Progress your career and add value to your organisation and your network by narrating what you learn and what you are working on – ‘work out loud’.
As someone who is passionate about learning and growth, my mission is to learn every day about things that matter, to me and the communities I’m in, whether its my friends or family, colleagues or clients at work.
And yet I don’t take as much time to reflect and share my learning as I would like to – even though it is the perfect way to both embed the learning for myself and to help others as well.
This year I have committed to practicing ‘working out loud’. The concept of Working Out Loud (WOL) first appeared in 2010, and refers to narrating or sharing what you are working on and how you are approaching challenges, and inviting feedback.
It could involve writing a regular blog post, sharing a post or photo in your Linkedin feed, sharing an update on a collaborative platform like MS teams, or engaging in regular face to face discussions. In remote working, working out loud becomes even more critical as you are no longer visibly working the office – it’s a way to keep yourself top of mind among your stakeholders (some of whom could influence your career advancement).
In his 2014 book of the same name, John Stepper outlines ‘The five elements of Working Out Loud’ that follow:
Relationships: Working Out Loud involves connecting and collaborating with others, as they are both the source and recipients of the knowledge you share.
Generosity: As the author of Never Eat Alone (Keith Ferrazzi), said, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Working out loud is giving your knowledge and experiences freely to others.
Visible work: If you don’t share it, how does anyone know what you are working on? It doesn’t need to be online – it could be over a coffee. However, social platforms allow you to share your work as a contribution and also give people a sense of who you are and what you have to offer (aka your personal brand). This may lead to opportunities or connection with people in your network in the future, as they think of you when they need expertise or resources.
Purposeful discovery: Given the amount of content and people you interact with, it’s useful to be clear on what you want to learn about and contribute.
Growth mindset: In line with Carol Dweck’s philosophy, a mindset of curiosity and a passion for learning sits at the heart of working out loud. This means always being on the look out for new information that can help you, your organisation and people in your network. This mindset also helps build resilience as you continue to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Working Out Loud has been dubbed a critical digital skill for the future by many, so why doesn’t everyone do it? For me it’s perfectly aligned to my values and closely connected to my work. And yet I still haven’t been doing it to the level I would like. What gets in the way? Here are the top 3 I have come across.
This is the number 1 challenge for me, and most people. I’ve asked myself, how can I possibly find the time to do the work and tell people about it in a meaningful way? Shouldn’t I just get on with it?
When I decided to write this, I was studying (I am doing my CIPD in Learning and Development). I needed to get through a 150 page document, which included some information on this very topic. So I had the choice: do I crack on, or take some time out to put my learning into practice and share what I’ve learned?
This time I decided to do the latter and I’m glad I did, even if it did take some time to do, away from the core task I was working on. So how can you overcome the time barrier?
Do it immediately when you feel inspired
- When I think about taking time out to think of what to write, prepare it, write it and perfect it (to a level I feel comfortable sharing with my network or strangers) can feel overwhelming – and it’s easy not to take that first step.
- So don’t think, just do. Mel Robbins promotes the 5 second rule to taking action – count down from 5 and then just start without thinking or you will talk you out of it.
Choose a format to fit the time you have and a frequency that is realistic for your lifestyle
If you are short of time, keep it short and simple:
- It may not be a blog post like this one, it could be photo with a couple of sentences.
- Jot down a few notes or creating a slide to take to your next team meeting.
- Share a slide deck from a meeting that went really well that others could learn from.
- Share an article or post as soon as you read it with your network on Linkedin or another social platform.
- Keep the mindset which Sheryl Sandberg advocates: ‘done is better than perfect’. Waiting for it to be perfect could mean no one ever gets to see your work.
- Change it up based on how much time you have. Find what works for you and your work flow and make a routine out of it.
Have a clear sense of purpose – ‘why’ you are doing it
When I had my own business full-time, I used to post a blog every week and share it on my Linkedin page. I was building a digital brand and my sales and livelihood depended on it: I knew I had to be visible and engaging my followers consistently. When I started working as an employee again, I lost motivation and momentum because I saw it as something I’d like to do but didn’t have to do to be successful.
So ask yourself, what is the benefit of working out loud for you, and for others? How can it help your career, your brand? Write down 20 reasons and when you think of putting it off, refer back to your list.
2. Not knowing what to share
Working out loud requires a system to capture and organise what you’re learning every day. I use Evernote which also has a web clipper to save resources. The Hive Learning app allows you to save links in the platform ready to share in learning peer groups. There are many other tech options which allow you to search and tag your information so you can access it easily.
Another criteria I consider is my audience. Who are the people in my network that I want to speak to and what are they interested in or curious about? What problems do they want to solve? Alternatively, what expertise do I want to be known for? Which can then attract people who are interested in that as your audience.
3. Fear of visibility
This is a big one for many people – and no wonder, posting into a digital group is like presenting to a room full of people with that many people in it! That’s right, I have over 1000 Linkedin contacts, so how would it be to stand in front of all of them and speak? Yikes, does that scare you off?
The reality is, with everything you do you are visible – it’s just that online sharing can feel more vulnerable because it is recorded, it can reach a large number of people at scale, and you don’t always get feedback or see how people react.
When I’m faced with this, I come back to the contribution mindset – it may feel scary, but why am I doing it? So that it might help someone. And even if it’s just one person out of a thousand that it touches, I can feel good about that. What other people think about you is more about them than you, and besides, you can’t control it.
If you and your work are not visible, no one can gain from it – it’s a missed opportunity. If it sounds like something you’d like to do more of, take some time to reflect on what the benefits of Working out loud are for you, your career and your organisation and what the best approach for you would be. Make a plan, diarise it and start sharing!
I would love to hear from anyone who has tried out Working out loud – how is or was it valuable? What challenges do or did you face?
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• About Louise Taylor •
Louise is a Leadership & Career Coach who specialises in helping driven professionals to shape their dream careers and develop habits for peak performance and resilience.
Since 2009 Louise has coached over a hundred leaders with a focus on career transition and development, behavioural change, leadership, communication, influencing and managing emotions and stress. She has also coached leaders to design and launch coaching and consulting businesses.
Louise is an experienced and innovative Solutions Designer & Consultant, who has worked in this capacity for much of her career, gradually moving up into more senior roles.
Louise brings a wealth of experience designing and delivering talent and leadership programs in companies such as Microsoft, GE Money, Barclays, Inchcape, Boots, HSBC, Google, Yahoo!, AXA, Astra Zeneca, Commonwealth Bank, Babcock and Wesfarmers.
With coaching psychology training and a Graduate Certificate in Counselling, Louise has effective, evidence-based tools to access the root cause of behavioural change and results.
Louise is an International Coach Federation (ICF) PCC credential holder and has over 800 hours’ coaching experience. She can use tools such as Strengths Finder, Hogan, LSI, CCL and fuel50 Career Assessment tools to help her clients gain clarity and increase effectiveness.
Louise lives in London, UK with her partner Ian and their two cute pugs Mimi and Lola. She enjoys yoga, meditation and fitness, relaxing with friends and family, cooking, personal development and travel. Louise is passionate about languages and is fluent in French and German and speaks basic Spanish.