Rachel Happe (@rhappe) is a Co-Founder and Principal at The Community Roundtable, a company dedicated to advancing the business of community.  The Community Roundtable collaborates with clients to develop proven, practical strategies for better engagement. Clients rely on TheCR’s models, research and networks to take their communities to the next level. At the TheCR Rachel and her team have been doing great work developing approaches to help people to apply working out loud.

Through the Community Roundtable you have seen many examples of the benefits of Working Out Loud, what role do you see it playing for community managers?

Community managers are engagement and collaboration coaches. Good community managers engage well and great community managers coach others so they engage well. To me, Working Out Loud is essentially just a different way to frame online engagement in a way that helps people understand what engagement is valuable in their work lives. Because the role of the community manager is to coach, prompt and reward valuable engagement, Working Out Loud is a coaching concept and tool to use with their members. However, because community managers are typically working with networks of hundreds or thousands, they use the Working Out Loud concept a bit differently than the peer coaching approach that John Stepper developed. Instead, the Working Out Loud concept is woven into community programs and measurement in a way that addresses more people simultaneously.

How do you use working out loud in your work?

We use the Working Out Loud concept in our work in a number of ways.

First, we’ve been highlighting the concept for our members since it was first identified by the Alcoa team at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in 2009 when Bryce Williams put a ‘name’ to it and we’ve had John Stepper and others join TheCR Network roundtable calls to share their ideas about how to apply it.

Secondly, we’ve been using the concept in our client work as a mechanism to understand engagement. That client work is what lead us to develop our own model and approach, although it was initially just our attempt to break down the concept in more detail to help clients understand it as a progression, based on what we know about how trust develops in a community.

Lastly, we have a weekly ‘Work Out Loud’ thread for members of TheCR Network, which is community of practice for community professionals. This WOL program prompts members to share their priorities for the week every Monday in a way that creates member collisions that trigger more and richer engagement. For example, you often see members talking about some kind of deliverable they are working on and other members jump in to ask if they will share more detail. It creates a virtuous cycle of sharing and the weekly WOL thread has become expected part of how our members interact.

You have developed TheCR approach to working out loud, how did this come about and what have you seen from its use?

As I mentioned above – the framework we built really came out of client work where we were using the Working Out Loud concept to help clients understand the engagement they hoped to generate. We needed to break it down because most community stakeholders seem to think that rich engagement just happens out of nowhere so helping them see how engagement builds and compounds on itself and slowly builds up the level of trust in the community was important. Secondly, community managers who are tasked with making communities successful often don’t know how to start or what to prioritize so by breaking down what it means to Work Out Loud (i.e. engage), we can help them measure their community’s culture, understand where their community is in terms of trust and openness and apply the community management techniques that are most likely to help their community move into the next level of trust and engagement.

Initially it was literally just a slide we put together to help articulate engagement but it really resonated for our clients, which lead to some deep collaboration around a second version that was rationalized against client experiences and what they could measure to ensure it held up to applying it ‘in the wild’. It’s been really gratifying to collaborate in that way with clients and they have really helped me see that it’s actually not just a tool for a community but can be applied to an entire organization’s culture as a way to measure culture. That, in turn, kind of blew my mind because it’s not how I envisioned it being used and yet, I see how it’s helped clients really understand how open their culture is to collaboration and innovation.

What challenges do you find people experience with working out loud in communities?

It’s interesting, almost everyone we work with, especially those who have been in large organizations for a while, are very used to swimming in lanes and they are both hesitant about the validity of their experience and anxious not to step on toes. Both of those things make people feel like they don’t have anything worth sharing or don’t know enough to presume their work is worth promoting in a public way. So people are very hesitant to share – their is more perceived risk than reward.

Community managers play a big role in making this behavior happen and the biggest piece of this is they trigger minor behavior changes that get members on the engagement ladder. The weekly WOL threads in TheCR Network are an example of this. We ask people to share what they are working on in bullet points. Not how well it’s going. Not the details. Just what they are working on and we ask them to do it so WE know, so we can support them proactively. But it triggers members to ask each other for more detail and that experience creates Aha moments for members because they feel seen and valued by their peers, which rewards and demonstrates the value of the behavior and that changes how they feel about their worth and the validity of their experience. By experiencing the value for themselves, they change their beliefs about what is possible. All for a five minute investment of their time on Monday mornings. By executing these types of behavior triggers in strategic and incremental ways, community managers can effectively change the culture in their communities.

Many organisations are interested in working out loud. What do you recommend for someone who is looking to promote the practice in their organisation?

It depends on a few things – where the impetus in the organization is coming from, how many resources are available, how digitally enabled the organization is already, the cultural context. There are a lot of different approaches – some that work better for grass roots efforts, others that work better if it’s a strategic priority and some, like ours, that assume a community structure is in place with community managers.

An obvious first step would be to read John Stepper, Jane Bozarth’s books, visit this website and look at all the different models and approaches that have been developed. The next step would be to figure out whether you want to attack the opportunity on your own or with support from external resources. If you want support from external resources, talk to everyone and find the approach that feels like the best fit for your organization. Lastly, and you can do this at any point in the process is get involved and start working out loud yourself – either on a blog, in a social network like Twitter or in a community. I think experiencing the benefits and really understanding it personally is critical to helping others understand it.

Any other suggestions for someone looking to adopt working out loud to foster community, aside from joining TheCR Network?

I will only add that to me, Working Out Loud is not new. It started with the printing press. The biggest difference today is that with self-publishing tools and social media, it is much much easier and we all can do it. We don’t all feel qualified because publishing historically has been for the rarified individual with credentials but I believe everyone has something to teach and something to learn and everyone has an important perspective to share.  Sharing is the fastest way to learn and grow because what comes back is amazing. Sharing seems at first to be an act of generosity but in the end, it is the best way I know to see yourself and your opportunities more clearly.

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