In 1981 I worked in the Management Development department of Crocker Bank. One afternoon I was working on an illustrated flip chart for a class, when a newly hired staff member came up to look at what I was doing. He was a tweedy, professorial looking young guy in a full beard and hairy brown wool jacket. He said, “What are you doing that for?” and proceeded to question the value of drawing cartoon-like figures for a management training class. However there was no sense of hectoring or superiority in his tone… I sensed both humor and a lively interest in a bit of intellectual sparring. I also sensed that he was curious, and would listen to a real explanation. So I took him up on it, and we parried for a while. He had a great laugh. Thus I met Walter Ratcliff, who became my closest friend and colleague in our field of performance consulting for the next thirty-five years.
Walter usually morphed training requests into projects that dealt with deeper issues. For example, he got a request to train people who were failing to use a cumbersome and badly organized knowledge base. He re-shaped the project by getting the knowledge base restructured to make it useable, creating a map-like interface to make it navigable, and provided practice using it to perform various tasks as the “training” component. He used the metaphor of a subway map: using major processes as the rail lines, end products as the terminus for each line, and interim products as stations along the route. The finished map looked just like the London Underground... and worked the same way. You could clearly see where you wanted to go and what to do to get there. He brought creativity and imagination to all his work.
Walter could always see a way out of an impasse, and find a graceful means of communicating difficult news to a client. He focused first and foremost on making things easier for the job performer, while maintaining patience and compassion for clients who were often under pressure and hemmed in with constraints. He spoke his clients’ language and never used Performance Technology jargon with them. He never made someone “wrong” – he was upbeat and positive with everyone. His sense of humor and love of fun were inextinguishable. He saw and delighted in the absurdities of life and work. He readily laughed at himself, and invited others to join him. He injected fun into materials he developed, giving humorous twists to examples, exercises and cases – almost everyone who has talked about their experience of Walter has mentioned how much fun it was to work with him. He had the gift of introducing you to new theories, research, and approaches to your own work that made you feel smart instead of dumb.
Last month, on June 21, we lost Walter to a stroke. While we’ll miss his expertise, our greatest loss is his humor, lively intelligence, kindness and wisdom… and the fun he brought to every gathering. Russ Powell and his partner Joe Halpin posted a wonderful tribute to Walter on their website at http://peregrine.us.com/walter-ratcliff-memorium/. Please visit it and add your own stories and memories.
Lynn Kearny, July 2015