Sunday, 18 November 2018

My WOLWeek 2018

The week of 12-18 November 2018 is International Working Out Loud Week. Held twice annually in June and November, the week is designed to promote the practice of working out loud - sharing work in progress.

John Stepper, author of the book Working Out Loud (2015), describes working out loud (WOL) as follows:
'Working out loud is an approach to work and life. It helps you achieve your goals and feel better about your work while you discover more possibilities.'
I got interested in working out loud while being immersed in the learning and development profession in a previous role. I had the good fortune of coming in contact with brilliant WOL advocates and practitioners like Simon Terry, Helen Blunden, Michelle Ockers, Dr Jane Bozarth and many more. In previous WOLWeeks I tinkered around the edges, working out loud in a very limited, quiet, safe way. This year I took a leap forward, well out of my comfort zone, with a week of sharing my critical reflections on my work in progress within my organisation.

When not reading and blogging about books, I am the CEO of a children's charity. Over the past 18 months I have been gradually working to shift our organisational culture to bring about a renewed focus on learning, collaboration and performance. Even though I am in a position to make changes, I know I cannot bring people on a journey without leading by example, walking the walk.

Since joining the organisation last year, I have been sending out fortnightly email communiques to over one hundred employees in which I share what is happening across our organisation and what I have been working on and learning. Once our Intranet was created in early 2018 (yes, 2018!) I began blogging and starting conversations about our work on Sharepoint. The take up has been slow, as our organisation has been late in adopting technology and is still a bit Sharepoint-shy, but I am starting to make headway. Although I would often post things without any engagement, I persevered and found that people were lurking and listening. They may not comment publicly, but they would tell me privately how much they valued my sharing and what they got out of it. I knew I had crossed over in September when I attend a major industry conference and I tweeted and blogged about what I learned there. I was pleasantly surprised by the feedback from diverse staff who would stop me to discuss my learnings as I travelled through our organisation. People were listening and eager to engage and share.

In the weeks leading up to this WOLWeek I started telling colleagues about it; planting a seed. Then on 12 November I began to blog daily following the 'Seven Days of Working Out Loud' without really knowing what to expect or how far I would go.

On day one I shared my purpose, talking about why I have chosen to spend my career in the non-profit sector, what I am passionate about and why I chose to work at my organisation. The next day I talked about how I built a network, connecting to diverse people despite being an introvert. For day three I wrote about my contributions and those who have contributed to my work with shoutouts to those who have helped me in different ways.  On the fourth day I took an even bigger leap sharing my imperfect work in progress on a Strategic Plan project I am developing, inviting feedback and involvement. For day five I talked about how it is okay to ask others for assistance and how I have overcome my own reluctance to seek help. On day six I talked about gratitude and finding different ways to show appreciation. On the final day I summarised my WOLWeek experiences and invited my colleagues to continue on the journey with me through joining a WOL Circle.

Each post I wrote ended with a handful of reflective questions, an invitation to provide feedback and a genuine offer of any help I could give. A couple of colleagues responded to my posts on Sharepoint and others commented in person - each one contributing ideas and paying it forward. While it wasn't exactly a tsunami of a response, it was enough to make me feel that what I am doing is worthwhile. I am happy with the tiny ripple in our little pond and have confidence that one day a wave will begin to form.

In writing this WOL blog I opened myself up to my whole staff team, sharing my work and how I approach it. I shared stories of my successes and failures, exposed my fears and vulnerabilities, and spoke of my aspirations for myself and my organisation. In doing so I may disappoint some colleagues who think leaders should be infallible and know all the answers - I'm not and I don't - but I am okay with that. I have put myself out there and even surprised myself by how much I was prepared to share. My whole organisation can now hold me to account - which is, admittedly, a bit scary. WOLWeek has reminded of the necessity of critical reflection in my professional life and given me momentum to keep moving forward.  I can't wait to be part of what happens next...