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8/23/2013
10:02 AM
Dennis Pearce
Dennis Pearce
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Social Business Demands Working Out Loud

Encourage employees to narrate their work as part of doing their work.

What should a social business look like? A little over a year into my company's journey into social business, I've come up with some ideas that revolve around two complementary themes:

-- Working Out Loud: Coined by Bryce Williams in 2010 and amplified in a number of blog posts by John Stepper and others, "working out loud" involves narrating your work as transparently as possible.

-- Using Social In The Flow Of Work: The concepts of "in the flow" and "above the flow" have been applied to wikis, to knowledge management systems and to social platforms. It really boils down to perception -- does the employee view an activity (narrating work, for example) as part of the job or as additional work?

I like to think about social tools and behavior at three levels: individual, group and organizational. The organizational level is what many executives focus on, because that's where the social gold is: improved innovation and agility, organizational learning and enterprise Q&A. However, organizations are made of individuals -- individuals who need a certain comfort level with these new tools before they are willing to use them.

[ Get organized: 3 Basics For Managing Social Business Data. ]

The trap many companies fall into (and why I believe many social business efforts fail) is in thinking that they can get the organizational benefits simply by training employees to use the tools and then letting them have at it -- using the same approach they would for more traditional software implementations and skipping over what's going on at the group level.

But these tools are called "social" for a reason. They don't work nearly as well when employees use them as individuals as when they use them in groups. So how do we get employees to transition from individuals trying to learn a new tool to a fully engaged community working out loud? At my company we're nowhere close to being there yet, but we have found three gateway strategies for getting people onto a collaboration platform.

1. Train Through Internal Consulting

Instead of generic training, we try to meet with groups -- specific teams or departments -- who have a common purpose. Sure, it takes more time than cranking everyone though a cookie-cutter training course, but the advantages are that (1) we can focus on the features that are most important to that group's objective, and (2) they all move onto the platform together with a common purpose. This is particularly attractive to managers with a vision who can pull their staff in along with them.

2. Allow And Encourage Social Groups

We have book clubs and groups discussing motorcycles, health and fitness, running, biking, bowling, cooking, music, even the "Order of the White Castle Slider." For people who are already active in social media in their private lives, this is a way to get them comfortable with the features of our internal platform.

3. "Come For The Content, Stay For The Community"

Some employees love the idea of social groups, but for others it's anathema. In their view, work is not supposed to be fun, so they shy away from anything that seems the least bit frivolous, especially if it has the word "social" associated with it. So our social platform also serves as our intranet and contains information on business strategy, employee survey results and even technical information created by our product developers. Even if it starts out as nothing but a content repository for some employees, they can't help but come across ambient discussions and blog posts as they search for the documents they need.

working out loud
Working out loud: where it fits.

Getting employees to work out loud with social in the flow of their work is the key to success as a social business, because all the benefits that executives desire at the organizational level presume that a large audience already exists in the platform. You can't ask a question of no one in particular and expect a quick, accurate answer unless the right people are already there for other reasons. You can't get breakthrough innovation or take advantage of fleeting business opportunities unless employee networks are already established. Working out loud, in the flow, is inherently valuable to the individuals and teams who practice it. But for executives, it's what brings the audience into the auditorium and gets them into their seats.

In my next post, I will have more to say about working out loud and how it relates to the common social business goal of driving corporate innovation.

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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2013 | 7:43:01 PM
re: Social Business Demands Working Out Loud
Can you clarify what you mean by "working out loud"?
jcruzinsurance
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jcruzinsurance,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/27/2013 | 6:35:25 AM
re: Social Business Demands Working Out Loud
This is a very impressive post. It is rightly said that no one can deny the positive impact of social media in running of any kind of business today. This plays a vital role in branding and promoting your business. All you need is to create a niche market to get the optimum advantage.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/27/2013 | 12:37:08 PM
re: Social Business Demands Working Out Loud
The concept is that if coworkers routinely share updates about what they're working on, that creates opportunities for others to share tips or ideas or let you know they are working on something similar, or warn you that you're headed down a dead-end path. For writers like us, it might mean more sharing of sources; for salespeople, sharing of contacts and introductions. That's the theory, anyway.
StephanieR908
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StephanieR908,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/27/2013 | 5:31:05 PM
re: Social Business Demands Working Out Loud
Excellent article. We are trying to instill the concept of working out loud in our organization. The graphic you have in your article is a helpful visual. I currently deliver the "cookie cutter" training sessions you're describing here and definitely want to move more to the tailored sessions for groups; however, I face the challenge of convincing others in the organization that the smaller training sessions are truly an effective use of time and make a deeper impact on changing the culture. This article helps substantiate the value proposition of smaller training classes with specific groups. Thanks.
Alex Kane Rudansky
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Alex Kane Rudansky,
User Rank: Author
8/27/2013 | 6:47:24 PM
re: Social Business Demands Working Out Loud
I like the idea of "in the flow." If a workflow strategy is implemented from the top down without much on the ground understanding from upper management, it might not be successful because it doesn't mesh well with the existing system. A strategy that isn't extra work for employees will be more easily adopted.
Dennis Pearce
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Dennis Pearce,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/4/2013 | 2:55:35 AM
re: Social Business Demands Working Out Loud
I would just add to David's response that I think there are two aspects to working out loud, the individual and the team or group aspect. Working out loud as an individual is using blog posts, tweets, status updates, etc. to let others know what you are doing or thinking. But as a team member or department member you might also use discussions or blog posts in place of email to do your work with others (assuming they do the same).
Bryce Williams
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Bryce Williams,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/4/2013 | 12:40:31 PM
re: Social Business Demands Working Out Loud
Thanks for the reference Dennis. I've been meaning to write a follow-up post to my original (3 years later!) that talk about the challenges of promoting "working out loud" in an environment concerned with information security, intellectual property, etc. And how working out loud is actually a perfect complement to those strategies in maintaining and innovative and productive environment, and not the threat to protecting confidential information that many may initially assume. Coming soon! Hopefully... Thanks!
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