If you have been engaging with my thinking on building thriving 21st century organizations, you will know that this is the best time to be alive as we live in an open and connected world. If this is our first encounter, I look forward to connecting and learning from your thinking. That is what is so exciting about our century: our ability to find the right people at the right time to have  conversations and co-create. To truly understand the power of technology, you need to start with what you want to create in your organization and get the technology you need to make it happen.

If you look at the introduction of Enterprise 2.0 into many organizations and why they have not been an overwhelming success, you will understand that the keys to the Tesla were given to drivers who did not know how to get it on the highway. And if you have ever driven a Tesla, you know what a smooth ride it is and can be. If we lead with technology, we will fail. If we see technology as a place to go, we will fail miserably.

Too often, internal communication and IT were given responsibility for these platforms and they used 19th century thinking to implementing them. Too many internal communication functions still practice one-way communication and these platforms are about having conversations and co-creating. If you are simply using them for blogging (executive announcements and memorandums) and one-way communication, you are missing their true value. And that’s what I have seen so many organizations doing over and over. An online community is not another place to go that you have to think about. If it is valuable you will tap into it as often as you need. Isn’t that what we do with texting and Instant Messaging?

Solving business problems with new ways of working

After a year as an Innovator in Residence at Roche, I have many stories to share with you on how to build a 21st century organization. One of the first new way of working I introduced with Sheila Babnis, global head strategic innovation product development, was working out loud. The problem we were trying to solve is how do we drive innovative thinking and behaviors across the organization at all levels. And we figured out how to do it with technology and conversations. It takes a lot of courage to make this shift and once you do, it’s almost impossible to go back.

What is working out loud?

If you have a small organization, working out loud can be very simple and easy although communication always seems complex. Working out loud is about sharing what you are working on in a way that brings other people to understand how they can also contribute. When you work out loud, you don’t need endless one-way presentations. You put your work out in the world and find unexpected partners. As Sheila shares:

Working out loud is more than just sharing information. I see it as a key to building and strengthening relationships, helping to identify the right connections and having the right conversations that open the door to co-creation.

Why work out loud?

My answer to this is why have secrets if everyone is working for the same organization. Knowledge is definitely power and the more you share, the more powerful your organization can be. The key benefits include:

  • Less time in mind-numbing meetings
  • More access to information that leads to increased effectiveness because we are working in an open environment
  • Enables us to build trusted relationships and communities focused on a shared purpose

How to work out loud?

Working Out Loud is about narrating your work in online communities, posting updates and information and questions for group discussion. It’s about time-shifting conversations. It’s about taking time to see what colleagues have posted and joining in those discussions.

According to Sheila and John Stepper, there are a few steps to get us going:

  •  Create a dedicated space to share and have conversations with your colleagues, share a dedicated space where you post information and discuss topics that everyone can see and comment on.
  • Make it a habit: find what’s valuable to you and if you can get the right people together you can have incredible ongoing conversations
  • Share: recognize that you are a source of abundant information and by sharing you enable colleagues to access information that can make them more effective in their jobs.
  • Tag your posts: tagging our posts in your collaboration space allows anyone to search for the information as they need it, or even choose to receive the information by requesting notifications on certain tags, topics, or by thought leaders and blog posters.
  • Encourage others to join you: as others join you in working out loud the exchange of conversation moves from building trust to ultimately building and strengthening relationships. With that trust, you are making connections to help solve problems at accelerated speeds!

What’s the impact?

The 21st century leader knows that work is about collaboration and co-creation. Working out loud ensures knowledge being shared vertically rather and horizontally increases the speed and adoption. Sharing information helps many more people in their thinking and helps them build new connections that are important to their work.

For Sheila, a few behavior changes were essential: The first was to stop attending so many meetings; and let others own the meetings and the personal relationships in some cases.It is tough to do when you are a connector. Ultimately SheiIa found that Working Out Loud enabled her to connect on a larger scale and with many new people who she could ask for help in solving problems, gathering information and more.

The impact was that Sheila balanced her time better. She has fewer meetings. Her team has cut time spent in meetings by almost 50 per cent. They work online and make decisions whenever they can. The method has accelerated the time to complete key deliverable and make important decisions. Sheila says she has more time to think.

There was also a significant mindset shift to this is about relationships to do things rather than networks to have. Relationships enables listening and hearing; relationships lead to conversations online and the ability to solve problems in new ways. WOL makes it faster and easier ask for help and make more things possible and things happen faster. Getting perspective from outside helped shape Sheila’s thinking and what Roche can do in the innovation space.

The bottom line is that Sheila is a 21st century leader and this is only one of many stories of how she adopted new ways of working. And there is no turning back. She’s happy to let go of her old way of working.  She finds WOL so much better.  As Sheila says, its great to have the community/network helping you get the job done every day.

So when will you start? What do you need help with to fundamentally shift your mindset and behaviors?

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  • As business leaders we need to constantly ensure that we have work to do. In times of disruption we’ve spent a great deal of time innovating and often reinventing marketing and sales moving from push to a collaborative two way process based on mutual value. Sounds like pretty words until you roll your sleeves up and get to it in real time 🙂

    Through my continuing discussions with Ayelet I’m seeing the new challenge of reinventing not just how we GET work, but how we DO work and the new understanding of how dependent those two are. How can we collaborate with our clients if we can’t collaborate with each other?

    I look forward to more of these types of discussions and hope that others will share their stories, both the challenges and the successes.