringkøbing Jensen Totally agree! It would be nice if people at work were as interested in sharing work related information, the same way they share kids, dogs and food pictures on Facebook etc.!
  • Deborah Wojdan Love this!!