Category Archives: Work Out Loud

Is Business Writing A Lost Art?

I recently wrote about a new paradox I’ve seen related to two seemingly opposite management movements—working out loud and being invisible.  It was great to see Author and Blogger John Stepper chime in on the topic in his weekly blog.

Another paradox I’ve been thinking about involves a movement away from true business writing–the thoughtful, structured, and logical use of writing for purposes of issue framing and problem solving to more unstructured “social” writing and communication.  Just look at how your kids are writing on their devices!

So what?, you might be thinking.

Believers in the art of business writing argue:

  • Writing helps ensure that the original message is correctly translated by the audience
  • Writing encourages a thoughtful structure to build a bridge from the audiences initial point of view to the desired conclusion
  • Writing helps create a context for what the topic is, allows you to focus on the true problem, and drive to the right recommendation/answer

It might be obvious, but good business writing takes time.  And, it takes sweat equity.  In contrast, we spend much of our time quickly responding to many more things more than ever before.  Forcing ourselves to think through–and write down–our thoughts needs our personal commitment.

Often times, people cite ambiguity as a necessary evil; however, I’ve sometimes found that the reasons for ambiguity lie in the lack of time taken to critically think and frame up the issue at hand.  Ambiguity becomes a good excuse for not investing in the sweat equity needed to lay out, explain, and recommend a solution to a complex problem.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but I’m coaching many to work on their skills as communicators, around these core pillars:

  • What is the situation? These are the facts, an overview of the status quo, or a high level of understanding of what is going on.
  • What is the complication? This is where to realize an opportunity, or to overcome obstacles
  • What is the core question? This helps you to understand “what to do”
  • What is the answer? Can it be quantified?  This is also known as the recommendation

These pillars have been gathered over the course of my career from many sources, from consulting to 6Sigma tools.  I find them interestingly relevant years later, which typically tells me they are “keepers”.  I hope they can help you as well!

Let’s Take That Online, not Offline…

“Let’s take that offline.”

Generally speaking, that means that the topic at hand is deemed more appropriately discussed privately, and not out loud with the entire community.

Besides never knowing who actually takes the action to setup the offline discussion, the “offliner” or the “offlinee”, I wondered if anyone has ever said, “let’s take that online” instead of “let’s take that offline.”

So why would you ever actually elect to have topics liked this discussed online versus offline?

I’ve found that the offliner’s questions or concerns about the topic may actually be the same questions or concerns with the broader group. Taking it online, and thus out loud for the questions/concerns to be raised–and answered–may benefit the entire community of people. Taking it offline can imply that the entire community would not benefit from the dialog around the topic, but how do we know?

Yet our tendency is to take these things offline and if the offline meeting happens at all rarely is there a feedback loop to the broader community. One person’s concerns are addressed offline, and the remaining community, likely with the same question, is just left to wonder or speculate. Plus, we all tend to create drama when it really isn’t there. “Oh, I wonder how that (offline) conversation went?”

I’m just not sure that is really efficient. I’m not suggesting at all that there is never the need for a private discussion. I’m just suggesting that the future of work involves more online discussions, even if the topic may be something we’re used to handling in private one-on-one forums.

So, the next time you’re tempted to play the “offline” card, why not try the “online” one? You might surprise yourself.

I am a Simplifier

Recently, someone told me they were a “turnaround specialist”. I liked that he had a label that he could use to talk about what skills he brings to the table.

It is clear. It makes sense. It is a useful skill. You need that? He’s your guy.

But what am I?

I started out with longer phrases like, “I am good at untangling hairballs” and “I can take really ambiguous things and drive clarity”. Hmmm, not the same panache as “turnaround specialist”.

And then it hit me. Is there a term for being a Simplifier? I went to google and found a bunch of math stuff. Great, but I was an English Major in college–I don’t know what an “expressions simplifier” is or what one would do.

So I’ll ponder this one for a while–I may not be a turnaround specialist, but if you need a simplifier, I’m the guy!

Mic’d Up at Work?

I was watching the Little League World Series recently and for television purposes the coach of one of the teams was wearing a microphone.  Throughout the game, the coverage would capture his coaching in real time.  I found myself intrigued at what the coach was saying to his team.  In one instance, I assumed he was going to express frustration to his pitcher, whom he was taking out of the game after the opponent scored the go-ahead run.  The pitcher, tears in his eye, braced himself for the verbal thrashing.  But instead, the coach put his hand on the pitcher’s shoulder, offered support, and reminded the pitcher that his efforts had kept them in the game and he was now needed to go out there and play shortstop.

Sometimes leaders and coaches surprise us.  Normally those instances are reserved for just the audience who happens to be present, at that time, in that moment.  I’ve written before that these are very powerful connections, what I call leadership impressions, and the limited audience is blessed to be present, to glean that leadership impression from the leader. 

But why do the rest of us have to miss out?

As I reflected about the Little League example, I smiled when thinking about leaders at work being Mic’d up.  Then I realized that working out loud is the workplace equivalent, sans microphone.  A leader who shares, out in the open, his/her thoughts, insights, opinions, values and vulnerabilities is choosing to be Mic’d up at work.  Maybe you should try it!


A New Paradox–Work Out Loud and Be Invisible

Jim Collins made the concept of Level 5 Leadership famous. In a nutshell, Collins studied great companies and what was common across all was a leader who had both unbelievable humility coupled with fierce resolve.

You can’t just turn into a Level 5 leader overnight. I’ve never had a problem with having fierce resolve, or what my friends tease me about, having what is called an “unwavering commitment” in everything I do. But I wish I had more of my father’s humility. I admire my father for this, as evidenced in this quotation from him at the age of 86: “Still, I am learning”. That’s powerful. Most of us think we already have it all figured out, when in actuality we’re kidding ourselves.

At the time of the Collins writing, these two leadership attributes were an amazing paradox, one that I personally still have not figured out, but a recent David Zweig book called “Invisibles–The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion” has introduced a newer, and equally difficult paradox for me:

Work out Loud, but be invisible. That one, I admit, I don’t have figured out.

You Can’t Always Measure the Value of Working Out Loud

Recently, I was disappointed that my personal blog did not seem to be generating any meaningful metrics, and my spirits were lifted when I remembered that one day I had shared this story out loud, and something cool happened afterwards:

As I got out of my car this morning, I looked down at my shoes. “That’s not something you see everyday,” I said out loud. On my left foot, I had a black shoe on. On my right, a brown one. All I could do was laugh. Didn’t get upset. Or mad. Just laughed. Perfect shoes for an imperfect moment!
My 1st grader has become somewhat of a permanent roommate in a sleeping bag on the floor of our bedroom. He even refers to it as “our room” in his conversations. Pretty soon he’ll start to tape up posters on the wall, I think.
Since he was still sleeping, I put on my shoes in the dark (obviously!), and didn’t notice until I got out of my car. So to solve the problem I went to Marshalls–not open yet. Daytons? Nope. How about that fancy new shoe shop in the skyway? Guy in there drinking coffee, but door locked. So I went to Target. Meronas for $25 saved the day. Sometimes life throws you a curveball–how you choose to deal with it is up to you. Today I chose to just roll with it, make fun of myself, and share my story of imperfection with you today. At least now I have a spare pair of dress shoes!

The most powerful comment or “like” I ever received was neither a comment nor a like. It wasn’t even out loud. Someone told me privately that on this particular day, their spouse was having a real hard time. He said he shared my story with her to let her know that everyone has things go sideways from time to time. She laughed when he showed her my picture and subsequently recovered. He wanted me to know—personally–that my words helped.
That was pretty humbling to me.

I am a fledgling blogger. For any others out there starting to share your stories and work out loud, don’t get caught up in the number of comments or likes. Your impact through writing can’t always be measured.

Are You Afraid to Work Out Loud?

Many have heard the benefits of Working Out Loud as they relate to connecting with others and as I’ve written, to create more Leadership Impressions.

So why doesn’t everyone do it?

I think many are afraid.

Afraid of the perceptions it could create. Afraid of being controversial. Afraid of having your thoughts, God forbid, written down.

At some point, however, those fears that paralyze us from working out loud will actually cause us to become irrelevant.

Work will require us to be so fast that playing this game of Switzerland just won’t scale. Teams will require us to be responsive, stand for something, debate, challenge, and continuously improve. Employers will expect employees, including leaders, to create communities that foster open collaboration. Customers will want vendors to acknowledge (and more importantly) quickly fix problems. Trying to hide a defect for fear of customer backlash will result in customer backlash for hiding the defect.

I feel a shift coming. Our own future relevancy will require us to change the way we work and change the way we lead.