Working Out Loud in Action: Chris Slemp, Carpool

Chris Slemp is Director of Strategy at Carpool Digital where he leads the internal communications consulting efforts, manage all members of the strategy team, provide direction and guidance on Carpool’s future efforts in the internal communications space.  Chris has great insight into social collaboration and the value of working out loud both as an advisor to organisations looking to leverage better ways of working and also as a change agent in a large organisation seeking to drive adoption.

Simon Terry: Chris you have worked extensively leading enterprise social collaboration for a large global organisation in Microsoft and through your current role at Carpool helping many clients to benefit from collaboration, what role do you see working out loud playing in helping organisations to leverage enterprise social collaboration?

As the Yammer team discussed at Ignite this year, there are two primary ways that enterprise social networks are used. The first, and more common, is the “watercooler” scenario, where the network acts more like social networks do in the consumer world. Company-wide communities form, executives host events, and loose ties create some serendipitous value. These activities are great of course, and can only realistically happen in a social network. However, if the value stays in this area, the ESN will remain a side show, a nice-to-have.

The second pattern is working out loud–intentional collaboration on core business projects and programs. When followers see early adopters doing their daily work in the network, there’s an opportunity to rethink processes and deliverables at a more fundamental and valuable level.

One simple example: a recent client was holding a meeting with an audience of global influencers. They were hosting a call twice a week to reach all time zones, and only a handful of people were speaking up on the call. We helped them move this over to a network, and within two weeks they’d decided to cancel the calls, as they were having far more engaging and inclusive discussions through the network. This saved a collective 2500 scheduled hours per year, and simultaneously increased participation. Enterprise social is now at the core of our client’s job, and he’s now a strong advocate of the platform.

How do you work out loud and what benefits has sharing your work delivered for you personally?

Chris Slemp: Ever since enterprise social became central to my work, I’ve enjoyed sharing my work in progress. Co-workers have sometimes accused me of oversharing or questioned if I should expose my “sausage-making.” Any negative repercussions of oversharing have been far outweighed by the early feedback, the new perspectives I never would have known to seek out, and the synergies that have led to innovations.

What this looks like in concrete terms includes saving every working file to OneDrive’s “Shared with Everyone” folder so that Delve can index it, or to our shared Dropbox folders. Across our company, everyone posts by 10am to a group called “What I’m Doing Today.” We post a few short bullets about the projects / clients we’re focused on for the day. These posts generate the majority of the conversations on our network as co-workers spot ways they can assist someone else or how they can create more alignment/clarity.

What started out as a way to keep a largely remote team better connected has become a productivity booster for all our work. We universally say we know more about what’s going on in Carpool now than we did when we worked in an office together and could’ve tapped our neighbor on the shoulder… because we rarely tapped.

Finally, we pride ourselves on walking our talk with our clients. We insist on using the methods in our client relationships that we’re trying to drive with that client’s stakeholders. Whether it’s an external Yammer group, a multi-company group on Workplace, or a Slack team, working out loud with our clients is the best way to create not only a great relationship of trust, but a champion for their org that’s pushing for continued sharing long after we’ve moved on.

What are some of the common barriers you experience when you are encouraging people to be more open and more transparent with their work in a network?

They range from the mundane to the foundational. I’ll list the ones that I see the most in order of severity.

Tool switching. This most basic of barriers continues to be one of the most puzzling to me, and so I usually suspect it’s really a smokescreen for the more culturally-based barriers. That said, we constantly hear “don’t give me another place to go.” Now, I have 5 core email accounts, 4-5 public social networks I check daily, and a set of 5-6 primary work tools–before we even get to the Swiss Army knife that is Office 365. So, I understand tool proliferation.


But here’s the head-switch that, once flipped, you never look at this the same way. All that proliferation can enable a compartmentalization that leads to more efficiency, not less. We naturally put the different audiences in our personal lives into different channels: my acquaintances on Facebook, my colleagues on LinkedIn, and my close family on Instagram. I’m not sure why that concept is having a hard time translating to the digital office.

Sausage-making. I referenced this earlier. It’s a fear that by exposing work too early, you’ll create confusion or “churn” by setting the wrong expectations. I usually explain to mid-managers (the usual source of this concern) that all they need to do is extend their grasp of agile methodologies or rapid prototyping from the deliverables of the project to the actual conversations that precede them. I also ask them how often their plans change after they finally get around to announcing them? Yeah, I thought so.

Mistrust of employees. This one is an unfortunate and tragic reality in many organizations. They’ve hired these people, had them sign all kinds of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements, and then hide information from them because it “might leak.” I’ve been in countless discussions with information security teams on this point and have to concede that their fears do have basis in fact, and while the number of incidents are small, there are very real financial impacts. The good news is that a thorough analysis can pinpoint the most likely leak vectors in the organization and mitigations put in place. The bad news is that too many organizations don’t bother with the analysis and just decide to block the ESN altogether.

Internal competition. If your team brings up the “sausage making” objection above, you also have reason to suspect this far more insidious flavor of collaboration-killing culture. It’s almost so obvious that it doesn’t bear pointing out, but so many executives or leaders of ESN initiatives don’t seem to connect these dots. If you’re pitting teams against each other in stack ranking performance reviews, you’re not likely to get anyone to share anything broadly as it works against their self-interest. Zero-sum games are poison to open collaboration.
You have talked about the digital office as “pebble thrown in the pond that leads to waves of change“, what change do you see organisations need to most support for their employees to bring about a more effective workplace? What are the first few pebbles to throw?

You’re right to imply that the digital office probably isn’t the first pebble to throw. There’s a few others that need to come first.

Trust. I’ve already discussed it some, but it bears emphasizing. I have to trust my co-workers before I’ll be vulnerable enough to share early and often. I have to trust that by sharing, others will lighten my load and broaden my impact.

I hesitate to bring up the recent American election, but it provides such a powerful counter-example. Imagine if the citizens of the US actually trusted each other *before* Facebook was embraced. Would the tone of the conversations have been more constructive? Would there have been less misinformation? Less name-calling? More discovery of varied points of view? As it stands now, we have a good deal of trust-building to do before Facebook stops literally tearing families apart.

The second pebble I’d throw into the company pond before making a large shift to a digital office and working out loud is a strong message about WHY that shift is important. Employees will be enduring the usual pangs of change, and so recognizing the threats that are driving the change can create the determination to push through the earliest and most painful stages.

Those threats will be easy to find, but I’d start by looking at the disruption coming from smaller, younger companies that will out-digitize or out-crowdsource you. Next, look at your changing demographics. I once got most of the way through a presentation on the advantages of a social business with a group of executives from a variety of industries, when I realized the banker in the corner hadn’t changed his dour expression for 30 minutes. I asked him to think about the generation about to enter the workforce in his country. Then I asked him to tell me which of them would WANT to work for his company, given the way they’re currently working. His eyes grew large and he started paying more attention.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in working out loud (or who is looking to promote it in their organisation if you prefer?)

Start small. You can start a “What I’m Working on Today” public group in your own ESN all by yourself. When your manager asks what you’re up to in your next sync, have him pull up the group and point out that he could’ve known the answer each day in real time.

Ideally, you can convince one team to do this together, and when you do, start with a larger end in mind. Identify your next target for expansion and establish a business metric that you intend to impact by working out loud. Greater speed. Lower cost. Something that will get the attention of even the most stolid bean counter. If you can show even a correlation, you’re on your way. One client of ours had been actively trying to squash participation on their ESN by their retail employees until one region went rogue and did it anyway. It only took anecdotal evidence of more engaged and knowledgeable employees in that region to kick off a global expansion of that region’s practices.

If you or your team are having a hard time remembering to share in the right ways, I’d recommend BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits sessions as a great way to kickstart your conversion. <plug> Of course, I’d also recommend hiring a small and spunky agency named Carpool  to really amp up your impact. </plug>

For more on Carpool and Chris’s approach to working out loud see the rationale for Chris’ decision to move to Carpool and Carpool’s 5 keys for working out loud.

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