Mari Ryan is an expert in worksite well-being. She leverages over 30 years of business experience in various marketing, consulting and executive roles across a variety of different industries.
For the past decade, Ms. Ryan has been creating healthier businesses and impacting the lives of employees, through her consulting work and speaking on worksite well-being.
Mari earned a Bachelor Degree from Lesley University, an MBA from Boston University, a Master’s degree in Health Promotion from Nebraska Methodist College, and is a certified Worksite Wellness Consultant.
She is the founder and former Board Chair of the Worksite Wellness Council of Massachusetts, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Health Promotion Advocates and Global Women 4 Wellbeing.
Mari is an active member of the National Speakers Association. Mari is the author of The Thriving Hive: How People-Centric Organizations Ignite Engagement and Fuel Results.
In today’s episode you’ll learn:
- What is a people-centric organization?
- What is the link between employee wellbeing and engagement, productivity and commitment?
- What is the relationship between a thriving organization and business results?
- What are characteristics of a thriving organization?
- How can leaders and managers can support employee wellbeing?
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business.
My guest today is Mari Ryan. Mari is the CEO of Advancing Wellness. That’s her company. She tells me she has just written a new book that we’re going to talk about a bit. We’re going to talk about what is a people-centric organization. I will promise you that we’ll go way past that but that’s where we’re going to start. Since I’m the fan of the shortest introductions of all times, we’re going to bring Mari on and start the conversation.
Hey, Mari. How are you today?
Mari: I’m just fabulous, Josh. Thanks so much for inviting me to be here with you today.
Josh: It’s my pleasure. So, you have a book?
Mari: I do have a book. Here’s my new book. It actually was literally launched yesterday. It’s called The Thriving Hive: How People-Centric Workplaces Ignite Engagement and Fuel Results.
Josh: Okay. Why don’t we start there? What is a Thriving Hive and how does that work?
Mari: Well, I love that your show is called Sustainable Business. We think about what it takes to create a sustainable business. It really is dependent on the workforce, the people you hire to do the work. You recognize, as a business owner, that you can’t meet your business objectives without that workforce, and without them being productive, and healthy, and engaged.
When we think about a thriving workplace, we want to think about a place where people are really excited about being there. They love their jobs. They look forward to coming to work. They’re engaged in the work they do. They are collegial and friendly and socialize with their colleagues and they have fun at the work that they do.
Josh: How do you do that?
Mari: Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Otherwise, every place would be a thriving hive, right?
When we think about what it takes to create a thriving hive, it really is based on a number of elements that go to leadership practices and how a culture is created in the workplace. For example, if we have an organization where the leaders make it very clear what the mission and purpose of the organization is and that’s not just profit, that goes beyond profit. Profit’s an actual outcome. It’s something that results when a business is doing the right things and that they’re producing products or services in a way that it satisfies the needs of their customers. But it also has to satisfy the needs of their employees. Having that vision of something that’s bigger – a bigger mission, how they impact people and how their product or services influences the lives of the people that they touch. That’s when you can really start to feel connected. The first and fundamental piece is really around having people feel connected to something bigger to that purpose and vision of the organization.
Josh: Well, you’re speaking from my choir because I, forever, said the first step in creating a sustainable business is having a values-led organization.
Josh: You’re talking about purpose and you’re talking about mission. To me, that’s step two and three. Step one is always, “What are the values of the company? Are they core values or aspirational values?”
Mari: I totally agree. You have to have values. Which comes first, chicken/egg? I’m not concerned about the order in which things come. I totally agree that you have to have core values that are a fundamental aspect of how the organization is run, how people are treated and really how you live those values in that workplace. It’s a part of your culture.
Josh: I want to ask you a silly question. It’s not so silly. It actually is a question that I ask people all the time and they generally get it wrong. My question is, “Who is more important to treat well, your customers or your employees?”
Mari: For me, that’s a really easy answer and that is your employees because when you treat your employees well, when you take care of your employees, they take care of the customers.
Josh: You see, that’s the answer that I agree 100% with that. I have to tell you that when ask that question to the average entrepreneur or average business owner, they answer the opposite that it’s more important to take care of the customers. My experience has been that if you don’t treat your employees well, there is no way they’re going to treat your customers well.
To me, it’s just common sense. It seems like you and I really are from the same school of thought. You think about this, if you’ve ever had an experience with an employee that is disgruntled or unhappy, that reflects entirely on the organization. Every employee, regardless of to what extent they have direct contact with a customer, they all impact the work that you do and how that gets to your end customer. If you don’t take care of your people first, they’re not going to be there to take care of your customers.
Josh: Yeah, I just have two words that really hammer that home. Those two words are United Airlines [laughs].
Mari: There’s lot of examples of this. Unfortunately, they’re in the news all the time. We can all think of a name of some story we heard that makes the front page of the newspaper. United Airlines happens to be a frequent one. And yet, there are some organizations you never hear those kinds of stories about. You hear the opposite kind of stories.
Speaking of the airlines, like Jet Blue or Southwest Airlines, you only always hear the great stories about the things they’re doing for their customers because that’s core. Those values – taking care of people – really looking deeply into those values. It’s core to the organization.
Josh: If I’m going to do three or four things that are very specific to start moving my company to being one that I really do care about my employees and I want my employees to be happy and productive, what’s your recommendations?
Mari: Well, I think a couple of things. We talked a little bit about purpose and vision. So, tying the work that you do – in every job. Every job has meaning and ties to the vision and the mission. I think, beyond that, one of the core things I’m really an advocate of is, how we communicate and the transparency with which we communicate within our organizations – both to our employees and to customers.
We’ve had some recent news, here in Massachusetts, about fires and gas lines exploding in three towns north of Boston and yet it appeared as though the provider of those services – the gas company that provided those services was like nowhere to be found. Why were they not out there communicating and making sure that everybody was safe? I think communications is another real fundamental. And it’s not just simply share the good news. I think it’s important that employees know where the business stands, that it’s important to be very open and honest in those communications.
Josh: Yeah. I would absolutely agree with that.
I actually have a good story about that. In that, my first business for 20 years, I owned a food service and vending company. We had the worst thing that ever could happen to a food service company which is we had a Salmonella breakout. I’m a big fan of scenario plans. We had scenario-ed this out beforehand. We chose radical openness and transparency which ended up working really to our advantage. First of all, our employees didn’t feel like they’re being put out to dry. The second is, our customers knew exactly what we’re doing every step of the way because we communicated with them about.
The group that we did leave out was the media. The media wanted to have conversations with us. Frankly, I was more concerned about communicating with my customers and with my employees than talking to the media. They were going to write whatever they were going to write anyhow. They’re going to blast me no matter what. Me, wasting my time on the media was a total waste of time.
As it worked out, we ended up losing no customers which is really unusual in that because that’s usually a death blow for a company. It really wasn’t any of our fault except for our commissary manager who was going to try to save me some money by using the wrong products. At any rate, it does work when you’re being radically transparent. I’ve had personal experience with that.
There’s going to be people listening to this podcast, Mari, who are going to say, “Oh, that’s really nice for you, Patrick, but it wouldn’t work in my company.” What do you say to them?
Mari: Well, I think we have to understand why they believe it wouldn’t work and what practices they’re currently employing and how those are working for them. I think sometimes we underestimate what can work. I’m all for failing fasting. You know, experiment and fail fast. Try it and if it doesn’t work, you know pretty quickly that it didn’t work. But at least you learned whether it worked or not.
I think a lot of this goes to how you interact with your employees as well. Is there a foundation of trust in the workplace? Communication and trust are so tied together. How are you creating that environment of trust where people have each other’s back where they know that they can count on each other and where they really believe and understand that we’re all in this together and we’re all here for the common good.
Josh: Yeah. I call that having a culture of mistakes which basically means that if you make a mistake you’re not going to get clobbered for it. You’re probably not going to get yelled for it unless you hide it. But if you bring it out in the open, my favorite question is, “What did you learn?”
Mari: Exactly. Right. We learn every day.
I learned this when I took up photography a few years ago. At first, I was going to quit because I kept taking terrible pictures. I realized pretty quickly that every picture I took was a learning experience and that I really had to look at it that way. Eventually, I came to be a much better photographer but I had to be willing to accept that just because it didn’t work out that time, it doesn’t mean that I can’t improve or that I can’t change what I’m doing, or I can’t learn something new to be able to make it work better. In the end, I did become a better photographer but it took me a while to get there.
Josh: There’s two things that Buckminster Fuller used to say which I really like a lot. One is, “Mistakes are learning opportunities” and two is “You don’t learn less.” The truth is we never learn by doing it right, we only learn when we make a mistake because then we figured out what didn’t work and we start looking at what did work.
In a business, the worst thing that ever happened– I started my first business when I was 24. The worst thing in the world that could happen to a 24-year-old happened to me. Do you know what that was?
Mari: Well, tell me. What?
Josh: I was really successful out of the box.
Josh: That is a terrible thing when you start a business because you believe it’s your skill when, in fact, if you’re really successful out of the box, more likely than not it’s just luck.
Mari: Good for your that you were at least lucky. But I bet, later on, you learned some of those lessons that overcame some of that luck.
Josh: Well, two years later, I almost went out of business because I was so successful and I didn’t have the knowledge I needed.
I’m developing a new product right now which we’re calling The Cashflow where people don’t have level cashflow in their business. The problem with that is that it comes from going in hills and valleys. You have to learn from that. Until you’re short on cash, you don’t learn that lesson. You’re going to learn that lesson at some point in your business. The earlier, the better – when it’s less painful.
Mari: I started my business in a recession so, believe me, I get it.
Josh: Yeah. Yeah.
You also talk about wellness programs. What is a wellness program? I know what I think a wellness program is. In your world, what’s a wellness program and why is that important?
Mari: Well, businesses have been doing wellness programs for decades, probably 40 or 50 years. Yet, in the last few years, wellness programs have really come into vogue in terms of businesses really feeling like they need to be doing these in order to be able to attract and retain employees. Typically, a wellness program consists of three different elements – usually awareness and education programs, behavior change programs, and then policies in the workplace that help provide the conditions that will encourage and support healthy lifestyles for employees.
In the last few years, we’ve actually started changing our language a little bit on this because traditionally when we think about wellness programs, we think about our physical health – how much I sleep, how much I move, what I eat, how much I weigh. And yet, we’ve also have come to recognize, over the last few years, that we’re more than just our physical selves. Mental well-being, psychologically-safe workplaces, our financial health and well-being all play into our overall well-being. We’ve really kind of changed the language a little bit, away from just wellness, and more towards well-being.
Josh: You mentioned three different types of well-being. Can you unpack each of those a little bit and tell us what they are and how they affect people?
Mari: When someone’s building what we call a comprehensive wellness program in a workplace – this can be a workplace of any size, we start with awareness and education programs because not everybody’s ready to make a change. Let’s take a tobacco user as an example. This is a classic example. Not every tobacco user is ready to quit – some are but some aren’t. Some are quite happy using tobacco. Many of them say that, “It helps reduce my stress.”
We start with awareness and education programs to be able to hopefully improve and move their readiness to change towards a place where they’re contemplating the change or they’re ready to take action on the change. That’s where the behavior change programs come in, which is a very typical type of program in a workplace setting such as a healthy-eating program. You’ve seen weight loss programs, walking programs – any number of kinds of things that are related to not only our physical health but our emotional health such as stress reduction.
And then, the last piece is policies in the workplace. The reason we look at policies in the workplace is– what we’re really trying to do is create the conditions, in the workplace, where employees can be their best, where we have no obstacles or barriers that are going to interfere with their being the best person they can be. Policies in the workplace that typically we would look for would be things like the one that we hear a lot about these days is work-life balance and flexibility. Do I have the ability to be able to work at home and have flexible work schedules so that I can– if I had children, can drop those children off at school and come in at a little different time? Being able to really look at the policies in the workplace and the way jobs are constructed so that people can have more flexibility. There’s another example of a policy.
Josh: That makes sense to me. Here’s another one of my little trick questions I have [laughs]. Can you motivate somebody?
Mari: I would say, “Yes. You can motivate somebody.”
This is actually very interesting because often this is inherently built into wellness programs where there are extrinsic motivators that are incorporated in the program. If you earn a certain number of points or do a certain number of things, we’re going to pay you some money or you can earn some points. At the end of the year, you’re going to get a discount on your health insurance or money deposited in your health savings account. As extrinsic motivators, we know that those can work for short-term behavior. In reality, the only way that we really get to long-term behavior change is through intrinsic motivation. People have to have their own reason, their own intrinsic desire to want to make a change or to demonstrate a certain type of behavior.
I would say, the answer is, only if they’re intrinsically motivated can you motivate somebody to change.
Josh: I would agree with that. We did those point programs. They used to call me Mr. Bonus when I had my food service and vending company. I can tell you the points programs work for the people who were going to get enough points to win, but everybody else in the company just didn’t even try. I found that was just something ridiculous.
What I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t motivate people. You can de-motivate them and you can set a situation for people to be motivated in. I agree 100% that motivation to always comes from within, it doesn’t come without which really goes to, in my opinion, selection of who’s going to be in your company in the first place.
Josh: Which goes back to values.
Mari: I would agree with both of those things. I think it’s also our role as leaders and managers to create the conditions where people can be motivated. You hire to fit so you hire the people that are going to fit with the culture and fit with the values and buy into your mission and vision. But we have to create those conditions where people will be motivated.
Josh: Absolutely. If you’re not creating conditions and those conditions are not congruent with what you’re saying your values are, your employees see you as a liar.
Josh: We’re out of time, unfortunately, for the podcast portion, Mari. I’d like to continue this for a second, when we get done, in Facebook Live if you’re interested.
Mari: Absolutely. Let’s keep going.
Before we go there. How can people find you?
Mari: The best way for people to find me would be to go to our website which is– company name is Advancing Wellness. It’s A-D-V- like a daily vitamin wellness.com, advwellness.com.
I have an offer for you, too. Mari has just released a book. I released my book in January but it’s still for sale. Hopefully, it will be sale for many years to come. It’s called Sustainable: A Fable About Creating a Personally and Economically Sustainable Business. You can get it at all the usual places like Amazon. It’s in the Kindle version and a print version. If you go to my website and you get the print version, you also get a free 20-minute strategy call with me where I guarantee you’ll get at least one piece of take-home value. I wrote 37-page how-to guide for how to implement all of the stuff that we talk about in the book. You can get that at www.sustainablethebook.com. Just go there. Click on the big orange button on the homepage. Order the book and it’ll be on its way to you very soon.
This is Josh Patrick. We’ve been with Mari Ryan. You’re at the Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.