woman facing ocean with arms open

Agents of Change

Believe it or not, any one of us can be an agent of change.  Think about famous agents of change like Oprah, Michael Pollan, or Brené Brown.  All three can be considered very influential, and yet none of them come at us as the “expert.”  They appeal to us through their own vulnerability and convictions to live their lives true to their personal missions.  They inspire with stories, not just statistics, and they facilitate others’ stories and life experiences through their writing and presentations.  

In Laura Putnam’s groundbreaking book, “Workplace Wellness that Works,” she continuously emphasizes the connection between wellness programs that stick–be that in the workplace or in our homes–and creating a movement. A quick way to illustrate this is from a recent video I saw of 78 year old Bonilla, illustrating why wellness programs like “CrossFit” have endured as a movement rather than just another gym or fitness regimen.  It brings tears to my eyes thinking of all the members doing 78 reps on his birthday this year to celebrate his commitment to fitness at any age.  There’s no denying that diets (like Paleo) and fitness programs connected to a strong community like CrossFit, have much greater impact on participation and sustainability than programs focused on individualized weight loss above all else.  Same applies to organizational wellness, be that in a company or our homes.  We must find a way to create a wellness movement, rather than focusing solely on the individual behavioral change.

So how can we transition from wellness coaches, parents, trainers, and educators into agents of change for our organizations? Laura outlines some suggestions and, by the way, she comes from an elementary school teacher background and now leads one of the most successful wellness consulting firms in the country!

Statistics Scare + Stories Inspire

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of this.  During my earlier lunch & learns with clients, I could barely catch my breath between all the scary health statistics and technical jargon I spewed to my wide-eyed audience (or let’s face it, some bored non-listeners).  Knowing what I know now, most people walked away with too much info to process and not enough inspiration to move forward and make any lasting changes.  Many of us are turned off by fear and motivated by happiness.  In fact, many well intentioned workplace wellness programs only get about 10-20% participation when they’re disease-management focused and people are more and more turned off by biometric screenings these days.  

That’s not to say we don’t need science and statistics to back up our emotionally inspired stories, but from the top business owner, to the soon-to-be-grandma finding her deeper why, we are all driven by our hearts.  I now aim to spend 15-20 minutes mostly storytelling, mixing in some statistics for good measure. Then I’ll collaborate with the audience or show real-world examples of how cultures of organizational wellness actually work.  It’s been difficult to transition away from the standard 60 minute talk, because when clients book me, they expect that I can fill the full hour.  At the end of the day, I’d prefer people walk away feeling inspired rather than overwhelmed.  

BE A STORY COLLECTOR!  Get a journal or create a specific note on your smartphone dedicated to saving your most inspirational stories.  It’s easy to forget in a pinch, so I bring my journal everywhere with me and jot notes down about specifics and the most moving info.

Focus on the Costs Beneath the Surface

Despite those heart-driven leaders, most of us are initially driven by financial costs or gains.  There’s nothing wrong with this, especially considering that most employees don’t realize how much their employers are already spending on them beyond their monthly paycheck.  But when it comes to being a movement maker, we’ve got to focus on the value that making healthier cultures brings.  Most practical ROI projections might only apply to very large, self-insured firms and even then it’s a long shot.  

Believe it or not, the data actually shows us that rising costs of medical and pharmaceutical expenses are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the heavy cost of sick employees and family members.  Those are easy to identify, however, so they get thrown around a lot in the wellness consulting world.  But there’s an even deeper cost that we’re only just starting to recognize called Presenteeism.  This is when employees (and, I’d argue, humans in general) show up physically, but aren’t productive, efficient, or mindfully present.  In fact, Harvard Business Review published in 2004 that this is actually 63% of the indirect cost to employers across the country when compared with health insurance, absenteeism, on the job injuries, and more.

So when organizations and even individuals ask me about expected ROI’s (return on investment), I’m honest and tell them it’s a tough thing to track and to be wary of anyone who tells them differently.  I focus on employee recruitment, retention, and long-term sustainability from creating a full blown culture of wellness and not just a program within the larger picture.  I also tell them to take their time.  Movements rarely happen overnight and “mini-movements” are totally possible through inspiring storytelling, newsletters, family fitness retreats, nutritious meal classes, and more.

Infused Mission Statements with Organizational Values

Let’s look at the outdoor goods company, Patagonia.  When Laura tried to reach their wellness program director, the receptionist told her that they don’t have one.  Yet, this is a company whose founder insists on daily beach meetings and making sure employees have time to surf on their breaks!  Patagonia is just one of many examples where wellness isn’t just a program they obsessively count pennies for to see if it’s worth it; wellness is infused 100% into the culture every single day.  Their mission statement is about giving back to the earth and creating a sustainable future.  Their culture of wellness is wrapped so intrinsically with their mission statement, it’s a part of their company’s foundation.

If you’re a marketing firm, for example, creating a mission statement focused on innovation, for example, can help weave in your culture of wellness, or an industry centered on leadership can create their mission statement based on leadership development programs that exalt well-being as part of being a good leader.


Building your personal WHY is vital for your long-term wellness, and it’s integral to any organizational wellness movement!  


Clients call me their Culture Coach or Wellness Guru, but my one focus is helping you create lasting holistic organizational well-being.