Sequestration for Dummies (me, for example)

government-sequestration-dummiesRecent polls indicate that less than one in five Americans know what the heck “Sequestration” means; the ones that do seem to have a grasp on the concept don’t seem to be overly concerned about it. So why is every newscast split between “Papal Updates” and “Sequestration?”

It’s actually a fascinating game of “flinch” involving the different Chambers of Congress. So, if you’re like me and learning about this on the run, here’s a thumbnail storyline of key events that make Midnight tonight (March 1st) a pretty significant date.

August, 2011 – POTUS signs Budget Control Act; raises debt ceiling but calls for “Sequester” to kick in if a deficit reduction plan has not been submitted. The goal? A cool $1.2 TRILLION dollar reduction in debt by 2021…you know, you’d think something like this would have been front & center in the recent Presidential debates, but I digress.

November, 2011 – The committee (a “Super” committee, no less) announces they have no announcement.

December, 2011 – Congress doesn’t vote on a plan they don’t have. Merry Christmas.

January, 2012 – “Sequester” countdown officially begins. Nobody knows what the hell that means.

September 2012 – POTUS announces that Government will continue to be funded at 2012 levels thru Q1, 2013.

January, 2013 – “Fiscal Cliff” (a much catchier tagline than “Sequestration”) is averted, kinda….delays the “S-word” for 2 more months.

February, 2013 – POTUS signs “No Budget, No Pay;” sounds tougher than it really is ~ suspends enforcement of deficit ceiling again, witha  provision that effective May 18, Congress either approves budget cuts or their paychecks will be suspended.

March, 1st 2013 – Sequester officially begins.  Calls for $85B to be cut from 2013 budgets, equally split between Defense and Non-Defense. Entitlement Programs (Welfare, Medicare, SS) are spared. Good luck with all that.

April 15, 2013 – Now we really, really, really, mean it; if either Chamber of Congress fails to approve budget with the aforementioned $85B in cuts, their paychecks will be held in escrow for the year. Please, please, please let this happen, if only to see what happens next.

September, 2013 – Another year of paychecks on the line if the 2014 budget isn’t approved!

Call me skeptical, but now that I understand it….I’m still not buying it.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. He’s going to sequester himself for 2 days this weekend to show his support for Congress. 

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Grandpa is a Killer

Okay, so maybe I sensationalized the title a skosh, but in the world of integration, “grandfathering” is a term that should bring a chill to your spine.

We see the term used all the time, whether it’s disguised in other catchy memes like “amnesty,” or “legacy,” but the fact of the matter is that the concept of grandfathering exhibits poor leadership. Most often, in the world of Human Resources, we see this concept occur any time a significant change happens in the business; acquisitions, mergers, integrations, downsizing, “flattening,” or redeployment. It’s a corporate way of saying, “We’re chicken.” For example, “Grandpas” are allowed to retain their current status en todo in some or all of the following occurrences:

  • Positions are regraded based on a job audit (i.e., lowered). With a lower grade, many jobs receive lesser benefits; except, that is, when Grandpa swings his deadly cane and retains all the rights minus the responsibilities.
  • Salary/commission structure is reconfigured. Only new hires will be held to the new standards, because the future of the company depends on immediately disengaging the fresh blood by compensating them less for the same position.
  • Manager titles retained despite direct reports being removed. Usually manifested in the form of “Directors” reporting to “Directors” or “VP’s” to “VP’s.”
  • Additional headcount retained despite the absence of need. This happens a lot as people approach retirement eligibility ~ the hilarity ensues when the “retiree” decides to prolong their career several more years. Who wouldn’t stick around when you have less to do, no expectations, and job security?

The decision is made to suspend change for an individual in the hopes of making for a smooth transition; you’d be amazed (or perhaps you wouldn’t) at the number of Grandpas you discover when conducting due diligence pre-merger. All the skeletons of chicken management come to roost when a company exposes itself to an objective review. Even then, some of the Grandpas are grandfathered again as if they possessed diplomatic immunity.

While the policy may seem empathetic or humane, the expense is far more severe to the greater good. Companies become “fat,” or top-heavy, as opposed to lean and efficient. Sub-par performers are retained while High-Potential employees seek opportunities outside the company ~ for someone who feels “blocked” in their advancement, it’s better to start over somewhere new than wait for the hearses to line up in the company parking lot (old joke, possibly over the line, but completely based on fact).

The good and bad news in this situation is in identifying the responsibility for changing this unofficial policy. Are you a strong (i.e., brave) HR Business Partner? Strong enough to stand up to your boss, their boss, and maybe their boss’s boss? We need you to fight the good fight, stand strong, and fight Grandpa toe to toe.

“Bring it.”

Of course, that means we need to tidy up our own house first, but that’ll be another post…..

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. And for the record, I love my Grandpa.

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Extreme Recruiting

“I’ll be majoring in Legos.”

With all due respect to the number of exceptional professionals in Recruiting, many of whom I consider friends and colleagues, you have officially been trumped by the University of Alabama.

You see, while the rest of you are scouring the professional world for A-list talent, the Crimson Tide made a detour to visit the middle schools of Baton Rouge, LA, seeking the next “big thing.” It was reported yesterday by ESPN, that Dylan Moses, an 8th-grade student in Baton Rouge, has received a football scholarship offer from the Alabama coaching staff. As remarkable as that may seem, it may surprise you more to know that Alabama was second in line ~ hometown recruiters from Louisiana State University actually beat them to the punch. That’s some serious succession planning.

Like many of you, my first reaction (after picking my jaw up off the floor) is to scoff at the ridiculous thought of a college football program committing a scholarship to a 14-year old boy with 5 years of school (and 3 years of acne) before college is even a consideration. But then, Alabama has also won 3 of the last 4 NCAA Championships in football, so I have to defer to Nick Saban on the wisdom of the move.

I’m no fan of Nick Saban…or Alabama…or LSU, for that matter. But let’s be blunt – their business is college football, and the lifeblood of college football is locking down the best talent for your team. If Stanford was offering a scholarship to some 13-year old Doogie Howser, no one would bat an eye. Putting aside my personal bias, I’m left with the begrudging realization that these schools continue to seek a competitive edge, even on the heels of tremendous success (did I mention I’m no fan of these yahoos?) In the heavily regulated “industry” of college athletics, it seems that some organizations come out on top consistently – surely that’s more than coincidence?

What ideas are you putting forth to those in charge? How are you making the case for something outside of the normal SOP’s? There’s no shortage of research centering on the decline of corporate success coinciding with the intolerance of innovation and risk. Maybe of more relevance is this question – what ideas are being brought forth to you? Are you listening? You can rest assured Nick Saban is listening, just hope he doesn’t join your conference.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. If you want a seat at the table, make sure you have a point!

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No Introduction Needed….LinkedIn Recognizes

I had to use the title, “No Introduction Needed…,” if only to re-capture the one funny bit Seth MacFarlane pulled off in last night’s Oscars performance.

You probably already know this, but recently I was notified by LinkedIn that my profile was one of the top 1% most-viewed profiles for the year 2012.

What’s that? You were also named one of the most viewed LinkedIn profiles in 2012? And your brother?

“who’s the big winner?”

What in the name of the “Who’s Who” scam is going on here?

In my small office, of the six people with LinkedIn profiles, THREE of us were notified that we were being recognized as “most viewed.” Three of us; In a total population of 200,000,000 LI subscribers. So, as much as I’d like to believe my little group of brilliant colleagues has cracked the top 1% of all Linked INites in terms of visibility, that would require a huge suspension in my belief in reality.

So what’s going on here? Are getting ribbons for entering the race? Is this the LinkedIn version of the Libyan Princess scam? Exactly where in the top 1% did I rank? Did I beat Tincup?

This much is certain…whatever the intent truly is/was, its a brilliant marketing campaign. You read an email that translates to “you are so awesome, people want to see you!”, and you get almost 20 million individual users unable to resist the urge to share the news – all of whom are at least comfortable enough with social media to have a LinkedIn profile to begin with. Some of them are compelled to further the cause by needlessly blogging about it…hmmm.

So, is the “distinction” of being in the Top 1% of LinkedIn profiles a real or imaginary accomplishment? I don’t know, but I’m sure as heck adding it to my LinkedIn profile.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement; also in the top 1% most likely to get busted eating Cinnamon Rolls after bedtime.



Loyalty is Blind

The Mrs. and I are truly enjoying our latest binge-watching obsession, Game of Thrones. Amidst some of the more ridiculous developments polluting the main story lines of “rightful” assumption of the throne, is the lecherous (and humorous) switching of alliances that occur on an hour-by-hour basis. You know, I’m beginning to doubt the historical accuracy of this show, but I digress….

The knights, the stewards, the banner-men, the King’s “Hand,” his council ~ all of them bound by loyalty and honor to serve their true king.

Until someone gets whacked, and they all move one seat to the left.

“Loyalty,” in this sense, is worthless.

Don’t get me wrong – I value loyalty. It’s true, just ask my dog.

“he’s right, I’m a good boy.”

But let me put it in another perspective – my wife, my kids, my brother, my friends – are they “loyal?” They are not “loyal” to me; I may have earned it, but I’m also expected (as are they) to continually validate my trustworthiness, respectability, and likability. To me, “loyalty” indicates a much blinder allegiance to person or thing, not always to the benefit of either party.

“Loyalty” has become a catch-all for many things. We confuse “loyalty” with tenure. How many people do you know who are quietly and proudly suffering away the years in a bad relationship in part because of some misguided interpretation of being “loyal?” How many times have you seen individuals either “grand-fathered” or “legacied” into a position within the company because of “loyalty?” During performance reviews, haven’t we all seen “loyalty” (i.e., tenure) confused with actual accomplishments? That loyalty sucks.

Love ain’t blind, loyalty is blind. Love is a commitment made with eyes wide open, loyalty is a contract made with a feeling called guilt.

So, if you want loyalty….buy your OWN dog. You can’t have mine ~ just look at that face!

HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. “Boudreaux” is a big, furry baby. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.


For HR, All that Glitters…

Wow…in a very brief time period, we have had some amazing examples of stupidity/dishonesty as it relates to people we held in high esteem.

Manti Te’o – Good golly, is there a stranger story than the All-American Notre Dame linebacker who claims to have been “catfished” for over a year by a fake (and dead) girlfriend? Believe him or not, Manti sat at the Heisman ceremony waiting to receive College Football’s premier award knowing his story was a complete fraud.

Lance Armstrong – Biggest non-story this year for Texans, but obviously a crushing blow to most of his supporters, Lance Armstrong “admits” he was guilty of blood doping, drug-enhancing, lying, cheating, etc. I say non-story for Texans because he’s more of a known quantity here, it was a matter of “when,” not “if” Lancelot finally took the bullet for his crimes. “Everyone was doing it” seems a lot like the line of reasoning most of us had as children, yet here was America’s most celebrated cyclist telling us just that. That’s a whole lotta yellow bracelets sold on a lie.

Oscar Pistorius – Considering his triumphant appearance at the 2012 Olympics, this was a true heart-breaker, and a terrible tragedy. As this story reminds us, human indecency is equal-opportunity. An inspiration to his country and to people around the world, now spouting a flimsy alibi about a burglar locked in his bathroom.

HR-jaded-scandal-employeesAvid baseball and football fans have become numb to the lies and deceit of professional athletes as they deny drug use (or obstructing justice in a double-homicide). Politicians? Fuhgeddaboutit. “Reality” TV? Pull the other one.

The point? This is what a lot of HR people deal with as a career. So, if you ever wonder why there are a few snarky wisenheimers in this profession….There is less of an “HR Lesson” than a “human lesson,” but that’s just quibbling, really. The fact remains, people are a leaky vessel in which to put your faith, and there’s never a shortage of lessons available to HR Professionals.

Of course, the flip side of this is that without these lovable screwballs, we’d all be in Accounting.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. Straight talk on complicated issues and steroid-free.


Death & Taxes (and Change)

The only two certainties in life, right? In corporate life, we can also add a third given to the list ~ “Change.”

“what the deuce?”

If you have been with a company for a significant amount of time & have NOT been subject to considerable change, pat yourself on the tushie and kindly disengage from this post. We don’t want to scare you.

In 2010, Mergers were up 24% worldwide. The year 2012 was dubbed “The Year of the Hostile Takeover” by CNNMoney. In 2011, there were over 600,000 job cuts, a fact that cut especially deep in the Government and Financial segments, respectively.

Some companies, like IBM, refuse to report their headcount by country, as it helps to minimize transparency to jobs being moved off-shore.

You can find studies predicting that over 60% of all jobs will be done via telecommute, and there are now twice as many “reluctant” part-time workers in the job market as there were before the recession.

Combine that with this ~ a recent HBR study found 90% of senior and middle management psychologically unprepared for the changes they could expect following their respective mergers. Talk about whistling past the graveyard….

So, how does one “psychologically” prepare for change? The first step is very easy. Realize, without a shred of doubt, that change will happen. The rest of the process involves preparation and emotional resolve in the midst of chaos. At Pritchett, that’s what we do best ~ how can we help you?

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement, and a fan of Rudyard Kipling. We’re known for our straight talk, no-nonsense approach to change ~ let us help. 

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Field Trip!

Road Trip!

My youngest, along with 20 of his classmates, is on his way to the Museum today for a Field Trip. He’s been so excited for this day to come, the anticipation has been fun to watch ~ and why not be excited? For at least one day, everyone’s schedule is cleared. Piled onto buses, they are allowed to remove themselves from school, “travel” to a different place, and learn something fun & exciting with their peers.

Field trips are the perfect combination of work and play. Learning is disguised as adventure, experience is acquired via fun. On a normal school day, my kids give me next to nothing in response to “what did you learn today?” On field trip day, you can’t shut ’em up. It’s a given that by 6pm this evening, I will know considerably more about the flora and fauna preferred by the Paluxysaurus jonesi.

When was your last field trip? For a great deal of people, the higher you ascend in the organization, the less likely you are to concern yourself with personal development. Chances are, the majority of all professionals who attend training (includes seminars, executive education, workshops, etc.) do so when told to attend training.

Need certification credits? Here are your options. Need to burn your training budget before year-end? Here are your options. Need to develop a weakness in your performance? How about develop yourself as a future leader of the organization? Here’s your class, have fun.

To clarify, this is not the fault of the corporation. Your development is your responsibility. Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” (Plato)  That’s right, I’m going Greek on you. The learning that sticks is the learning that comes from a subject that engages you before the course begins. Simply put, we will find other priorities for our time and energy when the subject matter is not of interest to us. We have become accustomed to a 24/7 work-cycle, so the thought of dedicating eight precious hours to another round of “DiSC” or “Finance for non-Financial Managers” is not one which encourages our active participation. Give me something I can use.

There is no substitute for self-awareness. Find your field trips.

(Oh….bring a sack lunch.)

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement…I’ll trade you my carrot sticks for a Twinkie. 

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Corporate Vacationing

As I sit here trucking up a ski lift with my wonderful family, I’m also lucky enough to have memories of skiing as a teen, as a young adult, and as a 20-something year-old bachelor. Up early, breakfast bars in the pocket, boda bag full of libations, and eight hours of non-stop downhill action. I like to think of these day as my “entrepreneur life.” A backpack full of clothes, a baseball cap, and I’m good.

It always looks easy in pictures

And, then…..I got married. The backpack full of clothes was replaced by three suitcases, one of which is used exclusively for shoes. Up early becomes “up early-ish,” as long as time is allotted for make-up, hair prep, and appropriate wardrobe/event coordination. Eight hours of skiing shrinks to four hours…snacks on the lift are replaced with at least two warming-hut sessions for brunch, lunch, cocoa, and photo-ops.

Then, kids enter the equation. Arrive at the slopes just short of Noon. Finish your first run by 12:30. Lunch break. Bathroom break. Lost glove. Boo-boo report. “I’m cold.” Repeat.

I say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but there is a case to be made for this same pattern to be used as a metaphor for the business life cycle.

Bachelor life is the entrepreneurial phase ~ running on adrenaline & caffeine, living lean, taking risks, with your biggest worry being the day in front of you. Success and failure all happen in the same vacuum, with an overall chance of failure sitting just North of 80%.

Marriage is the merger & acquisition; now you have a partner to consider. Poor integration planning can make for a failed new entity; redundancies and waste are eliminated, values and vision are combined (and sometimes compromised?); a new combined culture is defined and embraced. Decision-making slows, risks are more thoroughly considered, procedure and process replace the scatter-shot approach of decision-making. It’s a very scary time for all involved, but ultimately a success based on the efforts of the merging companies. Maybe 50% success rate isn’t so bad considering the payoff for a well orchestrated “match.”

Add kids; now you have employees to deal with (in many cases, disgruntled employees.) Long-term planning becomes imperative. The well-being, safety, and engagement of your subordinates directly impacts your ability to operate efficiently. Discord, lack of communication, lack of discipline, and/or differing messages from management can all submarine your efforts to succeed. The time required to make decisions can be laborious, frustrating, and counter-productive. Risk is very rarely tolerated, as the need for consistency and predictability increases.

This is where companies, and families, can become complacent, predictable, and inflexible.

So as a family man and a corporate man, Ive made the conscious effort to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit in both worlds. Despite the growth and maturation of my family and/or career (is this still making sense?), “success” still depends on those qualities that described a less bureaucratic existence; spontaneity, passion, action, and resolve. I should also mention the pride one feels when they finally succeed in creating a thriving, growing business, even if they are a pain in the arse.

And how was your vacation?

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. May all your vacations be memorable.

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Merging & Purging

Location: DFW International Airport   Time: 7:00am    Situation: US Airways flight pre-boarding announcementscustomer-service-culture-integration

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we will begin the boarding process in approximately 20 minutes.”

“The plane you are boarding holds 120 passengers. Of those passengers, 93 will be catching connecting flights in Phoenix.”  Okay?

“Some of those connections are International, with only one flight per day. It is critical we push off from the gate on time.” I get it, thanks.

“For those of you with carry on luggage, we are offering you the chance to check your bags to your final destination.” Final destination?’ Always hated that term.

“This plane holds approximately 150 bags in the overhead bin space. If you have rolling bag, place the bag wheels facing outward to allow for three overhead bags in the bin. If we cannot fit bags in the overhead, we will need to check them. This could impact our departure time.”  Yes, yes, I know, and the 93 connecting passengers will be forever compromised.

“Once again, we have 93 passengers planning to connect in Phoenix”….” Now I’m starting to hate you.

This intercom diatribe was repeated at least a half-dozen times in the 30 minutes we waited to board our flight. The gate/ticket/intercom worker person, continued to bludgeon us with direction, pausing occasionally to breathe (or to re-load, as it were.) My guess is that the flights for which he is responsible have an impeccable record for on-time departures, but the people sitting in the seats hate him.

Somehow, that effectiveness does not translate to Customer Satisfaction ~ as recently as 2011, US Airways was rated last among Top 10 major carriers in Consumer Reports. In a slightly more acerbic manner, Business Insider reported that ACSI ranked US Airways sixth in a list of “The 19 Most Hated Companies in America” (May, 2011). This isn’t new to US Airways ~ they received the same last-place ranking in 2008 and 2009, and were rated last in every category by JD Power in a comparison among airlines in another 2011 study…even while being recognized as the leader in “Airline Quality Rating.”

I’d argue that this should serve as an example of what customers truly value, vs. a company that refuses to acknowledge this perspective. Adding to the intrigue is the transparency of a planned merger with American Airlines, another company with considerable challenges in customer perception. The merger won’t sink or swim solely based on a potentially toxic culture mix; I do believe, however, the new entity has an opportunity to re-create itself in a brand new image that speaks to customer needs. New planes, new logos, new paint-jobs are nice, but more importantly is the need for a new attitude.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m one of the 93 people planning to connect in Phoenix; no time for chit-chat.


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. I’m known for a no-nonsense approach to carry-on luggage.

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