In Memory of Walter W. Ratcliff (1949 – 2015)

Ratcliff HeadshotWalter Ratcliff, our dear friend and one of Peregrine’s favorite Bay Area business partners, died last week.

Walter was the consummate performance consultant — well-versed in the language of business and the best practices of human performance technology (HPT). He was clever, funny, smart, had a strong sense of integrity and was always interested in providing his and our clients high-quality outputs at reasonable prices. He was one of the sharpest consultants we worked with.

Russ Powell and Walter met in 2010 when Walter attended one of Russ’ webinars on Thiagi’s four-door (4D) model for eLearning. Almost instantly, they recognized in each other a mutual interest in bringing the best practices of HPT to learning and development (L&D) projects and began to collaborate on projects for companies such as Roche and Genentech.

WalterFavAfter Joe Halpin and Russ formed Peregrine Performance Group, Walter consulted with us on several projects, including most recently a change management project proposal we developed in Spring of 2015.

One of Walter’s most endearing characteristics — and one seemingly essential for long-term management consultants — was that, while certainly aware of the dark-side, the pitfalls, the potential problems, he almost always tended to look for the light-side, the positive, the silver lining.

In 2011, after completing one of their first projects together, a project that had unusual constraints and very tight deadlines, Russ wrote of Walter,

“Throughout the project, despite a handful of setbacks and obstacles, Walter remained focused on delivering performance-based products of the highest quality possible.

“I was consistently impressed by his knowledge of, and ability to apply, principles of HPT. He’s also well-versed in change management strategy and skillful at helping organizational leaders uncover barriers to performance — obstacles that, as they are addressed, will almost certainly help leaders realize their visions and reap the full benefits of their training initiatives.

“One of my favorite things about working with Walter is that he’s one of those rare people who strives to focus on the positive before offering criticism. More often than not, when I brought issues to him, or he had change requests for me, he would point out something that was going well before we dove into talking about the problems and difficult issues.”

Russ Powell and Walter Ratcliff at Bay Area ISPI gathering in 2013.

Russ Powell and Walter Ratcliff at Bay Area ISPI gathering in 2013.

Walter held degrees in the behavioral sciences from University of California Berkeley and University of Utah, and worked as an HPT consultant for thirty years — in banking (Wells Fargo, Mechanics Bank), transportation (Southern Pacific Railroad), software (Oracle, HP, Sun Microsystems, SAP), retail (Sephora, The Gap), biotech/pharmaceuticals (Roche, Genentech) and automotive services (AAA).

In the mid-nineties, while working with American Training Systems, Walter led the redesign and change management of a complete transformation of the Southern Pacific Railroad accounting department including workflows, organization, and the physical work place.

Walter was a regular at ISPI events (International Society for Performance Improvement) and several of his projects earned industry honors, including most recently awards from CIO Magazine (Top 100) and Leadership Excellence Magazine (Leadership Excellence 100).

Lynn Kearny mentioned recently that she and Jim Hill (more ISPI colleagues) were corresponding and Jim put it well, saying, “I can’t think of anybody who didn’t love that guy.”

Walter, we miss you something fierce. And yet, of course, we’re delighted and somewhat envious that the Great-Big-Designer now has you on h/her team planning performance interventions for the universe.

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ISPIBayAreaLogo200pxMany thanks to Lynn Kearny and Elizabeth Balderston who helped clarify and add information about Walter’s life and career. See, also, the Bay Area chapter of ISPI’s tribute to Walter, and his obituary at SF Gate.


What’s Your Favorite Recollection about Walter?

If you knew Walter, write to us or use Leave a Comment below, to tell one of your favorite recollections or stories about him. We’ll add your contribution to this post.


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Leave a Comment (10) ↓


  1. Roger Chevalier July 2, 2015

    I had the pleasure of knowing Walter primarily through the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) and the annual local ISPI Chapter’s annual oyster barbecue. With a winning smile, he could enter conversation gracefully. Walter was never there to impress others but rather to bring out the best in others. My only wish is that I would have spent more time with him as I had a lot to learn from him. He will be missed.

  2. Stephany Jones July 2, 2015

    I had the pleasure of working with Walter over the past nearly 3 years. I have rarely worked with such a positive, humble, dedicated and reliable person. I will miss our fun phone calls during which Walter’s wit came flowing out, he had me laughing to tears a few times…..all the while staying professional, getting the job done, and done well!
    I wish I had got to know you in person Walter. May you be remembered for the fun you brought with you.

  3. Margo Murray July 6, 2015

    Meeting Walter while I was consulting on a project at Crocker Bank was the beginning of our long professional colleague relationship and friendship. It is very hard to write about him now. I just want to recall how his community knowledge and client care contributed on projects such as Alameda County Welfare Reform, facilitating teams of people to find jobs, transportation, and child care for those losing benefits, his technical skills with Seagate, PeopleSoft, Sun, and the Public Health Institute, and others.
    And, I replay when his swift, savvy wit added to our fun times, ISPI Oyster Barrel, St. Patrick’s dinners, Holiday lunches, full moon night picnics at Viano Vineyards. And, the quiet times, with a bottle of good Cabernet, having a catch-up chat by the fireplace.
    I hope such memories will console and sustain his family, friends, and colleagues as we struggle to accept the loss of a special human being from this side.

  4. Kelly Rider July 6, 2015

    I started working with Walter when I first joined SuccessFactors in 2013. He was helping the sales university to create performance “workshops” that leaders would run within their teams to practice deeper level sales skills. The concept was one I had not seen or used before and Walter’s vision inspired me to think differently about how to design for performance. Throughout the years, Walter continued to work with our team as we grew and became more complex. His easy manner and patience were unbelievable! He was a great thought-partner and helped our team create the first “flipped classroom” for SAP leaders, which has changed the way people think about how technology can be used differently to deliver learning. He was a fantastic supporter and will be missed.

    Sincerely, Kelly Rider

  5. Enzo Silva July 6, 2015

    I worked with Walter on a training program that changed the way SAP’s learning professionals think of learning, we designed a very different type of flipped classroom experience. His vision was integral to the project’s success. His attention to detail, imperative. His kindness and encouragement at every difficulty overcome, refreshing. He kept a positive attitude to the end, he saw the project through with pride.
    His professionalism and kindness will be missed.
    Thank you for everything you’ve done, Walter. Thank you for your dedication and kindness.

  6. Marc Pajarillo July 6, 2015

    Words cannot express how appreciative I am of Walter, both as a colleague and friend. What started out as a partnership to deliver green screen (yes, mainframe) training back in the day for a major retailer evolved into a truly rewarding friendship. I am a more effective professional for having collaborated with him and even better person from our 12+ year relationship.

    Walter is undoubtedly looking down from heaven (but, of course, finding time to make things even more effective up there). I will truly miss our periodic meetings at Starbucks and recounting of war stories.

    Rest in peace, dear friend.

  7. Brett Johnson July 6, 2015

    I had the great pleasure of working and lunching with Walter for the last 14 years. He was a remarkable instructional designer and what really made Walter stand out was his capacity to comprehend complexity and make it simple and engaging for the learner. But more than anything Walter had the people skills – he was so charming, so polite, so humorous, and just so much fun. And he was always laughing that wonder laugh – I can’t remember Walter having a bad day. And he was interested in everything. What a great friend to have. Yesterday I remembered that I had some video of Walter working on a discovery role play. Here’s our friend doing his thing.

  8. Jane Gire July 8, 2015

    Walter Ratcliff and Lynn Kearny were a pair of consultants assigned to work with me almost 20 years ago at a small consulting firm inside of ADP. We built a project management curriculum consisting of a self-directed learning model and a class room simulation. They were my first mentors in instructional design and more importantly, human performance technology. Lynn showed me the ropes of conducting a really solid needs assessment and how to work closely in developing content with a subject matter expert while Walter helped me with early concepts of gamification, how to make learning engaging and fun, how to make the learners “do the work,” and how help a sponsor really “sponsor” a program. I honestly would not be where I am in my career if I hadn’t worked with Walter and Lynn on that very impactful project. Every project I worked on with Walter, I came away more knowledgeable about HPT, new learning methodologies, faster more effective ways of doing things, new ways to motivate sponsors and leaders, and laughing a lot about humanity. I will miss working with him tremendously.

  9. Janise DeVoe July 9, 2015

    Walter was the definition of passion. He was one of the most passionate people I know. I worked with him on several projects and we became good friends as a result. During the projects, he always came up with new, innovative ideas and really cared about the impact of the work we did together. He really got to know the details and asked the right questions to bring people and the work to a different level. He also was great at keeping in touch with emails, lunches, good articles to read. Walter really cared about people and making a difference and I hope he knows he did make a difference. I already miss you Walter… in peace and I will try to channel your passion and energy in the work and life I lead as a memory of you.

  10. Alan Woontner July 17, 2015

    As I read all of the tributes, I realize that Walter brought out the best in so many of us through his interest, insights, inquisitiveness and openness. He was always interested in the people he met and the problems he encountered.

    Walter modeled that openness whenever I interacted with him and made me valued. Not only was he a rare professional friend, he was also as an inspiration and model for what success looks like in my professional life: thoughtful, funny, intellectually engaged, empathetic and focused. I met him at CSAA back in the 90s while I was looking for a design lead on a large project. Walter stood head and shoulders above all the other candidates. He was so smart, yet so approachable. He threw off three straw alternatives to the problems we presented, and provided sound arguments and counter arguments for each.

    Since that time we worked together a couple of more times. It was important for me to know that he was out there fighting the good fight. I always felt I could reach out to Walter for support and encouragement during the low points and inspiration and insight when I was floundering. I really don’t have a replacement for Walter, and so his memory (God it’s hard for me to think of him as a memory) will have to stay clear and current in my mind. Walter will continue to inspire me to do my best work.
    At some level he is here, sharing the inspiration and the frustration, guiding and laughing and shaking his head at it all.