Through the Eyes of Washingtonians

I stopped at my local Target store over the weekend. My cashier was a bubbly young woman who was getting into the holiday cheer early. As she rang me up, she shared that she likes her job a lot, but her boyfriend recently took another retail job that will pay him more money. He helped her land her job at Target and they worked together, which made carpooling super simple. But in order to keep their housing, they needed the pay raise and his new job will allow them to afford their rent. She is thankful for that, even though she misses their old routine.

This morning, I called my bank to inform them of my upcoming travel. I had another very friendly human on the line who shared with me that she is really excited for Thanksgiving tomorrow, as her fiancé will be home this year after being formerly incarcerated. I came to learn (without asking for details) that she recently suffered a miscarriage. Still, she felt very blessed that they are together, and she is looking forward to their future.

These two stories made me think about the Results Reviews we hold on the Governor’s priorities, where we really try to hear from Washingtonians to better understand their experience. These include affordable housing, re-entry for formerly incarcerated individuals, and infant mortality (upcoming in January). These topics are hard to address and make people uncomfortable, but for millions of people, these are everyday realities—part of their real human experience.

Perhaps other customers in these scenarios might have been annoyed to waste time hearing about these experiences, but their stories inspired me. I listened with empathy and humility, and thanked them both for their help and time.

I am grateful for them, for all the people we serve, and for the work happening across state government to improve the lives of Washingtonians.

Ayanna Colman is a Senior Performance Advisor with Results Washington where she works on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues and facilitates teams to improve re-entry for formerly incarcerated individuals.

I Am a Public Servant

It’s good sometimes to pause from our work. Take a breath. Really consider our work.


Sometimes the truth is that we are thrilled. We are delighted by our work and grateful for the privilege of contributing. We can’t wait to get to work each day. We love the challenges we face, the service we offer, the skills we learn, the way we express ourselves to the world in our work.

When work is good like this, it’s important to pause and notice: What is the alchemy that creates this workplace gold for me? What makes it good? What am I doing that I love? How are others enhancing this experience? What is the value we are bringing together?

But let’s face it. Other times the truth is that work is heavy, overwhelming, and frustrating. Other times we are hurting and discouraged with our work. We can’t wait for work to be over. The challenges are too great. The demands are too much. The last time we learned anything was … a long time ago. Our true self may have little connection with how we spend our time all day every day.

When work is hard like this, it’s also important to pause and notice: What is the chemistry that makes this workplace toxic for me? What makes it bad? What am I doing that I dislike? What are others contributing? What can shift to restore value and meaning?

And sometimes, perhaps most times, our work is somewhere in between these two extremes, with periods of deeply satisfying service using our best skills sandwiched between tedium and pressures. We take the good with the bad.

In all cases, we can benefit from stopping to look at what we are doing, why and how we are doing it, and what the impact is. It’s good to do that on our own, and it’s also helpful to do that in the company of trusted colleagues when possible.

Recently a group of state employees gathered for A Human Workplace Olympia and reflected on their public service through the helpful lens of poetry.

We used a fun and insightful mad-libs poem-building exercise to get to know each other. Next we quietly read and then chose from more than 150 poems that spoke to us about some aspect of our public service. We shared these poems with small groups and used our poem to describe what our public service is like right now.

This time of honesty supported by poetry moved people past the surface and opened up truth telling. It encouraged the weary, connected the lonely, prodded the hesitant, surprised the skeptical, and touched those needing compassion.

And we wrote a poem together.

Each person completed the statement, “My public service is…” These statements were assembled by Denise Matayoshi Mino into this simple free verse poem below during the workshop. (Thank you Denise!) The repetition reflects what they actually shared. Public service is clearly meaningful to this group!

This poem has joy and soft edges. And it has sorrow and rough places. That’s honest because sometimes public service is delightful and satisfying. And sometimes it is really, really difficult.

Telling the truth about the positive and the challenging on this day helped these public servants support each other and then return to their jobs serving Washingtonians.

My Public Service

I am a public servant.

My work is meaningful.

It is purposeful, satisfying, and needed.

My work is meaningful.

It is challenging and complex, but cathartic and completely rewarding.   

My work is meaningful.

It is important for the safety of all people in Washington State.

My work serves others, and helps me learn about myself, too.

I am a public servant.

My work is transparent and meaningful.         

Although my work is important,

Although meaningful to the public,

My work can be difficult and unfulfilling.

My work is not validated by management in my office and is largely unrecognized.

My work should be better publicized so the community knows our services are available.

I serve Washingtonians.

My work is for the greater good of Washington State’s public safety.

My work radiates empathy and shows people they matter.

My work helps families save for college.

My work brings ideas into form that support the common good.

My work is vital to the health of babies and young children.

My work creates capacity and opportunities to transform lives through housing.

My work is to be a fair and just leader.

My work assists in liberating the humanity of everyone.

My work is gratifying.                    

Like a Rishi Mushroom growing in the dark with the potential to cure cancer,

My work helps civilization move forward because…

I am a public servant.   

Do I have to say "love"?

Do I have to say "love"?

Using the word “love” about work is surprising and even shocking to most people.

When I use the “L” word when I speak or teach, it is what my colleague Darrell calls a mic drop moment.

“Love.” Boom! Then silence. Dead silence. Perhaps followed by nervous laughter.

But that’s also where the really important exploration begins.

Can we talk?

Can we talk?

Arguably one of the most difficult issues we face as a nation is race. We struggle to talk about these challenges, and we struggle even more to work through them effectively. So I was surprised to learn abut a team at the Department of Enterprise Services who had a risky and potentially difficult discussion about race and implicit bias that was effective, respectful and team strengthening. I wanted to learn more…

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

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.