Cultivating honest conversations in the workplace

September 13, 2021
Capital One VP promotes a healthy company culture and leadership development through dialogue

Open, honest conversations are key to developing a healthy company culture and good leadership. This according to Raegan Williams Morris, ’99, vice president of Card Channels at Capital One Financial Group, a Fortune 500 company in Richmond, Va. Never have authentic conversations been more important to her company’s success, she said, than during the past two years, when employees and customers alike have grappled with a global pandemic and heightened racial tensions.

“What it feels like to work at Capital One is what it feels like to be a customer at Capital One,” said Morris, who leads a diverse, global team of more than 5,000 customer service associates in the company’s credit card division. “By improving our employees’ experience, we improve our customers’ experience. Our customers are having tough conversations about politics, the pandemic, and racial equity with our associates every day.”

The 1999 graduate of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies said she realized she had an opportunity to equip company leaders with the tools to engage in conversations with employees about these topics—topics previously taboo in the workplace.

“To encourage employees to bring their full selves and opinions to work, I launched an initiative on authentic conversations,” Morris said. “The goal is to teach our leaders how to have complex, thoughtful dialogues with employees on difficult issues like race and gender equity. It’s about how you unlock the goodness that comes out of these tense conversations so employees feel seen, heard, and valued.”

In spring 2020, she helped oversee moving thousands of Capital One customer service associates from physical call centers to remote work as the pandemic intensified. The move brought work-life balance to the fore as never before. She responded by creating “The Struggle with the Juggle.” The initiative promotes genuine conversations to support parents working from home while navigating their children’s schooling and child care needs.

“I shared a story of my son asking me to make toast while I was on a call talking to thousands of people,” Morris said. “The dog barks, the doorbell rings. It’s okay. Just turn your computer camera off. We have to normalize our reality.”

She also started compassion-fatigue training to support associates who struggle with the loss and trauma they and their customers have experienced during the pandemic. All these conversations and trainings uphold her commitment to a healthy company culture, she said.

Similarly, Morris is committed to cultivating future company leaders.

“I hire leaders who are good at the things I am not, who are better, smarter, more experienced than I am,” the vice president said. “I encourage my team leaders to challenge me through meaningful, authentic conversations. I develop them to be leaders I’d like to work for.”

Even with more than 20 years of corporate leadership experience, she said she still regularly references the well-worn pages of the textbook she used in her undergraduate class History and Theories of Leadership taught by Dr. Thomas Wren.

“I’m so grateful to the Jepson School for providing me with the best possible education for a happy career and a lifetime of leadership,” said Morris, who serves on the School’s Executive Board of Advisors.

“Capital One creates inclusive banking systems that support socio-economic mobility and community thriving. I get to talk about this every day and inspire our associates to use our mission to change people’s lives.”