Working Out Loud: DIY professional development | AUA Blog

Margaret L Ruwoldt | Service Performance and Planning Manager | University of Melbourne

Mark Brodsky | Acting Associate Director, IT Strategy and Planning | Australian Catholic University

Mary-Louise Huppatz | Strategy and Planning Manager | Sustainability Victoria

Dale scored a new job. Kate conquered her fear of speaking in front of groups. Sara stepped into a promotion with confidence. Others reported feeling more connected, aware and positive about their working life.

This is what happened when we invited professional staff at the University of Melbourne to join a volunteer-led self-development program using John Stepper’s Working Out Loud book and website.

If you were inspired by Martha Horler’s AUA blog post about building an external reputation, Working Out Loud (WOL) offers a structured, safe way to get started.

It’s based on the concept of Circles: groups of four to six people who meet weekly for an hour, providing peer support as each person works towards their personal goal. Your goal might be about gaining new experiences, learning about an unfamiliar topic, testing an idea for a project – anything you can achieve within three months.

Getting started with Working Out Loud from The University of Melbourne on Vimeo.

Using weekly guides and readings, the Circle members practise skills for building professional relationships: finding people who can help you and to whom you can offer a meaningful contribution of your own.

We found that Circles work better when the members don’t know each other at first. Strangers are likely to ask useful questions (instead of making assumptions) and can help you explore more broadly. At Melbourne we saw many new friendships emerge during the 12-week Circle program.

Working Out Loud involves exposing your own work to others. Margaret scans the web for higher education news and sometimes posts interesting links on Yammer, the University’s internal social media network. Often when Margaret meets somebody new at work they’ll say, “Oh yes, I already know you from Yammer!” And they immediately have something in common to talk about.

Ben’s role requires him to solve complex technical problems. He uses Yammer and external social media to share screenshots of current projects. People respond with questions and ideas for solutions. This helps Ben to do his job better: an example of how WOL can benefit individuals, teams and the broader organisation.

Reflections on Working Out Loud from The University of Melbourne on Vimeo.

The AUA’s Professional Behaviours resonate strongly with Stepper’s framework. Working Out Loud is a collaborative process that helps you to connect and engage with new ideas and ways of working. It encourages you to reflect on your own practices and behaviours, and to provide feedback to others in a supportive and safe setting.

You don’t need anybody’s permission, just a bit of your time and a commitment to expanding your horizons. Because it’s low-cost and peer-supported, WOL has great potential for students and early-career researchers who need to build their profile and professional networks. If you work in HR, you could invite new staff to form a WOL Circle: it’s an efficient way to make connections and settle quickly into the university environment.

We led two ‘rounds’ of Working Out Loud at Melbourne University in 2016-17, involving nearly 100 staff in total. The positive response from participants was overwhelming. Mark has now moved on to another university and Mary-Louise and Margaret will shortly make career changes of their own. Our WOL experiment remains a highlight of our professional lives at Melbourne University.

More information:

Book, free Circle Guides, blog and other resources from John Stepper:

Jane Bozarth’s 2014 book “Show Your Work” is published by Wiley, San Francisco. Review:

About the authors:

Margaret L Ruwoldt’s career in higher education has spanned student services, corporate communication, IT management, strategy development and performance analytics. Find her on Twitter @emelaarghh

Mary-Louise Huppatz is a regional coordinator for the Association for Tertiary Education Management (ATEM) and chaired the 2017 Tertiary Education Management Conference (TEMC).

Mark Brodsky is Associate Director, IT Strategy and Planning, at the Australian Catholic University.