When I saw the first time John, it was as I meet an old friend. I knew already so much about him, had read his book, seen pictures of him on Facebook, knew that he is married to an Asian wife, that he pursues Joga and as a German Bank manager had to introduce the Social Business Network.

It was the 7th of July, he got out from a taxi in front of our company.  We hugged each other. Two colleagues of me and I  were so damn happy as we had created something what we had held three months before for impossible: John Stepper, the author of the book „Working Out Loud“, gives a lecture on his book and explains, besides, the methodology of “Working Out Loud” – this in front of   nearly 200 employees of our company.

The first two hours we had him for ourselves. We squeezed him with questions: functioning of „Working Out Loud“? What is in it particularly?  What has every single employee of it?  etc.

After his presentation, which touched all of us emotionally, we asked the audience who would take part in forming a Circle. Twenty people contacted immediately and thus John helped us to carry out the first Circle hour. It was great, the people were inspired. We had employees from different departments in the first Circles.

On the following evening my colleague Jasper, and I invited John to visit the Tollwood Festival in Munich. Typically for this festival is a rich cultural programme of music, different theatrical forms, performances and pedagogic art and as well to mention, very special international dishes. John was inspired and we were happy as we could offer something quite special to our American guest.

At this evening France and Germany played their championship semi-final, a reason for us three to paint the German flag to our cheeks. The fact that Germany unluckily lost the match could not affect our good mood at this very nice common evening. We had much more luck as our small “Working out Loud”-group had won on this day: we had brought John to Munich, 200 listeners were inspired by an excellent lecture and we were motivated with very much confidence about our next steps

In a following interview John provided information on subjects and questions which we are over and over again confronted with. Here this interview in extracts:


Assuming that the management can see the advantages of Working Out Loud circles, what could be done to get the management more proactively involved?


Two things will help. The first is to provide evidence that it’s working. Bosch was the first one to do a formal survey of circle members when they completed the process. There were questions about whether it helped the company meet its goals, whether it helped the individual build certain specific skills, whether it made you feel better about work. The results were extraordinarily positive and helped to accelerate the spread of Working Out Loud there, even leading to an all-day conference sponsored by management. Now other organizations do similar surveys.

The second thing is something we’re piloting at Bosch: Working Out Loud for Leaders. It helps managers experience Working Out Loud in a way that’s safe and practical for them. It isn’t circle-based and doesn’t require an hour a week, but it does enable them to take many of the same steps in a way that can feel comfortable for them, and allow them to lead by example.


Do you see a difference in attitudes towards supporting the creation of circles in America versus in Europe, respectively in Germany? 


Not really. The reason is that, even if the general stereotypes hold some truth (if!), we’re not asking everyone in America or Germany to form circles. The people who choose to join a circle are typically open, curious, and kind – and there are plenty of those people in all countries.

In a large organization, even the most conservative one, it’s important to note that you don’t need everyone to join, to change how they work. You start with the first .1%, and they help you find the next .1%. If you have 1000 people at BMW  – just 1% – working in a more open, collaborative way, that can have an outsized influence on the rest of the company, especially when their work is visible on a platform like Plaza.


You introduced while working at the Deutsche Bank „Working Out Loud“. This in order to bring more employees into the social business network. Do Working Out Loud circles lead to a new perspective for employees?


Yes and no. Yes, it can absolutely help people feel more confident, empowered, and happier. It can help you be more effective at what you do. You’ll see that in the survey results (like those from Coca-Cola in Sydney) and in testimonials from people (like the recent videos from the University of Melbourne).

But does it help everyone? No. Change in incredibly hard, and some people will not be ready or able to change at a particular time. That’s okay. With more people around them doing it, or more time, or more support, they may try again.


You have achieved a lot. Around the globe, Working Out Loud circles have been established. You often go the extra mile in order to help others and to provide support, for example in answering emails freely, making improvements in the circle letters, and being available for skype sessions. What drives you?


Thank you. It doesn’t feel like I’ve achieved a lot or that I’m particularly generous. I’m not trying to be humble. It’s just that my aim is to help millions of people, and so the early successes of our little Working Out Loud movement are good, but we have a long, long way to go.

The reasons I „go the extra mile“ are because I enjoy it. It’s not „work.“ Every call, every email, every blog post, feels like something I genuinely want to do, and something in the service of a bigger purpose – to make work more effective and fulfilling for people, to help as many people as I can access a better career and life (whatever that means for them).

The more I see how unhappy and how divisive people can be, the stronger my desire to help people relate to each other in ways that are more empathetic, that can humanize instead of polarize.


A colleague, who had innerly given up already, said to me after your presentation, „Ilona, the fact that your colleagues and you managed to get John to come to Munich gives me a great deal of courage. I will now stay and make a change. Thank you.” In this respect, what was the most impressive positive response you ever received regarding Working out loud?


That’s a wonderful outcome. It makes me think of people who found new roles, who became happier, who said they felt much more empowered. In thinking back, though, there is no single „most impressive.“ Working Out Loud is a very individual practice.  What is a small change in perspective for one person might be a huge mental shift for someone else. Further, that change may have immediate results or may lead to a different career and life over time.

The most impressive change is the one you, personally, can make for and in yourself.


One of your 5 elements appeals to me particularly. Whenever I think of generosity, I’m thankful for all that I have been given in my lifetime and I feel a certain liberty to give myself. What do you associate with generosity?


I used to think of generosity as limited to giving things. Money, time, knowledge. Now I think of it more broadly.

In the book and guides, for example, I emphasize the simple gifts of recognition and appreciation, and of offering them without expectations of a reply or benefit. „Small gifts freely given.“ When you give without strings attached, whether that’s as trivial as opening a door and saying „good morning“ or sharing information at work, it opens up something inside you.

The more I practice true generosity – and it is something to practice – the more I experience our shared humanity and interconnectedness. It can be quite beautiful at times, and that feeling is one of the best gifts I could ask for.


Thank you John. Looking forward to seeing you soon again.

Ilona Libal ist Diplom-Informatikerin und IT-Projektleiterin bei einem Automobilkonzern. Wie Arbeit aussehen kann, die begeistert, Freude macht, vernetzt – dazu erzählt sie in diesem Blog Geschichten von tollen Menschen und Veränderungen. Sie möchte Wissenswertes verfügbar machen und Schwung in den Arbeitsalltag ihrer Leser bringen.