Guest: Vlad Stevens Guest Title: HR Director
Date: August 23, 2017 Guest Company: Charles River Community Health
Debra: Hello, everyone. This is Debra Ruh and hopefully you’re following us on Facebook. Welcome to Human Potential at Work. I always love all my guests, you know that but, today I have a really old dear friend, Vladimir Stevens is joining us and he goes by Vlad and Vlad actually was my boss when we were in mortgage banking. He really, really helped me blossom in the role and we have been friends ever since. Vlad has a very, very, very interesting background so Vlad, welcome to the program.
Vlad: Thank you. Thank you, Deb and good morning all y’all. It’s good to be here.
Debra: I love the ‘y’all’ you’re showing your southern roots.
Vlad: You know, I’ve actually made it an accepted word so it doesn’t pop up in spellcheck.
Debra: That’s right, that’s right. Well Vladimir, I wanted to have you on for a lot of reasons. I love your voice, I actually reported to you so, I loved your really welcoming management style encouraging me to be my best. You actually were one of my best managers ever and you were always really pushing me in a positive way to help me be better and better. I feel like I grew more under your leadership than with any other manager. So, I’m just really proud to have you on the program today.
We’re gonna have a really interesting conversation today. We’re gonna talk about Vladamir is an HR manager and I’ll let him talk about his background but he has been an HR Training Manager for very, very large global brands including Staples and he now is working for a nonprofit in Massachusetts and we’re gonna talk about that.
So, he’s an HR professional for many years, he is a very talented man. He also is very active in the LGBT community and I am proud to announce that Vladimir is going to have a show on our new network, Global Impact Today, and I hope that you find his voice as interesting as I do and that you tune into his show when it comes on in the next couple of months.
We’ll be sure to let you know about it but, today let’s really let Vlad talk about a little bit about his career and all the different things he did and why it’s so important to include a diverse population in our workforce.
Vlad: Wow. I don’t know … I’m really not [inaudible 00:02:52]. Deb, thank you. Yes, I’ve been doing HR all my professional life. There was a little mix of IT for a while so, in my tagline is kind of, bringing together people, process and technology. From retail groups with the May Company and Walgreens to City Bank to Bank of Boston, which is where Deb and I met in Jacksonville, Florida, and then the bank relocated us to New England to work with the mother company.
I managed a branch, I did a lot of diversity training back when it was hot. What was that, like 1991 through whatever when it was a big thing and everyone had to take diversity, not it’s simmered down and things are different. But, you know what? I sort of now use the term ‘globality’ because I think that that encompasses all of the tenants of diversity and takes it beyond our shores. It talks about, “This is what we need to do in order to be that functioning global society that we all aspire to be.” Well, most of us anyway.
As Deb said, I did a lot of work in finance. I worked in Citibank for years, I worked Bank of America and Staples. Did a couple of months in academia, which I would go back to. I am an adjunct professor at a couple of local universities when I can get back to that. But, the thing that’s common throughout all of that, and Deb you and I shared this many years ago, what really jazzes us is knowing that we’re making a positive difference in one life or in a few.
Because I think that’s what helps us to propel forward and to move past these seemingly frightening things that might be happening around us, knowing that there is a nucleus of good that we can add to and augment. After doing all the work that I did for these huge fortune 100 corporations and we did, I will never … I don’t have any regrets about anything I’ve done.
Staples was huge as was the bank in helping me to actually go global. So, working in Vietnam, working in Amsterdam, working in China, working in Canada. And really experiencing all the different aspects of what it means to be an HR professional and work with people in different environments with different drivers.
In Europe, diversity is a very different thing than it is here in the [crosstalk 00:05:25].
Debra: Right. Right.
Vlad: Things that we take for granted as far as just gender equality, which is not even equal yet but try going to some of the other countries. Try going to India and seeing how much that plays out. I worked and lived in Inc hini, India where my team was for quite a while.
All that stuff, I feel, prepared me for what I’m doing now. I feel like corporations with all their money and all their resources and people have a stunning ability to pull together these massive projects. And then what happens is because a lot of them are focused on shareholder value, that stuff takes a second, third or even lesser seat as they look to build their profits.
What I want to do is bring all that know-how and experience that I got from years and years at different big corporations and see how I can make that happen in a small, nonprofit that doesn’t have really any money except for what we get from grants. And while I have that organizational structure, I want to maintain the sincerity that makes us, sort of, the attraction.
You know what I mean? The family feel?
Vlad: You go to corporations and you see these lovely graphics that talk about team and together and all that stuff and yet, in the background there are people wailing in the halls because they’ve been flashed for cut or something else has happened. So, I’d like to create that environment that actually does all that, actually has people feel like they are … a sense of belonging. Being a part of an important mission, a family, a team that pulls together. And then also have some of the stuff we need to really be competitive and to attract hot talent.
So, for instance Deb, we just put in an online payroll system and it has ATS in it, has all that good stuff. We didn’t have that before I came here, everything was paper. There’s still a lot of paper, I’m about to launch our first online performance appraisal process so, people can do it from their smartphones because even though I am a social media dinosaur, I do understand that people want to have communication very quickly and readily. I want to be able to express themselves.
I will tell you that as a result of this, I will get a Facebook account [crosstalk 00:07:50] I want to be more in touch. I want to hear what’s going on, right? I think it’s important to identify and leverage all the ways that … I don’t know how else to … I’m gonna say ‘God’, which can be a variety of things but all the ways that God, opportunities presented to us, to be [inaudible 00:08:11] for the stuff that we know we can do and drive.
So, thank you Deb for helping me to come out of my Facebook struggle.
Debra: Well, you brought up a good point. We were talking about it because you do, you are on social media and you use it but what’s happened, and I totally agree with this, is it seems like sometimes our lives are so busy and then we gotta do social media on top of it. Some of the things that are happening in the US and the world that impact all of us and one reason why I think your voice is so important, Vlad, is because you’re an HR manager now, you have been for major global brands and now you’re working for a nonprofit that’s doing very, very important work and I think really making sure that your voice is counted with the others, I think, is very important. That is where things like these programs are so important.
And I remember I came and visited you, gosh a year ago, it’s already been a year, and we were talking [crosstalk 00:09:25] yeah, it’s amazing and I was talking to you about all of the work I was doing with disability inclusion and I was saying things like, “Well, you know HR managers need to know this and this” and you’re like, “Uh, what? Debra, we know this. We’ve been trained in this.” And I was really surprised at what you were telling me because sometimes Vlad, the disability community, we maybe the HR managers don’t understand these things.
And you were like, “Not only do we understand that, you have to understand we’re looking at talent from across the board. Of course, we want the most qualified talent but we’re looking at it across the board of diversity and inclusion” and so, we had some very interesting conversations and you actually made me feel a lot more hopeful.
Do you mind talking a little bit about … Well, first of all, talk about the nonprofit that you’re working for now because what they’re doing is really beautiful but at the same time, it’s being impacted by what’s happening in the politics of the United States. As we walk disruption in our country as we try to grow. I will stay very positive with that.
Vlad: You know what? There’s no turning back that I believe as badly as the current administration wants to do away with healthcare for millions, especially here in Massachusetts and I’ll send you a link or post a link or whatever. I didn’t even know this until I started but federally qualified community health centers first began here in Boston. Pretty much back in 1958, as old as I am. Oh, I just put a leak out there, didn’t I?
But, this video is very touching because it talks about something that people, I think it’s around the whole thing of ‘health privilege’ if I can use that. If you remember back when diversity was big, one of the terms was, white male privilege. And the idea was that if you weren’t a white male, there were a lot of things that you just didn’t even know about because it was never part of your world and vice versa.
Many of us who grew up in middle class or families that had private pediatricians or what not, don’t understand what it could be like for many, many folks who don’t have that, who have to rely on public hospitals, ER rooms, clinics and this was something that created, driven by Kennedy but without getting out into all the politics, it’s fascinating to understand that these federally qualified health centers are designed to serve people who don’t have the financial wherewithal or the social wherewithal to really get the good healthcare that everyone needs and deserves.
From insuring that we are always connected to the needs of the community by having a Board of Directors that is 51% comprised of patients to making sure that we are not just fixing the ouch but actually doing things versus last year … Yesterday we had a huge health fair in the parking lot. We had local vendors and support teams from just about every aspect you can think. We try to serve the whole family. Whether it’s education about how to manage chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes that impact so many people and even more so, in some of our ethnic communities.
We also make sure that we have counselors who could help to refer people to whatever it is that they need. We make sure that we have connections with our local food pantries and that sort of thing so that we make, not just say, “You oughta eat more vegetables” but make them available to people easily. They come here and they pick them up on a regular basis.
It’s amazing how much we do that helps us to meet our mission of meeting the health needs of underserved and really just anyone in the community. I started something like … I’ve only been here a little over a year and part of me was like, “Oh my god. Everybody would want this.” Because, we have a patient centered approach that focuses on integrative care.
So, if you come in, Deb, and you’re here for a dental checkup but in the meantime I heard you’re having some other challenges, we can navigate and refer you internally. We have behavioral health, dental, medical, we have a large women’s health group that talks about some of the more common challenges around breast cancers and things and it’s expanding.
The idea is that you don’t have to go out because sometimes too, based on your circumstances and what you have available to you, can’t be making multiple trips out to this specialist and that provider and if you don’t speak the language, God even speaking the language is confusing enough but, trying to … So, we have internal staff that speak a variety of languages. We also sign up for interpretation in case so that if you come in and you speak some really [inaudible 00:14:43] dialect, we can still help you. May take more time but the goal is, enabling people to have good health, to raise themselves and their children and their communities in ways that perpetuate a positive, go forward, good health in spite of everything else.
We exist a lot by grants so, we do a lot of work to make sure … And that’s why, we’re gonna be meeting with our new development director because we’re going to create … We have a company page on LinkedIn but we haven’t used it. We want to use it more to say, “Here’s what we support and here’s some of the stuff that we’re into.” We just had pride here in Boston and we had a group in the parade and so, we got some great pictures and again, it shows that Charles Herbert Community Health is with you. We are part of your community, we are of your community, we invite you to link with us and to learn how we can help.
Debra: And you know, one thing that … A couple of things I was thinking about as you were explaining what they do in the first place, I remember when I was discouraged about a political event that happened in the United States and as I was walking the path, I remember … I just realized that it doesn’t really matter who is, say, a governor or a president or a senator. What should matter to me is, I have a responsibility to do the best thing I can for my family and my community and myself. And so, I think that places like the organization that you’re working with right now, they’re so important to the community.
I also know, I do a lot of Zumba on my off time and I had a woman come up to me and she said, “Debra, I have friends of mine that are undocumented and they’re daughter has Down’s Syndrome and there are other members of the undocumented part of our society that have children with disabilities and they don’t have any resources, they have no support” and I know before we started the program today, you talked a little bit about as we’re walking, once again all this scare and negativity and disruption in the United States when it comes to our health care, that some of the undocumented workers were actually afraid to come in and get help.
I was wondering if just for a few moments you could talk a little bit about that what you did to address it because people with disabilities in diverse communities, it goes across all the way, through all socioeconomic lines.
Vlad: Absolutely. It became apparent … It kind of took us by surprise when Trump took over and started talking about cutting down on immigration and tightening and suddenly our patient cancellation went through the ceiling. We’re like, “What, what’s going on here?” People weren’t showing up. Some wouldn’t even respond to calls or outreach and I believe that when they look at the media and see some of the things like people going to just do something innocent and being stopped for a traffic ticket then they search and find that they’re undocumented and they get hauled away.
In understanding that here, there are a lot of families so there are people who have, I forget what they call it but when your child was born here but you actually were illegal, you actually sent away and then we have a family torn apart, which creates all kinds of issues. When we did a little more checking and most of my staff here speak Spanish and I’m hoping to be able to improve my Spanish, although I’m always in the office doing stuff instead of being out there but that’s when we found out that people were afraid.
They said, “No. People don’t want to come in.” We are federally qualified so we are connected to the government in that way. People are afraid that there were [inaudible 00:18:46] agents somehow, in our records or wind and wait to grab them and say, “Let me how you your documentation”. So, what we did was find a local Latino attorney who comes in and provides pro bono sessions where … and we advertise it to our patients, come in and understand your right to this new age of crack down on health care.
It’s very important because then people A, need to hear “I can do, you can do it” but A, we’re not fluent speakers and they can tell we’re probably not of [inaudible 00:19:24] you gotta go to people where they are and so, he’s been able to help us spread the word and get folks in about, you don’t IF Agents, it doesn’t work that way and helping people to feel safe. And please come and get your health looked at because guess what? If you’re unhealthy or ill it doesn’t really matter, you’re not gonna be able to participate and help yourself or anyone else.
So, that has been helpful and also just partnering … There’s about, I don’t know, 50 or so F2HC’s in Massachusetts statewide and they’re a good number here and I think one of the challenges for us is, because we’re located in a more affluent area by zip code, so we’re in Harvard land. Harvard is all around us, we have buildings, business school and stuff. From a very high perspective, if people are just looking at zip codes and they go, “Yeah, they don’t need anything, right?” They’re gonna focus on the zip codes that are more all black or all Latino where there’s lots of crime and those health centers get more benefits whereas we get the [inaudible 00:20:33] because they’re like, “Hey, you guys are alright.”
What I’m trying to do is change that by at some point, helping them to look at, look at our patient list because if you look at [inaudible 00:20:43], you’ll see that more than 60% are under the poverty income level. How many don’t speak English? How many have these needs? Then you’ll see the real need. I can tell you there are so many things to get done. I sometimes just think at home, “God, how can I ever get it all done?”
But everyday is a bit of a progress and sometimes it’s good for me to go out in the lobby and just say ‘hello’, use the little bit of Spanish I have. After Hola and pollo and things like that I’m kinda [crosstalk 00:21:17].
Debra: Gracias. Yeah, I know [crosstalk 00:21:21].
Vlad: I’m hoping that Paul and I can take an immersion and go spend two weeks in the city where all we can do is speak Spanish and I feel like with the little bits and pieces of classes I’ve taken over the years I might be able to actually hold a conversation. But, I digress.
So, those are the ways that we make sure that we’re available and that we’re adding value to the existence of people who otherwise may not be able to get that.
Debra: Right, right. So Vlad, let’s step back from the amazing nonprofit work you’re doing now and go back into corporate America even though you’re working for global companies. What did you do when you worked as the HR Director for Staples and you had a global position there and I know the many banks. How did you assure that diversity was being considered, certainly in employment practices and retention and training but tell us more about your experiences. Especially because, as you noted, you were traveling to other countries all the time for Staples. So, tell us more about those experiences.
Vlad: I think I had a nice regression. So, when I was at the bank I was doing more US diversities. When I was at Bank of Boston after we sold the mortgage company where you and I worked and was focused here in New England, again, that was in the heart of diversity and of course in 2000, we had work shops for two hours, half a day, the residential ones for five days where people cried and wept and kumbaya’d and all that sort of thing, right?
It became apparent to me after a while that when you work in any way corporate America at that time and probably a lot so now, it hasn’t changed a lot, at the end of the day it was important to have a diversity program because that’s what good companies did.
Vlad: But unless you really had the leadership and the commitment from the top, those were more, I don’t know, billboards, nice …
Debra: White wash?
Vlad: You know what I’m saying? It didn’t happen. And so, after a while I said to myself having a lot of really intense experiences, “You know what? I’m never going to take a formal diversity role for a big corporation again” because I felt like it was a hood ornament. Good to have, that sort of thing but when you really looked at what difference was being made, do you actually have now more diverse people on the board? Do you have more diverse people in senior positions? Because it’s easy to bring people in at the lower level and say, “Yeah, we’ve got a lot of people that are diverse.”
So, I became a little disenchanted. When I started working for Staples and doing the work that I did, which was really around a lot of OD and helping to … Remember Staples was created by having lots of affiliates and things that they had purchased globally and in many cases, the goal at that time was just to latch onto them and have them be part of the portfolio. You didn’t look to Staple-ize everything.
So, when I went to work in [inaudible 00:24:29], trying to make sure that we centralize our RT functions, right? Think about a global IT organization, in order for that to work, it’s gotta be connected, things have to work 24/7, there’s gotta be cooperation and collaboration. A lot of that wasn’t happening. We had separate teams that would fight over things did not align and things would stall. My job was to go and create working relationships and teams out of folks that worked in Shenzhen or Amsterdam or many places and so, I would go and my job was to kinda create connections. Working with management teams to help people understand, kind of creating … I think I must’ve leveraged our virtual tele meetings and those type of things.
Web meetings and go to meetings were huge, important for us because I needed people to see each other and to experience and how do you build that kind of rapport over thousands of miles and thousands of years of history, things that keep people apart. That’s when my whole head around globality came. Because you’re doing the same thing that you were doing in diversity but on a much larger scale and I feel that the two concepts are inextricably intertwined. You can’t be a global person and not understand diversity. You can’t be a diver person and not really understand how that impacts globality in this world that we’re in.
Vlad: I did a lot of work around just helping people to communicate, to connect in real ways and then keep it tight to the business and to the strategy.
Vlad: It was rewarding and that all comes to play here, you know?
Debra: Right, right. I agree. We just keep stepping through our life and learning … Some of the things, the best lessons I’ve learned are when I’ve really, really messed up and made mistakes. You know … Well, you don’t know this but, yesterday I was online and I saw this CEO group for diversity inclusion and it says, “The CEO’s will go in and they’ll sign a pact saying that they’re going to … They’re committed to diversity inclusion” and so, all you have to do as CEO is sign this pact saying, “We’re gonna do it” and I thought, “I’ve seen so many of them.” I’ve seen so many pledges and pacts and ‘we’re gonna do this’ and there is a lot going on, as Doug is saying in the chat window, and everything’s solved. We checked the box, we’re done.
I think sometimes it’s discouraging for those of us that really care about diversity. Diversity in the biggest sense of the word, diversity from the global perspective. But, I had a customer, a major brand yesterday say, “Debra, do you think I should sign this pact?” And it’s like, “Sure.” But the reality is more important, the actual work you’re doing and that you talk about the work you’re doing on social media and meaningful powerful ways you’re grounding the word.
And I’ll tell you Vlad, I’ve actually had the opposite. I have clients that have done amazing things. I was talking to a brand the other day and I’ll just go ahead and do a shout out for the brand, I was talking to Murk the other day, and Murk is a very large global brand, a pharmaceutical company, often criticized for not doing enough. “Big pharma, they hate us all. Blah, blah, blah.” But, I was talking to Murk about what they had done with diversity inclusion and they were giving me grounded examples.
Grounded examples of what they’ve done. And like you’ve said Vlad, things that have actually made a difference to individuals then families then communities lives. I said, “Wow, that’s wonderful but I’m in this space. They wanted the story tellers in this space and I didn’t know any of this.” And they’re like, “yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what really do need to do a much better job at telling the stories to get the marketing out there.” And that’s of course, what we’re doing with my company. We are not interested in telling the stories of … We mainly work with brands, we also work with The United Nations but, we don’t want to tell your story if you’re not really doing anything.
We’ll help you come up with a plan, strategic plans, to actually start doing more than just checking the box. You’re signing a pledge and then nothing happens with it. If you’re really committed and I also want to do a shout out for the CEO of Murk who after, unfortunately, what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia and response from the administration, resigned from some of the presidential counsels.
And once again, don’t want to make this about politics but I applaud the CEO’s that are really trying to make a difference and say, “Yeah, we really want the world to work for all of us.” And so, what would you … How would you answer that question as some of the corporate brands that you’ve done before, how do we make sure that diversity inclusion in every sense of that word, from the workforce to the patients to your customers to the community, how do we really, really make sure that people are included? Even if their skin is darker colored than say, someone like me or if they speak a different language than I do or they have a disability or they’re a woman versus a man. It’s a big topic, how do we really do it other than just it looking like, “I’m a brand and I’m just gonna check the box. Yeah, I’m done.”
And no, you’re not done because as you said, the board rooms are not … They don’t even have women in the board rooms. Women can’t get access to funding with our businesses. I, as a woman, thought that maybe we were further ahead than we are and I was really discouraged to learn, to wake up like so many people and say, “Wow. Wow, we are still terribly, terribly behind.” And then you go into the African Americans, you go to LGBT, you go to the disability community, you go into the different … And you’re like, “How do these people have a chance?”
I know I’m throwing really big questions at you and that’s one reason why I’m excited you’re gonna do your own program where you can really dig into these topics but, your voice is very important, Vlad. You have an amazing background and I know your heart is one of the biggest hearts that I’ve ever met.
Vlad: I know we’re running out of time so, that’s why I will say, there is no quick fix or pill. I think first you have to confirm that the intent is genuine and sincere and you have to confirm that whatever organization you’re in, regardless of how big it is or how small, we’re very small but, that’s why when I was saying earlier around that executive piece, there are nine of us. Initially, you have to have a minimum number and then you’ll qualify and you’ll go to the next piece.
So, the people that I’m working with that are kind of like medium [inaudible 00:31:48], based on a grant that we’ve gotten to do this say, “Oh, you know what? We’re coming up against the gun, we’ve got about three. Let’s just go.” I’m like, “No. No, no, no.” We need all nine of Liz’s directs to get this and understand it and it’s not a huge investment, we all have way too much work to do, I know that. If we’re going to do this, then let’s do it correctly.
And so, I think that the first piece is that people really need to understand and say, “I want to do this” and understand why it’s important for them to do that. So, here is some huge corporation with no shares in underserved populations, why should you waste time on something that can’t make you money? And I think that … yeah, sure. As Doug said, “Great, oh here I can check a box and I’ve met my commitment. Great.” I gave at the office, type of headset, right?
Debra: Right, right.
Vlad: Literally got to start internalizing it more. And then so, I believe that the first thing is asking, what is it we’re trying to accomplish here? Are we trying to simply be attractive to talent? After you talk about it that way, right? So, yeah we’re one of those companies and we offer all the [inaudible 00:33:00] extended and open to all or do you really have a need for us, at this small level, it’s about, we need the patients who are of these groups to feel they can come here and get their healthcare.
[crosstalk 00:33:16] through LinkedIn is that then they talk to their friends and they talk to their friends so, that’s the power of [crosstalk 00:33:22]. Say, you wouldn’t have met the CEO of Murk, you hadn’t heard of him because that wasn’t your circle. Right?
Debra: Right, right.
Vlad: But by getting those folks to be connected to you and then people see the seed, that’s how so, I’m understanding the power of media and yeah, there are some negatives you have to work with but [crosstalk 00:33:42].
Debra: And that’s life.
Vlad: Yeah. So, I believe that you need to change your circles. This was back when we did that [inaudible 00:33:52] if you just went to the same group meetings where people like you went and did what you did because it was comfortable and easy for you, then it’s gonna be a little hard for you to really grasp what it means to get around people who wouldn’t be friends. So, you need to begin to change those and you need to make the commitment to yourself that, yes I want to do this. And take some time to learn.
One other thing that you said was, “How do we help people?” and I said, when you were visiting now, HR people know that. Well, let me just change that. Being the HR guy here for a year, I have absolutely no freaking time to really explore things outside of just running this health center.
Debra: Right, right.
Vlad: So, from that perspective I’d say that we need to make bite sized bits of education attractive and accessible and then people begin to learn about it. So, that’s one of the ways that I think … And to know that, even if we are all in HR, based on our particular circumstances at work and what not, there’s a lot that people don’t know, right?
Debra: I agree [crosstalk 00:34:53] and lots of work to do. We see that.
Vlad: Absolutely, absolutely.
Debra: Yeah. And I know we went over a little bit because you’re just … I have so many questions to write you and I’ll let you have your own program. So Vlad, before we leave, would you just tell the viewers how they can find out more about the company that you’re working for now, what is their website, things like that?
Vlad: It’s [email protected]
Debra: Okay. .org.
Vlad: That’s an external site and it takes you to the site where you can see all about who we are, [inaudible 00:35:33] and how we came and started with two rooms above a rented space and now we have this facility and we’re moving into another facility in [crosstalk 00:35:41] apart from here. Look at the career page, send notes to me there. You can also contact me directly. I think it’s easy, [email protected] is probably the easiest thing.
Vlad: And usually I respond unless I’m under the gun then, as you know Deb, I’m not always the most and timely response. Also, I’ll feel a stronger obligation because I’m excited about being a part of this work that you do and I want to add some value.
Debra: Oh, you will. You will definitely add value. So, y’all are all gonna hear from Vlad Stevens again. So Vlad, thank you for joining us today and also if anybody wants to get ahold of Vlad to have him speak at one of your conferences or do some training or things like that, you can also come to me and I’ll connect you with Vlad too. And of course, on our programs we always put links to how you can get hold of our guests.
So, thank you Vlad for joining us today and thank you for everybody that joined us on Facebook Live and until next time, we will see you later. Bye-bye.
Vlad: Thank you Deb, thanks all.
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