The Redesigning Wellness Podcast

070: Your Wellness Questions Answered by Ryan Picarella, President of WELCOA

Ryan Picarella_cropped and scaled

In today’s interview, Jen had the opportunity to sit down with Ryan Picarella, President of WELCOA, to get answers to the crowdsourced questions of the Redesigning Wellness Community. Ryan and Jen discuss the code of conduct and how WELCOA is revising the seven benchmarks, as well as the impact this has on the WELCOA award.

Together, they explore a question we are all beginning to hear more and more often: how should we measure this new world of wellness that is less about ROI and more about kind of the non-tangibles? Ryan wraps up the interview by telling us a little bit about what was successful and not so successful at this year’s summit, as well as what attendees can expect for future events.

3 Key Points:
  • We need to create workplace environments which allow employees to become their best selves;
  • People want to work for companies with a vision and mission that they believe in and see upheld;
  • Whole organizations should be viewed in a similar context to how we view an individual person; multidimensional.
Ryan Picarella Bio:

As President of WELCOA, Ryan works with communities and organizations around the country to ignite social movements that will improve the lives of all working people in America and around the world. With a deep interest in culture and sociology, Ryan approaches initiatives from a holistic perspective that recognizes the many paths to well-being that must be in alignment for long-term healthy lifestyle behavior change.

Ryan brings immense knowledge and insight to WELCOA from his background in psychology and a career that spans human resources, organizational development and wellness program and product design. Prior to joining WELCOA, Ryan managed the award winning BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) Well@Work employee wellness program, a 2012 C. Everett Koop honorable mention awardee.

Since relocating to Nebraska, Ryan has enjoyed an active role in the community, currently serving on the Board for the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in Omaha. Ryan has a Master of Science in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Northern Arizona University.

Full Transcript

Jen Arnold: Ryan, welcome again. Welcome back to the Redesigning Wellness Podcast.

Ryan Picarella: Thanks Jen. It’s always so nice to be here. I really appreciate the opportunity to join again. So I’m excited.

Jen Arnold: Yeah. Thank you for giving the video tour of  WELCOA earlier. That was pretty exciting.

Ryan Picarella: It’s always nice to kind of have a visual image in your head of people and places I think when we’re talking about these things.

Jen Arnold: Absolutely. Yes. If anyone wants to go watch us, you know we’ll be on YouTube. But one of the things that we did, and I thank you for being open to this, is crowdsource the questions. These haven’t come from me, these come from health and wellness professionals across the country. And I’ve got them right here on my piece of paper, so I will just fire away with the first one. I’ll give the person’s name, but not necessarily where they work.

Let’s start off with the code of conduct. What was the development of the code of conduct like, and what is  WELCOA role in promoting it? Then, of course, there’s a few more questions. How does that impact the awards, which we’ll talk about later, is another question we had and that this was an interesting twist, will only the companies that agree or adhere to the code be awarded? This was sent in by Pete Arens.

Ryan Picarella: Let me first start by, I think, providing some context around the code, and I think it’ll answer some of those questions, and then we can make sure that I hit all of those. It was interesting, and I know you’ve done some interviews with Al Lewis and probably for all the listeners out there, Al has certainly been a voice in wellness, sometimes very critical of what we’re doing and certain people as well.

And for a long time, and I’m sure you know Al was very critical of WELCOA and the work that we were doing until finally we had an opportunity to connect. And I always say, I always thought even with Al, that there’s probably some more common ground than there is differences. And some of the criticisms that he had brought up and I had seen before, whether it be his blog or other forums where I thought actually fair criticisms of the field.

Several months ago Al wrote me an email and said, “Hey, I think we need to create some type of ethical standard for the wellness industry. What do you think?” He sent me a fairly lengthy document that outlined some things that he thought. And I think at the same time with all of this going on, I had thought, and even in some ways been concerned, because it felt like the field in some ways was being a little bit divided. There are more traditional more sort of thinkers out there around programs and I would say I would love those with more of the outcomes based incentive reward. You know, HRA and I think that’s kind of what I call kind of the more traditional perspective of wellness. Then I would say that there are other folks that are really more on the cultural side of things and are certainly against a lot of those.

Part of me thought, you know, and when I responded to Al, like couldn’t we create something that both sides would agree on? Because I really believe that everybody in wellness, and even though we might have philosophical differences in how we approach it, are really out there trying to do good. I don’t think that anybody is intending to hurt people, and I really believe that everybody in the field, whether I agree necessarily with your thoughts on certain issues, are really trying to help people be well.

So for me with Al, I took what he wrote and I said, “If we can skinny this down into the bare minimums and to the absolute sort of lowest the bar could go that anybody that’s looking at designing a program would say, ‘you know what, I agree with that and that seems to make sense.’” Then maybe it would be an opportunity to sort of at least level set with the field and bring the folks together.

Essentially, the code was, and you know I printed it just to make sure that I had it in front of me since I knew this was going to come up, and it’s literally a one pager that essentially says, “Programs should do no harm. They should follow recommendations by whether it be the United States Preventative Services Taskforce, CDC, whoever, that we should respect to maintain a participant’s privacy, and that any outcomes, measurements should be transparent, and validated.” That was it.

It was just as simple as that, and the idea wasn’t to even create a structure for people. The idea was to at least say, is this something that we can all agree on regardless of where you’re coming from? That was kind of where it came from and the intent behind it, and our involvement. I basically took what Al, John Robinson, and Rosie Ward were kind of some of the early folks that were involved in this, and then we’ve really expanded it.

This was never supposed to be a one person thing, a one organization thing. And that was important to me as well that WELCOA is not out there, and it’s not that we’ve expanded it. There’s a website now that’s out there that has this, and anybody can contribute ideas, thoughts, criticisms, praises, or anything really related to the code, that it could be a collaborative approach to creating at least a baseline for what we think is how to treat employees and how not to.

That’s a little bit of the history. How will it impact awards specifically when it comes to WELCOA? Here’s how it impacts WELCOA, and I’ll expand beyond just our awards. We have a network called Premiere Provider Network, and we are asking all of our PPN as we call it here to agree to the code of conduct. Most of these are wellness vendors and providers that we showcase in our organization that we think are good examples of organizations that are doing it right. So that’s one thing that they have to agree to when they want to be part of our PPN network.

In terms of our awards, and I’m going to talk a lot more about this, I know there’s some questions related to how our seven benchmarks are changing. We’re not going to specifically necessarily check organizations to make sure that they are in alignment with all of these, but the way that we’re positioning the new seven benchmarks and how we’ll be awarding organizations going forward are going to be much more aligned with this code. It’s the new set of principles moving forward. So moving away from programs and I think that will be much clearer when I get into that. I don’t know if I want to jump there just yet.

Jen Arnold: Yeah, because I have other questions, too.

Ryan Picarella: We’ll kind of just hold on that one and get back to it, but I think hopefully that provides a little context, our involvement and the intent.

Jen Arnold: A few questions there, so for the PPN Network, the Premiere Provider Network that you have, you don’t have to name any names, but did anyone fall out from that network for not wanting to sign it or looking at the code, and it not matching up with their values? Or did everyone kind of just go, yeah, of course should be signing this?

Ryan Picarella: You know, I’ve not, I have no examples of organizations that I would say refused to do it, and said, you know what, we don’t want to do it anymore. There’s even new PPN providers that have come on that I think we’re excited about the code. So in one way, I think it’s actually maybe been a little bit of the opposite, and even a recent biometric screening company was one of the first to become one of our new key providers.

We think that a biometric screening company seems like they might be one of the last people to adhere to a code because it’s based in screening, but they were one of the first to adopt and sign up knowing that we were behind this as well. In some ways, I would say it’s actually been good. It’s quite possible that the opposite has happened, that they just didn’t come out and say that we’re not a good fit for a variety of reasons, but didn’t explicitly say that it was because of the code.

Jen Arnold: How does that work with the biometric screening vendor? Do they go according to the Preventive Services Task Force guidelines?

Ryan Picarella: Yeah.

Jen Arnold: Okay. I’m just making sure they do that.

Ryan Picarella: Yep.

Jen Arnold: Got it. Now, you said, I know there’s a website with the code of conduct on there. Does WELCOA help update it and get feedback and everything like that, or are you guys just…how do you handle that?

Ryan Picarella: We’re not managing it, and it’s really an interesting thing, I mean, I would say it’s a very kind of grassroots organic thing that’s happening. So I provided help, but I would say Al Lewis has been more of a part of kind of the updating of the website. Everybody kind of reviews it. The group is probably maybe about a 100 strong now of people that provide input on it and manage it.

Some people even donated money and that helps with the upkeep of the site, so we aren’t I’d say backing it financially. I think just more philosophically and we are a part of it, and are starting to integrate it into our stuff. We do not keep up or maintain or own the domain or any of that in terms of the site that’s out there.

Jen Arnold: Okay. Thanks for explaining that. This question is a little followup to the code of conduct, and I think we’re going to drop it after this question. Scott Dinwiddie wrote that he in general loves the idea of having the code and guiding principles, and he fully supports that it was created, but he was really thinking, he wonders what might be possible if they expanded on the idea and took it in a more positive direction.

Part of his personal code is always seeing wellness as an opportunity, and a potential waiting to unfold as opposed to the predominant way of viewing it as a problem that must be fixed. Might it engender more of the kind of results we’re looking for then maybe the negative approach of don’t do harm, or do no harm.

Ryan Picarella: I think, and I guess it’s interesting that, that’s a great question, and I guess I never looked at it as a negative approach. And I think it was modeled more after sort of a physician code or other codes that were out there that basically just wanted to make sure that the absolutes, the basics were covered in terms of things that we thought. And in terms of wellness as positive, I think it would be difficult to put a threshold on that.

I guess I didn’t see it as a negative approach to it and just say, you know what, we’re just going to say that we don’t hurt people, and to me that can be that’s positive. That’s a good thing that we’re not going to look at this in a way that we feel like it could potentially do harm.I think that the criticism that I’ve heard is maybe it wasn’t as rolled out as collaborative as possible. And I think that there’s always been an openness to get involved and to have your voice be part of this.

And I do think that when we’re thinking about programs, and again like you I don’t even really like that word, but as we’re thinking about changing organizational culture in a way that promotes healthier behaviors, I think that it is a very positive sort of approach knowing that you’re not going to do these types of things over here. I don’t know if that directly answers the question, but I guess I just don’t see it as a negative approach to health promotion in organizations.

Jen Arnold: You did answer the question. That’s fine.

Ryan Picarella: Okay.

Jen Arnold: I know I have found it very hard to get out of that language of saying programs.

Ryan Picarella: Yeah.

Jen Arnold: One more follow-up question. This is interesting. We talked a little bit about this before and I like the angle that you were taking with this. Again, Scott says, “Is it possible with the level of diversity in large population’s means that even an incredibly successful initiative that improves huge numbers of lives at scale, (regardless of how you put that into context, right? Not necessarily by metric screenings or anything like that, but leaving it kind of generic.) Is it possible that, that might still have an adverse impact on a certain subset of the population?”

Ryan Picarella: I feel like this is a conversation for a cup of whiskey on a cold night.

Jen Arnold: I’ll connect you and Scott.

Ryan Picarella: Yeah. Scott and I should have a beer and discuss this. To me, the answer is more philosophical, and I think it’s worth more of a discussion, but I will give you an answer. I think if you know that what you’re going to do has a chance of harming people, then I think you’d be irresponsible to do it.

I think the things that we’re talking about, and in perspective and how we’re trying to transform organizations, is really trying to bring more of this love, compassion, gratitude, to really include more trust, and to really sort of change from that angle. I don’t think there’s any negative side effect to having more genuine compassion for people within organizations.

When I first saw this I said, maybe this is rooted in more of a medical model perspective than it is a truly positive transformative force. I think regardless, I guess, there’s always that chance, and I do think it’s good to get out there and to take chances as long as you know personally note the risks for yourself, and to do something great. But I also really think, and this is why there’s guidelines, whether it’s the United Services Preventative Taskforce, all those guys, CDC, that, going beyond those because you think that you might find one more person that’s pre-diabetic, or hypertensive is careless.

To me, the better answer is if we’re doing things that have no potential side effect, like really this focus on positive psychology and positive cultures, and really sort of bringing that toward organizations. I don’t think that you’re sacrificing anything, and to me that’s the more courageous approach because that’s one that people aren’t comfortable with yet. Like how do we do more of that?

I was at an event last week called The Love Summit, interestingly enough it wasn’t a wellness event at all. It was about bringing love and compassion into organizations, and the organizations that were there were talking about how it’s transformed their workplace. I think doing a hell of a lot more of that is going to be a lot more meaningful, and they’re really going to create a place where people can thrive and there’s no sacrificing anything when you take it from that approach. Just my two cents.

Jen Arnold: Yeah. That’s a great answer. This question is long because we were doing this all within my Facebook group, so I had asked some clarifying questions. But, this is from Cassie Buckroyd, and this is a little bit of trying to shift away from that old paradigm of return on investment, or even value on investment. Right? I think she’s very happy that it’s shifting away from that conversation, but she’s also figuring out what are the metrics that we use, right? Not only how wellness efforts impact productivity, but how is it actually measured? How are employers who are not interested in medically managing their employees and are focused more in creating a great place to work, high performing workplace, how are they actually measuring the impact?

Ryan Picarella: I’ll give you a few answers, and I think that this like a lot of other questions, it’s sort of, and I hate to classic depends, but I think it depends on the type of business, and honestly the leader of that particular business. I’ll give you a couple of examples and I’ll give you some follow-up answers.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with the CEO of REI, I’m sure most of you know or heard of REI before. And he was telling me, his name is Jerry, and Jerry was telling me that for every job opening that they have regardless of what level it is, or what the pay is or where it’s at, they have over 2,000 job applicants for that particular job, and even in difficult markets. The leader of Patagonia has said the exact same thing.

People want to work for companies that they believe in that mission, that vision, and that they believe does good for the world, and for those types of things. Again, it doesn’t have to be an REI, or a Patagonia, I think there’s a lot, and I’ve heard stories about the Mayo Clinic that ended up very similar as well. I think the value story really depends on the goals of the organization, what the CEO is trying to accomplish. And I think those are the questions that we need to ask, and how does a wellness initiative fit into that particular CEO strategy or goals.

Productivity is one that you mentioned, and that can mean a lot of different things. Clearly if you’re in a manufacturing organization productivity is going to be a lot easier to manage. A call center and things like that. You’ll be able to truly measure your productivity. And that might be looking at presenteeism, and how often are people there, and how much are they accomplishing in their role. But for other jobs productivity might be a little bit different, that might not be the metric to focus on.

It could be on whether it be employee engagement, it could be turnover, it could be trust, it could be, I think there’s some other examples that I saw listed there. I think the value story really has to tie back to a business metric, and the mistake that I think that we’ve made, and I think that hopefully most of the listeners would agree on is we went down this path of medical cost savings. And not to say that we’re not into medical crisis now, but that certainly doesn’t need to be the only focus. And I think that’s led us into where biometric markers have become sort of the measurement for success of those.

But if we start thinking about the success of the organization, the individuals in a much different way, and how do we really make sure organizations are more innovative. if they’re spending time on creativity, you can talk about kind of the blockbuster moment. I mean, at blockbuster, not to say that if they were really thinking about how do we position and pivot ourselves in the future they might still be around and not just totally killed by Netflix and others that are out there. I would argue the same for Kodak.

There’s really a medical, or not a medical, there’s really a monetary benefit to having healthy, happy employees that I think goes far beyond some of these basic metrics that we’re looking at. I think the easy one that a lot of organizations get excited about is talent right now. How do we make sure that we’re bringing in the best people for the jobs, that are engaged with the work that they do, that are excited to come to the office every morning, or work remotely if that be the case, but that really feel like they’re contributing to a greater vision?

We’re developing tools, so very specifically how do you do that? I mean that is something that we’ve been developing actually for a year in a half that we’re going to roll out next year in conjunction with our new seven benchmarks. I don’t think, I mean, that will tool will be great, and it’s really more of a cultural tool to measure a variety of things, but I think going back to basic sort of organizational metrics are important. I mean, I think you’ve talked about terms of endearment on here before, and even looking at the financial returns for those organizations and there’s some really fascinating research.

The thing is that we haven’t necessarily called some of these initiatives that these organizations have been doing, “wellness.” I may have called them very different things now, too. In the case of REI, or Patagonia, or Starbucks, or WholeFoods, or Costco, or other organizations that have really invested a lot of money into culture, into people, and into development, and to retention.

They’re seeing really incredible financial returns with that, and I think those are the types of value stories that business leaders really rely on. And honestly as I take my wellness hat off, and I guess putt on my WELCOA leader hat, that’s going to be a much more compelling story to me when I know that people are showing up every day, and they’re truly contributing the maximum amount they can, and they’re happy about it, and they can be their best selves every day.

There’s another question you have here, what do for wellness at WELCOA, and I’m not going to go to that yet, but I think my goal when we do these things is to create a culture here that people feel like they can achieve whatever goals they want to. We don’t set goals for people here, but I know that I can trust people, they can hopefully trust me.

Some of the people we’ve hired here have been referrals from friends, that’s powerful, and they’ve been incredible. So knowing that someone that works at WELCOA would say, “Hey, I’ve got this person that if there’s ever an opening, they would love to have that job,” as a business leader that’s huge, and those are the people that I want to talk to, and it’s certainly helped even me at my organization.

I think those are, I mean, we could get specific, and I’m sure you’ve heard of them, but I just think if we can start thinking about what are the important metrics that businesses need to be successful, and then tie that to what is it that we’re doing for people that are going to help achieve those goals? We’re going to be a hell of a lot better off.

Jen Arnold: When you were at the Love Summit, the organizations that we’re talking about how they infuse kindness and caring into their organizations, did they talk about metrics, or was it really just, these are our values, and this is kind of the culture we want to create?

Ryan Picarella: I would say it started with the values and the culture. That was really the message that you know what, we’re doing this because we know this is the absolute right thing to do. We’re not doing this because we think it’s going to have some financial return, but what they found, and the followup to that was every organization that did this had incredible financial returns. And not just financial returns, I mean what they did to a community, what they gave back.

I think through this there was a woman there in Philadelphia who started, I think it’s the Bluebird Café was what it was called, and she was talking about thinking about the suppliers that they bought their food from. It was one of the first farm to table restaurants years ago and really thinking about the community aspect to it, hiring people local, making sure that there was really a strong connection to the community and really building a strong culture within people there.

Love, compassion, kindness was kind of one of their core values, and I mean they grew into a multimillion dollar business in Philadelphia. She ended up selling it and doing quite well with it. But the point was is that she knew that starting this, this is how she was going to kind of heart-centric leadership and that she wasn’t going to sacrifice any of that. And her company turned into quite a big success in the Philadelphia area. So just cool stuff like that. I think that was kind of the repeating theme is that we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do and it paid off big, big dividends.

Jen Arnold: Well, it almost seems like as I was listening to you talk, we always take wellness as this little siloed thing that we try to plug in or leave it as a silo among everything else instead of saying, what are the values from an organization perspective, and then weaving wellness in throughout of it.

Ryan Picarella: Yeah.

Jen Arnold: I don’t know if that made any sense.

Ryan Picarella: No. Actually you’re right on. I think you actually said it better, I think you said it better than I have. Wellness needs to be business imperative. To me there’s no question that the businesses of the future, and I think people are demanding it now, and I personally believe that if organizations don’t figure out how to better care for their people, why the hell would you want to work for a company that you didn’t feel like cared for you? I mean, you wouldn’t. I see it all the time. You talk to wellness practitioners they’re either frustrated. I know that you’ve talked to them, I’ve talked to them.

A lot of times because they’re an employee and there’s a belief about them as a person, or believe that the work that they’re doing is meaningful and they leave, and they start looking for other opportunities. I think what’s really going to set businesses apart in the future is one, having employees believe in the vision and the mission of that organization. That they believe that, that organization cares for them as people, and that they believe that they have an opportunity to grow and develop and accomplish their goals as a human, and as a professional person in those roles.

I think to me this is not, this, again I know you and I hate the program, and this is not a program. This is really much more about creating environments and opportunities for people to be their best selves every single day. I truly believe that if businesses don’t figure out how to do this that they will have their blockbuster moment, and it will be absolute because people are now looking to be part of something that they, this is all the whole drive to purpose. Looking to contribute their talents and gifts to something that they believe matters.

Jen Arnold: Yeah. With you having an organizational development background, this is a question that just really spoke to me, that typically wellness people don’t have an OD background. So how are you all at WELCOA partnering from experts in the field of organizational development? Are you considering any trainings to infuse those skills into work for worksite wellness professionals?

Ryan Picarella: Yeah. Great question, and yes. Here’s the thing that I think health promotion professionals get scared about sometimes, okay, I’ll hear OD stuff, I hear all of this. I don’t think you have to be the expert in everything. You can’t. I mean, WELCOA can’t be the expert in everything. But I think what we have to start getting really good at is knowing who to invite to sit at the table with us and have those conversations. I think a great example is how many wellness people have actually talked to facilities people, or organizational development people, or even the recruiters?

At least having, you know, starting those dialogues to say, “Look, we know that people spend 92% of their time indoors, and the built environment has a massive impact on our health and wellbeing.”  Hey, whoever that is, “how do we start thinking about our built environment to be more conducive to help behaviors and healthier to people?”

You bring in facilities people who are experts in whether it be international well building standard or others to start talking about those conversations. Bringin in maybe the OD team to say, “Guys, I know you’re doing leadership development,  you know I’ve got some ideas that we might want to infuse in leadership development opportunities,” and say, “How can we do this together? How can we partner?”

I think the trick is going to be just knowing who to invite to the table and then really creating a collaborative approach to doing this. We are, and to your second question, yes, we’re going to start developing trainings and education around some of these things, but the focus is not necessarily that you need to be the expert.

I think there are some basic fundamentals of how organizations operate that at least we want to create that foundational belief. And then the trick is not that you have to know everything, because I really believe and I think the thing too is that wellness, and I’ll call these programs, programs are not that. And I don’t think that they necessarily need to go away.

So teaching people how to eat better is a good thing. Right? Teaching people maybe in a gym how to be more physically active is a good thing, but that is secondary to having a thriving culture. I think once people operate within an environment where they feel safe to do these things, they’re not going to be penalized or awarded to do them, that then I think it’s taking the next step into say, “You know what, Jen? I know you’re a nutritionist, a dietician, and I’d love to just have a conversation with you about how to eat better.”

Then, I think then that whether that’s a program or just seeking out advice, whatever you want to call that, but then I think that matters. I never say that, and even screen, and even biometric screening, and say you know what, that can be a great tool of resource for people, too. If I want to have that opportunity to go to work and I’ve been working hard on certain things and I wanted to get screened, that’s fantastic.But the difference is that I’m not being penalized or made to feel like shit for not meeting certain thresholds or not participating in the activities that you think I need to do.

I think that health and wellness professionals have a very relevant and a very important job. And I think the big shift is not that their job is changing, but just understanding some of the basics of culture, how to change those organizational development principles and inviting all the right people around the table to hopefully think about it in a much bigger way. As we think about the person we’ve got to think about a whole organization in kind of a similar context.

Jen Arnold: You just said something, so you said like not like their jobs are changing, but do you not think that we need to change the jobs? That we need to change our approach to the jobs?

Ryan Picarella: The approach.

Jen Arnold: The approach.

Ryan Picarella: Yes. The approach. I’m a huge, you know, many years ago when I first started this my job like many health promotion professionals was I always loved the comp. and ben. area, and I think that’s the absolute worst place to put a health and wellness job in a comp. and ben. area. Comp. and ben. people manage risk, that’s what they do. I mean this is a very medical model approach, they’re looking at incentives, they’re looking at engagement or participation, whatever they call that for themselves, looking at cost, and I think that is the last place it should ever be.

If anything that maybe health and wellness people should really be aligned with more training and development folks in an OD, and again I’m bias as you know I have an organizational development background and found myself in comp. and ben. because I was doing wellness when in my head all I was doing was a giant intervention which was really focused on health and wellbeing.

It’s changed management. I’ve always been really bias to that for obvious reasons. I guess, when I say that the approach is changing, and maybe I misspoke the job is changing in the sense that we’re doing it differently, but the skills that you have as a dietician and the skills that you have in exercise,  are still going to be relevant. It’s just how we apply that knowledge and help people I think is what’s changing.

Jen Arnold: Got it. Thanks for clarifying, and that was from Angie Blair. She has a great followup question that I’ll ask you a little bit later. Let’s talk about..I’m deciding where to go, there’s a few ways we can go there. Since we’re on the health professional track, the profession that we’re in, Deb Smolensky asks, “What skills will be needed most in three years to truly make a difference in work site wellbeing and why?”

Ryan Picarella: That’s a great question. I think we kind of danced on it a little bit. I think the most important skills that we’re going to have is I think a new sort of paradigm around what’s the value around wellness, and to be educated on what’s the right data that we need to collect, and how are we going to start tying outcomes with business performance? I mean, my goal with some of the checklist new tools that we’re creating is that we can draw a very clear line between organizational performance and the health and wellbeing of the individual that reside within that organization.

I mean I think that the skills that we’re going to need in three years is I think kind of a broad understanding and what are all of the dimensions that we need to be focused on within that organization. So one that I mentioned earlier would be the built in environment. What is it about the built environment that we need to know today, and how can our skills kind of influence some of those things?

Thinking about light, thinking about space, thinking about temperature, comfort. You know, our air quality, a variety of things, off gassing. I mean there’s a lot of things that I don’t think we even think about when it comes to health and wellness.

I think as we’re thinking about a whole person, I think we need to at least be armed with thinking about organizations as a person. That organizations have many dimensions and many characteristics and to have a broad sort of at least understanding of what those are, and then again being able to bring those together in a thoughtful way to create strategies. I think it’s hard in some ways to say. I think the world of business continues to change in a pretty rapid place, and I think as we continue to write the future some of the information of the past becomes a little bit obsolete.But I think we need to be really striving hard to make sure that wellness  becomes part of the business imperative of an organization, and not necessarily a program.

I think in terms of specific skills, I think it’s just going to be truly thinking through more the value story stuff, thinking about what operations, how we’re going to operationalize this into plans. How to make sure that we are adequately training and arming our management, our senior leaders, our CEO’s with information they need to support you, and hopefully make sure that these initiatives are successful. I think that the skills that we have today are going to be very relevant, but we’re going to have to continue to grow our understanding of business to really be successful in the future.

Jen Arnold: I like what you said earlier as not always having to be the expert. How do rely on and other people, including employees, to help you really get the job done? I don’t think we’re always so good at that.

Ryan Picarella: No. I’ve said, the goal is to put the human back into the workplace, so how do we think about? I mean, I always joke, and so many health promotion practitioners that I’ve met, and I’ll ask them, they don’t even like their own programs. If you don’t like your own program, why the hell are you doing it? Do you think everybody else is going to like it if you don’t? It’s kind of interesting, so I really think if we just take a very human centric approach to this, I don’t think that’s not going to be very different three years from now. I don’t think it was very different 300 years ago, or from now.

That we still all have basic needs, desires, and the need for a social connection at home and the workplace, in our communities. And so really thinking about how do we continue to do that and do more of that, and to create places that we are able to be our best selves. So I don’t know. I think the more that we can think about how to do more human things, the better off we’ll be. And I don’t think that’s a big departure from where we’re at or where we’re going.

Jen Arnold: Yeah. One of the things you just said, too, is that people don’t, health promotion professionals don’t like their own program. I think sometimes they get stuck in the fact that, that’s what they’ve been doing, and leadership expects that of them, so they’ve got to have a hard conversation with leadership that they may be unsure of what they were doing before. And that may be a little bit scary for them, to get a senior leadership and say, “Hey, what we’re doing, it’s not a good approach,” and that can make them look bad.

Ryan Picarella: Jen, like you, I mean, I was being asked to start thinking about implementing an outcomes based program, and it was like I know there’s a lot of people that might be in similar shoes that are being asked or heard, we need to do this, or we need to do that, but in their heart they know that it’s either not the right thing to do, or maybe they’re just not sure, but they do it because they were asked. And I think to me this is the time to take risk, you know. One of the earlier questions is it worth taking risk to do something remarkable, and I think that to me is the risk to take because that is the right thing to do.

And I think I know there’s a lot of people that might be stuck in those situations, but hopefully that’s where..kinda what you’re doing with your podcast, and hopefully some of the resources that we’re doing at WELCOA, that we can at least create information, support, and resources to hopefully steer, or help that person steer their leaders maybe a different direction.

Jen Arnold: Yes. Definitely. Let’s talk a little bit, I’m going to do a time check real quick, of course I put my phone way over here, because we talked for a while beforehand. Let’s talk about the WELCOA Seven Benchmarks and the award. I know that Sarah and I talked about it, but they were still kind of in the process. This actually came from a couple people, Don Porter, and Debra Scott Lafler, hopefully I don’t butcher her last name, tell us about what’s going on with those.

Ryan Picarella: Yeah. I love that question, because honestly this is probably the thing that I am the most excited about that WELCOA is doing right now. We’ve been going through a lot of change and that change is been internal and external over the last couple of years. And this is to me kind of the crown jewel of what we’re about to do, so the seven benchmarks have been around for a long time and they’ve really been a great roadmap I think to helping individuals start wellness programs within the organization.

As we’re moving away from that, that’s the one thing that’s probably giving me more heartburn than anything is that philosophically, we’re probably out of alignment with some of the stuff under the current benchmarks that we need to be. We’ve been spending probably two years now working with experts around the country helping us analyze data from, you know, we’ve probably got 9,000 organizations that have taken our well workplace checklist, which is based on the seven benchmarks and really we’ve got a university, the University of North Carolina, Greensboro we’ve been working with.

We’ve been working with folks like Dee Edington, and Jennifer Pitts, and John Allen, a doctor out of Kaiser-Permanente. Rick Hecht, and employee engagement expert. Jason Lawrenson and others that are really been helping us think through, are the benchmarks the right benchmarks? What is the content that needs to live under each one? What does that next award process look like? How does that really transform the value story?

My goal for all of this is that we can reframe the value story around wellness, and that’s really sort of the principle thing that I want to accomplish with this. I’ll give you an example, I don’t have time to go through all of them, but benchmark one historically has been capturing CEO support, and that’s been around for years. In the future, benchmark one is going to be called the Committed and Aligned Leadership.

We know now that the biggest impact your individual health in an organization is the relationship that you have with your direct boss. So supervisor leadership matters a lot that the CEO certainly sets the tone, they set the culture, they might set norms, traditions, values, a lot of that. But if I work for someone that I have a toxic or poor relationship with, that has a huge impact on my health.

I might lose sleep. I’m not going to feel well. I might have knots Sunday night, Monday morning for sure going to work. What we’re doing is we’re changing a lot of the content that lives under that first benchmark, and removing a lot of the programmatic pieces out to really focus on culture. There’s kind of three pieces to this, so systematic, strategic, and then compassionate. Making sure that these, and that’s how we’re trying to weave these into all aspects of the organization.

The other really big change that’s coming with the seven benchmarks and something that frankly we’ve never done before in the employee wellness world is ask employees what the hell they think. So all of the awards, and I can,and  I’ll beat us up, because all the wellness awards, whether it be ours, Hero, you know the other big one, I’m not even sure who else is out there anymore. But it’s all been through the lens of either a very programmatic approach, or through the health promotion practitioner that’s answered the questions about that award. So you know just as well as I do that how people view your program could be very different than how you view your program, if they even know about your program at all.

You know, we’re also developing tools that employers will be required, if they want to win an award, to get some uptake from their employees to make sure that there is kind of synergies between what they’re saying and what their employees say. The shift at a high level is moving much more away, so from right now, you know, we look at incentives and do you offer health risk assessments? And, do you offer smoke cessation, and do you offer this, and do you offer credit for that? It’s going to completely, completely different.

To some people, this might be great news, and to some people this might be sad news. And I think it’s going to be a little bit painful. I think there might be some winners in the past that do not win in the future, and there might be some organizations adversely that have not won in the past because they don’t rely on programs to drive change, they rely on culture, that I think are going to be really happy with the new seven benchmarks.

We’re actually going to roll these out probably the end of this year, or the first quarter of next year. I’ve got a webinar that I’ve actually started doing, and even started talking about some of the other ones just very loosely that I’ll be doing and then we’ll do a whole new certification course through WELCOA to introduce all the new seven benchmarks. And then roll out the new award process.

It’s really been actually an awesome thing, and the goal again, I mean, is how do we really create a much stronger value story around wellness? I mean, our hope and goal is that we can create tools for organizations to use to really understand where the problems might exist and how to better address those.

I’ll give you an example, so Jed Allan is a friend of mine and is on our group here, too. And one of the company’s that Jed and I worked with a year ago had all the bells and whistles of the program. The health coaches, the fitness centers onsite, this and that, and like a lot of programs people weren’t participating and we went in there and asked, “What’s going on?” The short story is basically that in terms of just a fitness center, there’s a perception that if you’re out there using the fitness center, that you don’t have enough to do in your job, so no one is going to use anything.

So there is a cultural barrier and a trust issue that prevented people from wanting to fully participate in the resources that were offered. Understanding where some of those barriers exist were today our tools certainly doesn’t capture that, and I don’t know that any tool does, I think it’s going to be hopefully really helpful, so that people do maybe take advantage of some of the programs that they have to offer because the focus is much more on a culture than a program.

Jen Arnold: Well, I love it. I love the committed and aligned leadership instead of just talking about that, that CEO that you got to capture their support, and also asking the employees like seriously walking in to see if they even know about what the wellness offerings are, if their culture really supports it. Amen.

I think that is a fantastic shift, and I’m sure there will be people not happy because I see that anytime I ever go to any award ceremony.  So they have local ones here in North Carolina, they just all blend together, they’re like listing programs, and gyms, and everything that they have, but it doesn’t really talk about really what really goes on in their organization.

Ryan Picarella: It’s very checkbox.

Jen Arnold: Yeah.

Ryan Picarella: Do you do this? Do you do that? Do you do this, and do you do that, and that’s really what we want to get away from, and it’s been a while. So I think to the earlier point, how will the code be reflected in this? I think people will do well if they’re really putting a lot of emphasis on treating their people well, and creating supportive environments. Those are the organizations that will continue to score well. It’s going to be a transition, I think for some, but I think it’s the absolute right thing to do.

Also, Jen I think truly if there’s anything that I’ve done or hopefully will do at WELCOA, I think this is going to be hopefully pretty transformative for the field, and for our organizations to really begin to understand how to focus. And then we’ll be able to take this content and hopefully then start creating education for folks. You know, the one big thing that we’re building next year is a whole new learning management system.

So that WELCOA Wellness Institute will be changing and we’re going to create different tracks within that, so organizational development tracks, leadership tracks, a variety of other clinical tracks are going to be in that. We’re also going to develop trainings that we can then leverage with employees, so right now all of our training education is just really for HR folks, or consultants, or whoever.

So really hopefully being able to create opportunities for employees to participate in, too. So we’ve got a lot on the docket for next year, and I know you commented on all of our scribble back there, but as we come in here and just kind of brainstorm, and go nuts, and get excited about what lies ahead.

Jen Arnold: Well, Ryan, I want to sincerely thank you for really shifting it, you and your team, of course, because a lot of organizations, a lot of insurance companies, a lot of people rely on you all to look at these benchmarks. And if they’re not changing then they’re not changing, so thank you for that.

Ryan Picarella: Yeah. No. I’m stoked. I appreciate it.

Jen Arnold: A few more questions. One, Michelle Spehr asked about, she asked a few questions, she always asks about books, so I’ll ask about books…but what did you love about the WELCOA Summit this year? And then on the flip side, what didn’t go so well, if you care to divulge that?

Ryan Picarella: Sure. What did I love about the summit? This was a really special year for us for a couple of reasons. One, we were back at Omaha, so we were able to really have everybody at WELCOA touch some part of the summit. So whether it was creating table decorations, or art pieces for creating videos, and everyone is able to be there to sort of watch there. And I think for those of us that live in the four walls of WELCOA sometimes we don’t see the work that we do, and how it impacts the organizations that we serve. And the other big part, too, is our board of directors was there. In the 30 years we’ve been around, our board of directors has never actually been to one of our events, before, which still just blows my mind.

Jen Arnold: Yeah. That’s kind of crazy, Ryan. Any reason for that?

Ryan Picarella: You know, I don’t know. That’s a good question. But, this was an opportunity for them to be there as well, so we really had, it was kind of like our wedding, and we had all of our best friends and families, and members there. So I think just in terms of the group of people that were able to be there, being our hometown, it was quite special. My family was able to be there, my two little girls were, we introduced the Vic Strecher together, Luke and I did, which was awesome.

I think it was just a very personal thing, and I think that we really had an incredible group of speakers and attendees. I mean a lot of the speakers were people that I’ve gotten to know over the past year or two and really think that they’re visionaries in the work that they do. I think there was really a strong message of positivity, and encouragement, and optimism about the future, and where it’s all headed. I just think it was a good vibe. I mean it just felt from my perspective like everyone really had a good time and it was a blast for us.

What didn’t go well? You know, truly there’s not one thing that I’d say, “God, that just was horrible.” I think there’s always little things that can be improved year after year. I think what might have been a struggle is one, we were packed. And something I’ve been against is doing a lot of breakouts, we’ve never done breakouts before, we always keep people with common experience. And I think sometimes there’s value to bringing people in common industries together to do breakouts and we’re kind of exploring that for next year to maybe do a little bit of a different way of connecting people.

I think sometimes people always want to come to conferences and leave with a lot of tools, and sort of immediate things to do next. And I think sometimes when you have a lot of big thinkers on stage that there might not be as many very tactical things people can go away with, and maybe we could do a better job at kind of giving people more tools to leave with. But, you know, I think the rest of the stuff I would say we’re all minor, but overall I was thrilled with it.

Jen Arnold: Good. Like I said, I’ve heard great things about it. Next year. Next year, I’ll be there. A few more questions. I’m doing a time check. You’ve mentioned your children, and Jason Horay wants to know, “How has having two precious little additions to the family changed or enhanced your own personal well being?”

Ryan Picarella: Well, that’s a good question. You know, from a health perspective, my physical health perspective, they probably have not helped too much this past year. So they just turned 15 months last week. They are my greatest source of joy, now. I mean, seeing them smile and watching them grow is unbelievable. I travel a lot, and if I’m gone for four or five days I come back and they’re doing different things, and they’re just incredible to watch.

This is where FaceTime is so cool, I mean, what a great technology now to be able to see people from a distance. And I think they’ve just really reminded me on what’s important. I mean, family and support, and my wife has been amazing to watch her you know raise kids. And I think that it’s the most challenging thing, and everyone that has kids knows that, you ever done in your life, but by far the most rewarding. I think it really kind of puts my own life’s purpose a little bit back into a different light, like why do I do this?

Now, it’s not as much about, you know, it’s about them, because I think about creating workplaces for tomorrow, that they can work in, and that’s going to be better for them, and then they can achieve their goals, so I just think it changes my lens on why I am doing this, now, and it’s for them. It’s not for me. I don’t know that all of our work will be, I’ll see all the fruition in this lifetime, but hopefully that they will. They’re the most amazing things that have ever happened to me, and they are such a gift and a joy, and they’re freaking hard, too.

Jen Arnold: Oh, God. I know. Don’t I know it? Speaking of why I didn’t go to the summit, kid germs.

Ryan Picarella: Yeah.

Jen Arnold: But, yeah, they put everything into perspective. Right? You had something didn’t go right that day, you come home to your kids, who cares about what didn’t go right.

Ryan Picarella: I joke, and I say this is probably, some people that hear this, or listen to this probably won’t like this but I say, I want to get a t-shirt line, and for people and for dogs that say, kids ruin lives. And I say it jokingly, they ruin lives because they change your life, and I was interviewing a guy and said that, he looked at me and he said, “Well, I like my two kids,” I was like, “No. I like my kids, too. I love my kids very deeply,” I was like, “I didn’t mean that,” I was like, “They ruin the life,” I was like never mind, I’m not going to explain it, it’s probably not a good fit here if you can’t the joke.

Jen Arnold: Just wait, Ryan, until yours, I’ve got a four year old, the older one, putting him to bed at night, under my breath I was like, “God this kid is killing me.” There is, you know…I hear you. It’s not all sunshine and roses.

Ryan Picarella: No. It’s not, but they are awesome.

Jen Arnold: Last question, and I’m going to put a little spin, Kevin Strauss asked, “What you do internally to promote wellness?” You alluded to that. I’m going to ask a little bit of a different question, you talked about really what you want to leave WELCOA, you know, changing the benchmarks, shifting the paradigm, I’m using my own words, but correct me if I’m wrong. But what do you want to leave as maybe your legacy as a leader at WELCOA? Like, your internal as a leader, as a CEO of WELCOA, what do you hope to leave behind?

Ryan Picarella: Well, I mean think just as a tactical answer, I mean an organization that’s really positioned to continue to grow in the future, so that would be on a big picture. On a personal level, that WELCOA is  unique, I mean it’s an incredible organization, and I think as a leader I’ll give you one of the hard lessons I think I’ve learned as a leader, and I think it answers it a little bit that you can only lead like yourself, and you can be yourself, and you can’t be anybody else.

And I’ve had incredible mentors that have really helped me kind of rethink my approach to leadership, the type of person I want to be perceived as, and how I want to sort of move this organization forward. I think that my legacy is that I think we are a wellness company. I say that first and foremost is that work life balance is key, especially having the two girls. I mean, I can’t work 80 hours a week, I mean, I want to get home by 6:00 everyday so that I can help with bathes and put them to bed, and that’s different.

I used to work a lot more, and I’ve had to really make sure that I’m sort of leading the example and not as a dad, as a leader, as a wellness person, as all of that. I think that there is probably, this was not the most balanced place at some point in the past, and that we can lead the only way we know how, which is through ourselves and to create. My people, you know, and the folks that work for WELCOA I would say the team that we’ve been building over the last couple of years is probably the thing that I’m most proud of.

We’ve had a lot of change here, and I think that as, like right now that’s my greatest accomplishment because I think we have incredible people here, and I want to continue to grow the WELCOA family. I’ll answer the original question a little bit, because I think it’s interesting. We don’t have an incentive program, here. I wouldn’t do that in terms of dollars, I mean we have perks and things like that. But we try to talk about it. We have gratitude moments here, we have standing meetings, we have walking meetings, we have fresh flowers here, we have diffusers in the office, we have farm day. We do a lot of things that are really all, we have a dietician here and she’ll do demos for us. We walk all the time together, so we do a lot of things.

The legacy that I want leave from an external perspective is that we transform the value story of wellness into something much more meaningful and much more aligned with businesses of the future, and it’s really going to be something to continue to learn and grow from. As an internal leader that people can lead like they are, that you don’t have to change who you are and that you can do it from a place of love and compassion. And, then ultimately that will pay off a hell of a lot more than leading any other way.

Jen Arnold: Thank you for that, and answering my convoluted question, and of course Kevin’s question as well. Anything before we wrap up that you didn’t get asked, or that you just want to leave listeners with?

Ryan Picarella: I would just say, first, thank you for everybody that’s listened this far, or gone this far, so that’s awesome, so if they’re still hanging on and still paying attention I appreciate that. I think all of us have honestly the greatest opportunity, and we work for the greatest field in the world. I mean, to me thinking about how to improve people’s lives every single day, while it might be frustrating, and I know there’s a lot of obstacles, and that the paradigm is changing, and we’re all getting hit with life in many different directions, but I think that if we just go back to the core and we really try to treat people like people and we try to create environments that really allow people to succeed and be their best person, and to celebrate diversity.

I think to me there’s a lot of wellness with that. Whether that’s cultural diversity, it could be any kind of diversity, I think that’s something that I’ve gotten fairly passionate about as well. We’re just starting to do a women’s leadership opportunity through WELCOA to really try to rise up, not necessarily new, but more women leaders and all of that. But, I think to me that’s wellness, too. That just to go back to kind of the human side of things and to be your own corky self, and to take chances and to not be afraid to be a little bit different, because I think that the rewards from that are far greater than anything else.

I think that’s been a lesson for me. So it’s great working with you. It’s fun to have a lot of friends that are so passionate about the mission. I guess to all the other listeners, I’m always open for suggestions, and feedback, and loves, and hates, and whatever. I think with me, I am this. This is what you get, and so I at least try to be the most authentic person I can be and I’m always willing to sort of listen or just course, or admit when I have been wrong. So that offer stands for anybody that has some information or suggestions for me.

Jen Arnold: That’s one thing, I just want to reiterate to listeners is that you are the same person on this podcast as you are sitting having a drink with off of record. You’re the same person. I appreciate that about you, because not everyone is like that. The transparency is much appreciated.

Ryan Picarella: Cool. I think we all have a lot of work to do and I think we’ll get there. I’m totally optimistic, too. I know you are, and it’s fun. So I’m glad to call you a friend and colleague and look forward to doing more great stuff together.

Jen Arnold: Well, thank you, Ryan, for your time, again.

Ryan Picarella: Yeah.

Jen Arnold: The second interview. Thank you.

Ryan Picarella: Absolutely. Hey, happy to do more like this. They might get bored of us talking, but if I can do anything, again, let me know.

Jen Arnold: Thanks, Ryan.

Ryan Picarella: Yep, you got it, Jen. Take care.

Jen Arnold: You, too.