Note: This post was originally published here.
Working out loud (WOL) is essentially any behavior where you share your work transparently with a network of people.
That network can be as small as a work team and as large as the Intranet. From my perspective, it is the act of sharing done with the intent of soliciting feedback, providing value to others, or building relationships with people beyond your current network.
My work out loud journey started in January of 2008 with my first work-related blog,The Social Organization. Initially, I wrote mostly for myself, to work through my thoughts. I soon found that it, combined with Twitter, was the best way to find people who cared about the same things I did, which allowed me to build a strategic network that made me smarter, supported my work, and enabled my success. I would never have started The Community Roundtable without first having that blog.
Like my experience working out loud, it can be done in many places and it doesn’t need to happen in within the boundaries of a community. However, I would argue that it is much more effective when it is done within a community.
Communities create a shared context and, when done well, increase the level of trust between members. That increases a few critical things:
- Relevancy and resonance of what is shared
- Likelihood and quality of validation and feedback
- Percent of people who feel comfortable sharing
- Complexity or ambiguity of what is shared
Because of this, great communities create spaces where deep conversation and innovation happen – or in business terms, it increases the value generated from working out loud.
So what is the role of the community manager in working out loud?
Simon Terry said it quite succinctly: community managers are the architects and agents of strategic value. They ensure working out loud is easy to do and is rewarded with peer recognition and response. That sounds easier than it is in practice but it is the role of community management in a nutshell.
Why is this so complex to actually do? Because it requires:
- Developing a shared purpose and value that is compelling and attracts people aligned with that purpose
- Ensuring people are welcomed and acclimated into the community
- Developing both value-gained and value-added ways for members with different personality types to participate
- Creating strategic triggers that ask people to engage in ways that are just a little more involved than they do already – moving them up the engagement and trust curve
- Measuring the breadth and depth of behaviors across the community and adjusting or realigning the approach as behaviors change, the culture of the community matures, and the purpose of the community evolves
- Developing peer leaders as advocates for different stakeholder perspectives
- Moderating and modeling the language of engagement to ensure people feel supported, even when they are challenged
- Ensuring the community sponsor or host understands and realizes the value of the community’s outputs
- Managing platforms and channels to align with strategic goals and member needs, to make key behaviors as easy as possible to do
Community management is often seen as a tactical role with member engagement as the primary responsibility. Done well, however, it is far more strategic and responsible for creating the conditions of engagement; building trust in a scaled way, and developing a culture that is agile, engaged, and innovative. A big part of creating the conditions of engagement is supporting individuals on their work out loud journey and helping them understand what possibilities it unlocks for them personally.
It is why I believe that the future of all leadership and management is community management. It’s not about what we do ourselves – but what we support and enable others to do.