Can we talk?

Arguably one of the most difficult issues we face as a nation is race. Our painful, ugly history continues to manifest as pain and ugliness in the present. And our challenges extend beyond racial equity and inclusion to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, socio-economic status, ability. We struggle to talk about these challenges, and we struggle even more to work through them effectively.  

Most of us can easily agree that increasing kindness, empathy, respect, inclusion, belonging, compassion, and trust is the right thing to do and leads to better experiences and outcomes for all. Learning to live with more love and less fear, to highly regard the humanity of others, is the heart of the matter. But how do we do that day to day on a team?

Recently the State of Washington’s Chief Learning Officer Cheryl Sullivan-Colglazier mentioned to me a hard conversation her team of instructors had about unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion. She was blown away by their willingness and skill to have such a risky and potentially difficult discussion. But they did and their conversation was respectful, productive and strengthening of the team.

I asked to talk with them about their experience to learn what made that conversation possible. I met with Elizabeth Fontanilla, Marcus Harvey, Audrey Pitchford, Joanne Lee, Melissa Harris, and Cheryl. Raul Leal-Trujillo, Michael Kohlhorst, and Ellis Starrett, and managers Laura Blacklock and Patrick Seigler weren’t present that day but are part of the team and the story. Here's what I learned.

Motivated to Improve for Customers

The Workplace Learning and Performance Team is charged with piloting, refining, and delivering a series of ground-breaking new leadership training courses for Washington State leaders -- Leading Others, Leading Teams, and soon, Leading Organizations. One training pilot included an unconscious bias video that they felt “bombed” both in content and delivery. The team came together afterward to analyze what happened and how to improve.

The video implied that unconscious bias was based on race but some pointed out that unconscious bias is not just about skin color. It can be about other factors as well. As they began to offer different opinions and perspectives, team members were aware of being in turbulent waters and several wondered where the conversation was going to go.

Cheryl is personally committed to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. She felt it was good for the group to push themselves, and she knew she could trust them. Besides, if they couldn’t have these conversations with each other, then how could they take learners into difficult discussions in the classroom?  They needed personal experience with being safe enough but not too comfortable so they could create such experiences for others.

Marcus said, “I watched Cheryl’s body language as this conversation started. She took a risk and extended trust to us to go there.”

That day the team explored the topic, respectfully listened, learned from each other, and arrived at a new approach to the curriculum that is more well-rounded and effective. And they worked through this in a way that strengthened their relationships and respect for each other. They shared several factors that made this conversation about diversity and bias possible.

Build safety and belonging from the beginning.

The WLP Team intentionally builds safety and belonging for each employee from the beginning. When Joanne, Marcus, Elizabeth, and Melissa joined the team; their experiences exemplified the care given to bringing new employees in to the team.

Joanne, Marcus, and Elizabeth all started on the same day and all experienced safety and acceptance. On their first day, Pat, their manager, welcomed them, giving them his focused time and attention to help with their transition onto the team. Audrey and Raul were waiting to meet them and make them feel welcome. There was no sense of uncertainty about integrating new team members. They were included right off the bat. When Melissa joined later, the team made sure she felt safe, comfortable, and included too.

Elizabeth noted that on the first day after touring the building, the team went to the café rather than a sterile conference room. There they sat in comfy chairs, and got to know each other over coffee. She recalls wondering nervously, “Shouldn’t we be working?” But then she realized they actually cared about her as a person and valued taking the time to get to know her.

Elizabeth shared with them how stressed she was about where to park. So Patrick piled them all in his car and showed them how to access the parking garage, where to park, and where to walk. Doing this together with other “newbies” demonstrated empathy and care.

Today team members feel their ability to have candid, difficult conversations began with the safety and belonging they experienced in their first hours as team members. 

Trust and respect each other.

WLP Team members have confidence and faith in each other. Everyone hired onto the team is selected for very specific skills and contributions so they know they can extend trust easily and early.

Team members take the course, “The Speed of Trust,” but early on new team members hadn’t yet. Cheryl helped bridge this gap by building relationships across the team. Though it was naturally hard at first for some to share because they did not know the others yet, Cheryl led a conversation on being inclusive that really helped.

And Audrey modeled looking out for them in practical ways by taking notes at meetings and getting information to team members who couldn’t attend, making sure they felt included. Audrey pointed out, “All are aware of the importance of creating safety for our learners in class. If not, they won’t participate. We can’t provide content without attending to emotional experiences and to needs for safety.” They do this for each other too.

“Being in the classroom together,” Elizabeth said, “we need to have comfort with each other.”

Share a purpose.

The team’s purpose is to change the culture of leadership for Washington State. Sharing the same goal creates a higher level of commitment and brings the team together. Their focus on learning helps them be open. Learning is not only their work; it's what they live.

“We have a thirst for learning. We are open-minded to hearing others’ thoughts and ideas; we want to learn and grow,” Melissa said.

“Learning is the nature of what we do. We are encouraged to think in terms of more than black and white, right and wrong. We think about being a learner, and we are encouraged to dive into things. We explore ideas; we push and challenge each other to see new perspectives.”

The team said, “If we teach it, we should be doing it!”

Value people.

Cheryl pointed out that team members are selected for their people-centered values evidenced by maturity and a willingness to listen to understand, among other qualities and skills. They believe that each person brings something that helps them grow as a team.

Marcus pointed out that being human-centered means being customer-focused and team-focused. They seek to understand each person in the classroom and to appreciate where they are coming from. They bring that human focus to each other too.

Cheryl told them, “You all help this happen when you show up!”

Lead with care.

Finally, what became clear to me was the impact of Cheryl, Patrick, and Laura's caring leadership. This was woven throughout everything the team described. These leaders really care about them and based on that care, make thoughtful decisions about each aspect of the team. 

When I advocate for more love and less fear at work, for making work more human, leaders often ask me, "How do I DO that? What should I DO?" Ultimately every leader has to answer those questions for themselves based on their unique team, culture, challenges, etc. While nothing can be lifted and shifted because every circumstance is unique, we can be inspired by what loving leadership can look like through the example of other leaders.

I am inspired by and learn from Cheryl, Patrick, and Laura's example: First they embrace a deep value for people. And then, from that values base, each day in small and in large ways, they thoughtfully pay attention to and make decisions aligned with valuing people. Decision points in this situation included choosing team members for values as well as skills, deciding how to welcome new employees on their first day, determining how to respond to expressed needs, choosing to cultivate team relationships and build team skills, opting to work through problems not avoid them, and deciding to invest in improving the work, fostering conversations, and extending trust. 

Each of those leadership decision points could have gone a very different direction, conveying fear and indifference to team members instead of love and care. In that case, it would have been much harder to discuss diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias, and much less likely to make improvements for customers.

By building trust, care, and respect from the beginning, with a shared focus on learning and on people, and with leadership that thoughtfully cares for the team, the DES Workplace Learning and Performance Team can have difficult but important conversations to improve value to the customer and make their work together incredibly gratifying. 

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

I had the chance to hear Michaela Beals and Josh Calvert present the content of this post at a Results Review to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee along with state agency leaders. I was impressed by the way they connected the State's Employee Engagement Survey results with practical insights into human motivation and an effective human-centered workplace. Thanks to Michaela and Josh for sharing their work here with the community of A Human Workplace. -Renée

Why do you work? What’s your motivation?

Many people work in environments that are dominated by the “carrot and stick” approach of extrinsic motivation: do well and you’ll get a reward; do poorly and you’ll get punished.

But decades of research show that external factors are not the best motivators in today’s workplace. Instead, intrinsic motivation—the kind that comes from within—is much more powerful for knowledge work, creative tasks, and complex problem solving, which is what today’s 21st century workforce is all about.

The RAMP Model of Intrinsic Motivators

On Wednesday, May 30, Results Washington hosted a Results Review that brought together employees, agency leaders, and the Governor to talk about the employee experience of working for the State of Washington.

We were invited to the meeting to share information about the RAMP Model (image below), which identifies four intrinsic motivators that are central to employee engagement and the employee experience more generally:

R = Relationships. The desire to be respected and connected to others.

A = Autonomy. The desire to have freedom and discretion in one’s job.

M = Mastery. The desire to improve skills and develop expertise.

P = Purpose. The desire for meaningful work.  

The individual motivators were informed by decades of research summarized by Daniel Pink in the book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

We developed the human-centered RAMP model as a framework to interpret the 2017 Statewide Employee Engagement Survey. By mapping relevant survey questions to the components of the RAMP model, we were able to gain a better understanding of how employees experience relationships, autonomy, mastery and purpose in their work.


Relationships are a basic human need. A need that is just as motivating to satisfy as having food, water, and air. We are all intrinsically motivated to have relationships built on respect, trust, and inclusion.

With a majority of our time typically spent with coworkers, it is vital that our workplaces foster healthy relationships.

A majority of state employees said they are treated with dignity and respect by their supervisor, their agency supports diversity, people in their work group are treated fairly, and the work group has a spirit of cooperation and teamwork.

However, a sizable chunk of employees said those same conditions occurred only occasionally or less.

The state must continue to build on workplace relationships. Leadership can do this by encouraging employees to meet, collaborate and learn from one another.


Autonomy is a powerful intrinsic motivator. It speaks to our desire to have freedom and discretion in our work. Many tend to confuse autonomy with “going it alone”. Rather, it is about having a choice within an interdependent framework.

The state had mixed results with employees feeling they can provide input and offer better ways of doing things. However, both areas are seeing continued improvement.

Satisfaction levels with flexibility, technology, physical space, mobility, and general well-being as a result of the work environment offer mixed results as well. Mobility was the lowest rated out the Work Environment questions.

Mobility, having the opportunity to work remotely from home or other locations, is important to autonomy because it gives a person a sense of freedom in where they can get their work done. Demands for mobility will only continue to rise as our workforce demographics shift with new employees.

Leadership can make great strides in fostering employee autonomy by creating workplace cultures that value the employee voice and bridge trust and accountability between employees and managers.


Mastery is the desire to learn new skills and develop expertise.

We all want to get better at doing things. A sense of progress, not just in our work, but also in our capabilities, contributes to our inner drive to succeed.

From the engagement survey, we can see that most employees say they are able to make good use of their skills at work, but the area where we see room to improve is with employees feeling like they have opportunities at work to learn and grow. This is one of the lower-rated questions in the survey, meaning there is plenty of opportunity to improve, and it’s one of the top- two drivers of job satisfaction in our state, meaning improvements are likely to give you a good bang for your buck.

The takeaway is clear: if we want employees to be engaged and to speak positively about the agency, then we must give them challenging work that makes good use of their existing skills and plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.


The last intrinsic motivator is purpose, defined as the desire for meaningful work. Connecting to a cause larger than yourself can unlock the highest level of motivation of all.

Many employees feel a sense of purpose from their agency’s mission. The good news is that we do very well in the area of employees knowing how their work connects to agency goals – this is actually one of the top-three questions in the survey overall.

Where we see an opportunity is in communicating clear information about changes in the agency. Transparency and clear communication, especially during times of change, are extremely important for employees to stay connected to purpose. Unfortunately, this question ranks in the bottom two overall, despite an impressive increase compared to last year.

So what can leaders do to improve employees’ sense of purpose? In general, help them connect to something larger than themselves. Help them connect their work to values and people, with plenty of communication along the way.

In Closing

Within the context of the employee experience, extrinsic motivation leads to compliance—at best.

Only intrinsic motivation leads to engagement.

This is important, not only for our employees, but also for our customers.

If employees work in environments that promote Relationships, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, they will do great things for the people of Washington.

RAMP Model of Intrinsic motivators.jpg

Most workplaces are not awesome. A little awe can help.

Most workplaces are not awesome. A little awe can help.

Think of a time when you felt a sense of wonder. Perhaps you marveled at the grandeur of a towering mountain. Or maybe you suddenly sensed the vastness of the universe as the Aurora Borealis spiraled across a winter sky. Were you caught off-guard? Did you lose your sense of time but gain a sense of mystery? Did you feel small and deeply connected to something greater than yourself? Then you probably experienced awe. 

Why do we make the workplace so hard on ourselves?

Why do we make the workplace so hard on ourselves?

People are struggling in most workplaces with disengagement, poor well-being, lack of diversity and inclusion, burnout, conflict, bullying and harassment, unethical behavior, poor performance, challenges to creativity, and lack of problem solving.

So what the heck are we doing to ourselves? And wouldn’t it make sense to do something else?

Learning to Weave in Olympia

Learning to Weave in Olympia

My last post described our need to weave together a stronger social fabric that both honors our common humanity and respects and values diversity. At A Human Workplace: Olympia on June 22, we took a first step by exploring and learning about empathy and diversity. Here’s what we did and what happened. But first, what seems most essential.

Weaving our Human Tapestry

Weaving our Human Tapestry

The fabric of our society feels threadbare. A tattered cloth with gaping holes, it barely drapes us nor does it display its full beauty. We wish it were different but we seem to have lost our ability to weave that tapestry. But in truth, we’ve never really mastered that craft in the first place nor has our tapestry ever truly been complete. But where to begin? We need to learn to weave.

Listening from the Heart

Listening from the Heart

It’s hard to concentrate on writing tonight. You see, I’m excited…and nervous. Tomorrow morning more than eighty public servants are gathering from all over government to explore empathy and diversity at the June Human Workplace Meet Up in Olympia.

I’m thrilled and can’t wait to have this conversation with this caring community. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being anxious too. After all the subject of diversity is a challenging one and taps in to some of our most difficult and long-standing social issues. 

Love and Hard Times

Love and Hard Times

This week we lost people who we mostly knew through their work and the impact they had on our lives. Kate Spade’s work clothed us beautifully and gave us self-expression, color, and design in the form of useful objects we enjoyed both practically and aesthetically. Anthony Bourdain’s work inspired us to discover the world and ourselves by meeting people in their neighborhoods, tribes, and homes exploring rituals, traditions, and creativity of food and much more.

Being Human-Centered

A few weeks ago, some 30 public servants gathered in Olympia to explore the question, "What does it really mean to be human-centered?" What follows is a summary of their advice for leaders and teams for how to put humanity at the center of our work ... with a few illustrations thrown in for good measure.

"Let's be human-centered." "Yes!" "Huh?" "Uh oh." "Oh please." "Well duh!"

When you begin to advocate for a more human-centered workplace, you will probably hear a variety of reactions. Some people will be supportive while others will be confused, worried, or skeptical. A supportive reaction certainly feels better. But the other reactions are just as legitimate. And they are important, especially if we are going to practice what we preach and, you know, respect all the humans we work with. Let’s consider some possible reactions and how to respond in ways that are consistent with our human-centered values.

A Love Story About Work: Caring for Cindy During Cancer

“I found out I was diagnosed with cancer at my desk at work one day at 10 a.m. The doctor wanted to see me the very next day and told me to bring someone who wasn’t a family member. I got off the phone and looked around my cubicle. Then I went and told my boss who immediately brought in someone skilled and knowledgeable who sat with me to figure out what I needed to do in the moment. My boss made it clear that nothing at work was important in the grand scheme of things. She made it easy to turn my focus to my health.”

A Love Story About Work: Hayley's Leader Goes the Extra Mile

Hayley’s life had not been easy. Difficult pregnancies, a child with cancer, and her sister’s death had caused people in her life including work to gather around to support her in all kinds of ways. So when I asked her to tell me a story about a time when she felt loved at work, she had many examples.

But the story she told me in my research was, by comparison, silly and minor in her estimation. Still, it is the one she chose to share and speaks to the lasting positive impact a leader can have and the unexpected goodness that can come back to that leader in return.

A Love Story About Work: Carol's Social Services Team

Providing social services to the most vulnerable people in society is a very human endeavor. People often choose this field because they are compassionate and motivated to care for others. But social services can be some of the most physically and emotionally demanding but lowest paid work there is. This makes Carol’s story an especially heart-warming Love Story About Work.

Three Ways to Decrease Fear and Increase Love at Work

No one wakes up in the morning, bounces out of bed, and eagerly declares, “I can’t wait to be ignored today! I hope my work doesn’t matter to anyone. I’m going in early because I’m not making a difference. Since no one cares about my work I am going after solving that really tough problem.”

No one says, “I hope to be humiliated today. When that happens, I really get excited to be at work and I engage more. I am going to do my best work today while I stress about my future. That anxiety helps me focus on the customer and really work to satisfy them.”

Who says that? No one says that.