Silence is Still a Message

On any given day, there are approximately four new Merger and Acquisition deals to announce. Every….single….day.

Yet it’s estimated that 90% of senior and middle managers are psychologically unprepared for the change in status and organizational structure that would occur following a merger (Harvard Business Review).

That’s the backdrop the serves as a prelude to every Integration. It should be no mystery to then witness the chaos that ensues at the workplace when the smell of change is in the air.

The popular theory for this lack of success is clashing cultures. There’s no doubting the challenges involved in combining two entities, but the fundamental problem is not the change, but the uncertainty of change. For some reason, there’s an informal strategy of under-communicating as a way to “protect” the employees from the upcoming changes. But, as a wise man with orange hair and lightning bolt painted on his face once said, despite efforts to insulate them, “they are quite aware of what they’re going through.”

“we’ll just call it ‘Ziggy’ theory.”

Communication stops. Vacant offices and cubicles appear. An informal grapevine becomes the source of information sharing. There is nothing quite so disruptive as a vacuum of information. It’s estimated that in this most uncertain of times, the average employee spends as much as 20% of the workweek doing nothing but fretting/worrying/obsessing about what may or may not happen to their current status (Cabrera, Wishard).

You may be familiar with this feeling ~ it’s a holdover response from our days as kids when we were told to “wait until your father gets home.” Just get it over with man!

There is, however, another option.

1. Accept that change is an inevitable, indomitable force.

2. Enjoy the ride.

We all have the ability to adapt to change, but only if we are actively involved in the adaptation! Manage yourself instead of trying to manage the circumstances – the result will be a whole lot of “doing” instead of “waiting.” Enjoy the difference.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.


I Endorse Endorsements

I read another article today bagging on LinkedIn “endorsements.” Hard not to see the logic in the argument, especially when you see various skills being endorsed by people with whom you are not close. As Ms. Siegel points out, the whole endorsing process feels very much like the “Like” feature on Facebook; and that’s a bad thing…..right?

Maybe, maybe not.

“Allow me to retort.”

Here’s another perspective, as I’ve also been watching the endorsement phenomena with a vested interest ~ my network is my professional lifeline, I certainly don’t want any artificial filler or “Facebook-ish” garbage polluting the greatness of LinkedIn. So, why in the heck would I “endorse” the endorsement feature? Here’s a few reasons:

  • It hasn’t become a “free-for-all” ~ I know a lot of people, including me, worried that the endorsement feature would be abused. People would click for shtick, not caring who they endorsed. Hasn’t happened. Look at your own endorsements – do you have hundreds and hundreds of skill validations? Betcha don’t. I have 900 connections, a lot of which are friends, but I don’t endorse unless it’s something I can vouch for – maybe we’re more ethical than we think we are?
  • Self-awareness ~ If, after a few months, you have zero endorsements for a skill you consider one of your top offerings, it may be time for a reality check. You’re allowed 50 slots for skills, this is your chance to start examining exactly what you are promoting. If you’re a professional speaker with no endorsements for “Facilitating Skills,” I’d be concerned.
  • It’s nice ~ That’s right, I said it, it’s “nice.” Be nice to someone who did a good job at something and endorse them. If you endorse someone you don’t know, you’re a doofus. Don’t abuse the privilege if you expect legitimate endorsements on the return.
  • My hunch ~ Ms. Siegel is making a prediction that the “endorsement” feature will be a memory by the end of the year. I’ll take that bet. I’m betting on a different scenario; would it surprise you if LinkedIn started highlighting or recommending people in “skill searches” based on endorsements? It wouldn’t surprise me a lick (sorry that’s the Texan in me).

I could be completely off-base with this, but I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the endorsed bathwater yet. Whaddya say Rene, you interested in a wager?

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues and occasional lucid brilliance. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.


Can’t Spell “Hammer” without “HR”

Of course, that list would also include “chandelier,” “lycanthropy,” and “mushroom.”

It’s debatable as to the clout of Human Resources as an internal influencer, as there are companies where HR carries significant weight. There is, however, some surprising opinions about the contributions of Human Resources during M&A scenarios. Specifically, the contrasting perspectives of Finance and HR when describing the “active participation” of HR during the chaotic and stressful times of mergers.

Granted, the source may seem biased (these numbers came from CFO Magazine), but the bias is derived from the people steering the ship during the deal making – Finance. When asked questions to judge areas where Human Resources contributed “to a great extent” during M&A transactions over a two-year period, the results were not favorable. Considering the disparity in opinion b/t what HR thought of its contributions vs. what Finance reported, the numbers may leave Human Resources professionals feeling gobsmacked.

Example: When asked about “Integration Planning,” only 32% of Finance Leaders recognized HR as being a big contributor; when the same question was posed to HR leaders, 55% thought they were a major contributor.

Example 2: When asked about “Due Diligence,” only 14% of Finance Leaders recognized HR as being a big contributor; Human Resources leaders? 44%.

“I’ll give you a solid C-“

So, we have two issues here;

  1. Finance doesn’t seem to think HR is a critical piece of the M&A process.
  2. Human Resources sees itself as a big contributor in the M&A process.

Granted, most HR professionals are kept in the background during the deal-making process. Equally important to a successful merger, however, is the first 100 days after the announcement. We have got to find a way to seize the opportunity to not only contribute, but to take the lead during those 100 days. The pieces of the business that Finance may disregard are all there for the taking ~ engagement, retention, communication, employee relations….that’s our turf.

Add “healthier” and “happier” to the list of HR words…our employees deserve it.


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues.

Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.


5 Lessons from The Kid Sermon

I always get a kick watching the children’s pastor on Sunday mornings…15 minutes into service, 15-20 kids ranging in age from three to eight are called up front for a brief message especially for them. Usually, the message ends with a treat, so it’s a fairly popular event with the kiddos. The adults love it, too, as inevitably a kid will say something worthy of Readers Digest…it’s your basic cute-fest.

Besides the entertainment value, the “kid sermon” also serves as a great reminder to anyone in the position of communicating a message to others. Like teachers, the youth pastor is given a ridiculously challenging audience to engage. At any given time, the audience may actually stand up and walk away ~ there’s a formula for success, some of which no doubt includes all or some of the following:

  • Know your audience ~ Today’s message included an actual Star Wars action figure and a reference to Looney Tunes. This is my kind of church.
  • Be relevant ~ You have a far greater chance at success if your audience remembers what you said. Examples of a sibling driving you crazy rings true with this group.
  • Use stories ~ Our kids love stories. Fact is, everybody loves a good story. We’re conditioned to anticipate a resolution or epiphany of some sort, so we listen for it. Stories make a message cohesive and emotional. Powerpoint decks make people drowsy.
“Smile? You mean like this?”
  • Be likable ~ I give this piece of wisdom to people in all sorts of manifestations; selling, interviewing, dating, apologizing, basically any situation where it’s incumbent upon you to have people not be repulsed by your very presence. How does one “be likable?” Don’t over think it ~ smile. Ask questions. Be open and welcoming. Think of the most likable person you know – why are they so damn charming? It’s probably easier to define than you think.
  • Keep it Simple ~ Albert Einstein said “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Me & Big Al are on the same page here – complicating the message or diluting the message only serves to confuse or disengage the audience. We’ve all been in presentations where the explanation begins to have negative returns on the goal of the message.  Don’t be that guy.

Truth be told, more adults are probably engaged in listening to the Kid Sermon as well. It’s like getting a fun little Cliff’s Notes version of what’s to come; certainly there’s a lesson in that, right?

One last tip, just in case you start losing the audience:

  • Whenever possible, have candy ~ Don’t think for a minute that a reward isn’t a good incentive.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. 

Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.  @HR_Hardball

3 Realities About March Madness

I need to preface this post with 2 qualifiers:

  1. Keep it in perspective; I’d much rather watch a flawed NCAA tourney than the WNBA or the NHL
  2. It’s Saturday, so don’t try to find any strategic connection to HR…this is about ball.

Even if you’re a passing fan of NCAA basketball, you’re watching more hours of live game coverage this weekend than you have all year. “March Madness” is/was on the level of the Superbowl in terms of popularity. It’s a uniquely American event, and the prospect of “Cinderella” overcoming all odds to win a championship is universally appealing. But it’s not without flaws:

  1. “Cinderella” never really wins ~ The last 10 NCAA champions; Kentucky, Connecticut, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Florida, North Carolina, Connecticut, Syracuse. Not exactly a group of no-names. There’s a ton of excitement in the opening rounds when one or two highly ranked teams get eliminated by an upstart, but in the end we still see the usual suspects claim the prize.
  2. One & Done
    One & Done

    The quality of play has declined ~ College football has it figured out; keep your athletes committed for at least three years of eligibility. College basketball talent (like college baseball) is cherry-picked to the point of damaging the game. We used to know the players, not just the schools ~ love ’em or hate ’em, we got to know Steve Alford, Patrick Ewing, Grant Hill, and some guy named Jordan.

  3. Rules haven’t caught up ~ Try explaining the “one & one” foul situation; the 3-point line is a joke; the referees struggle to maintain some semblance of flow to a game that has been minimized to a dunk or chunk contest. No mid-range jump-shots equals an ugly game that turns into a (poorly conducted) free-throw contest.

So, cry me a river, right? As I’m typing this, I watched a pretty competitive game in Butler and Marquette. Still beats the heck out of Spring Training baseball.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.



No matter which side of the desk you’re on, the word “assessment” is a buzz-kill.

“you’ll love this next part…”

Part of the problem is the number of assessments available; it’s ridiculous how much noise is out there.

Another part of the problem is the mis-use of assessments; oh sure, we’re all told there are “no wrong answers,” but c’mon, who are we kidding? Of course there are wrong answers, why the hell would we even bother? Using DiSC as an example ~ I’ve been in the room when it was stated quite clearly that “we don’t want any more S profiles…

How about relevance? You’re giving me an assessment for what reason, exactly? I’m of the opinion that an assessment for the sake of an assessment is a waste of time. What will make me an ideal employee/teammate/leader? Is this assessment going to help you determine any of that? If not, get rid of it.

We get a little jaded in HR simply because of the amount of exposure we have to assessments ~ maybe we’ve seen behind the curtain too many times to appreciate the intention of the actual application of the assessment. We need to use that perspective as a benefit to our employers; challenge the assessments being used by your internal customers. Is it stale? Is it still relevant? What are we hoping to glean from the results?

I’m actually a fan of the use of assessments. My issue is with the type and the reason behind the use; being “INTJ” doesn’t mean jack-squat to anyone 24 hours after the results delivery. Give me something I can appreciate, understand, and implement!

Sorry, that’s just my “High D” talking.


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.


“Instant” messaging, indeed….

You don’t know me, but then again, you probably do know people like me. We are the individuals you torment with your blatant disregard for my need to know that you received my message! To me, communication effectiveness includes a time-to-respond metric, so get off your duff when “messaging” Mr. Whitaker.

Who am I, you might ask? I’m the “radical responder,” and chances are you have someone just like me in your office, and they are annoying you to death. The truth is, the feeling is mutual!

One of the beautiful facets of self-awareness is the ability to recognize or even quantify the traits that define you.  If you’re in Human Resources, chances are you’ve taken dozens of assessments, if not more. There are few surprises, and even fewer “Aha!” discoveries. But…every now and again, you’ll find one that stands out from the crowd ~ for me, it’s called Shadowmatch™.

You can check it out here, but suffice to say that seeing a grocery list of your habits and the respective intensity of each is a rather enlightening exercise. You may even have one or two “radical” habits that control you, despite your efforts to the contrary.

For me, it’s “responsiveness.” Phone call, email, I want a response. Text? An unacknowledged text just may get you four or five more texts to ignore, each less politically savvy than the previous.

“You had your grace period…now it’s go time.”

I can’t say my way is the right way, only that it’s my way. If you know this about me, you’ll better understand me, and I you. Better teams, better colleagues, better friends.

Of course, you may also decide to intentionally drive me nutso, but that’s something you have to live with.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. 

Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for more samplings of the Hardball message.


The Stress of Change

Leave your personal issues at home; leave your work issues at the office. Manage your stress level, roll with the punches.

How’s that working out?stress-of-change

Not good; not good at all. The American Psychological Association (APA) compiled the following facts about our (in)ability to manage:

  • Of the women and men surveyed, 1/4 have called in sick for a “mental health day.” (APA)
  • Every day, approximately one million U.S. employees miss work due to workplace stress. (American Inst. of Stress)
  • When workers take time off work due to stress or anxiety-related disorders, they average 21 days off the job.
  • American employees used almost 8.8 million sick days (2001) due to depression, either untreated or mistreated.

That illustrates the impact to the individual, but what of the company? The National Institute of Mental Health estimates the cost of lost workdays, attributed solely to depression, to be $23 billion annually. Almost 1,000 workers suffer a disabling injury every day, over a dozen will die. Distracted, depressed, disengaged…dangerous.

How can we better prepare and protect ourselves, and our employees? We can start with the admission that we are un-prepared for change. Marriage, divorce, relocation, death of a loved one, job loss, promotion, family “expansion,” financial responsibilities…the common thread? Change.

We can’t prevent the event, but we can prepare ourselves for the ability to deal with the inevitable occurrence of change in our lives. Turn the uncertainty of “what will happen?” into the certainty of “when will it happen.”

“Whit” is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. Read more about preparing for change.

Got a thought to share? Send it along!


HR, time to “Man Up” to the Table

My wife is deep into the Sheryl Sandberg book (movement?), “Lean In,” in which women are encouraged to make their presence known when seated “at the table.” Anyone working in Human Resources as a career can empathize with the challenge faced by women in their quest to be heard, to be treated equally, to be respected, and to be equals in the workplace. 

“Dibs on the window seat.”

I won’t risk trivializing the plight of women by making a comparison any deeper than that, let’s just say “getting a seat at the table” is an argument with which we (HR) are familiar. It’s also only half the battle – you can get a seat, but what do you do once you’re there? One memorable piece of advice from Mrs. Sandberg is to “fake it” if you have to, meaning to act the part even when you may not necessarily feel up to the task at hand.

This is identical advice to that given to me as a young man by more than one (male) role model – “walk in like you own the place…” Most of my (male) friends have received the same nugget of wisdom in one shape or form, either from Dad, Uncle Bob, or a mentor early in their career. The central theme to the message can be minimized into one word – “confidence.”

It seems like simplistic and even silly advice, but it’s the same direction we (the wife does NOT lack for confidence) give our own children. If you want to sit at the adult table at Thanksgiving, act like you belong, not like an uninvited guest. Be polite, be cordial, and have something to say ~ don’t be scared of the moment. When doubting if you belong, ask yourself this question – “Why NOT me?”

If you can’t convince yourself after that…maybe you need another year at the kid’s table.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. Straight talk and honest responses…


Extension Cords (& other instruments of the Devil)

I’ve always had an issue with the adage that says “don’t sweat the small stuff” ~ the message, of course, being that the “small stuff” shouldn’t get under the skin of an emotionally stable, mature adult. What  –  a –  crock.

I’ve been in some very highly-charged situations, both professionally and personally. I’d like to think, based on how I’ve performed, that my ability to add reason and calm to a tempest in a teapot is a large part of my value to the organization (and to my family.) Crisis situation? I’m your man. When all hell is breaking loose around me, I’m cool like Fonzie. People are panicking? I’m smooth like butter.

So please, don’t tell me not to sweat the “small stuff,” because that’s all I have left. As an example, here are five everyday items that are clearly placed on this Earth to send people like me into a psychotic episode.

  1. Extension cords – Lost, tangled, and (at my house) sliced in half at least twice a year by a hedge-clipper or lawnmower.
  2. Kites – The classic set up for disappointment. Call me Charlie Brown, but kites are evil. You have about 10 minutes of being the hero to your kids before a tree eats the kite or a string pops. Looking out my window right now, I can see two kites sacrificed to the tree gods ~ they were asking for it, really.
  3. Leaves – So pretty, so symbolic of the changing seasons, and such an incredible pain in the arse. In my garage, in my gardens, in my yard, piled up against the fence, and impossible to fully contain. Leaves conspire with the wind to steal any shred of mental wellness.
  4. Remote Control – Every TV requires two different remotes, each requiring 100 batteries; add a DVD player or Apple TV and you have yourself a genuine Charlie Foxtrot. Even more fun? Try finding the damn thing. This puts me at DefCon2, ordering immediate base lockdown.
  5. The Home Phone – it’s official, the home phone has been minimized to only one conceivable use of value – to be networked to your home alarm. I’m buying a bigger dog and throwing my home phone in the nearest river; not sure whatever became of the “no-call” list, but it seems to have inspired telemarketers to be even more aggressive. Add to it the electronic telemarketing call, and it’s easy to categorize the home phone as a tool of Beelzebub.
“Load THIS!!!!”


So I guess what I’m asking for is a little leeway as I unleash a torrent of blows upon my computer screen trying to purge the pinwheel of death, I’m actually pretty solid when the big stuff happens, trust me.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement, and it took him 4 tries to save this damn post.

Erin go bragh!