Social Business Demands Working Out Loud

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

Dennis Pearce, Contributor

August 23, 2013

4 Min Read

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

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.

About the Author(s)

Dennis Pearce


Dennis Pearce has over 30 years experience in manufacturing, product development, quality, IT, and knowledge management. He is currently Enterprise Knowledge Architect for Lexmark International, Inc., focusing on internal and external collaboration strategies and systems.

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