Stirring Up Staffing…(part 1)

If you want to spark up a real juicy conversation among HR types, ask the following question: “Is HR responsible for turnover?” Then stand back, admire your work, and enjoy the debate that follows.

“What was the question?”

This subject is a sticky wicket – Human Resources rightfully own the people processes of the company.  That’s what we do – we find ‘em, hire them, watch over them, protect them, pay them, and put them to bed [We also investigate them, suspend them, and terminate them, but that’s another post.]

But where are the lines of demarcation regarding “ownership” of the people themselves? You’ll find no shortage of data sharing the statistical significance of turnover related to “my supervisor.” What exactly does that mean?  Is the supervisor a problem? Was the hire a bad fit? Whose responsibility is it to identify, address, and correct these issues before they become problematic? Who owns the training and development function? Can HR be responsible for the input (hiring) but not the output (attrition?)

Recruiters and internal staffing take great pride in “landing” a new employee. It’s not uncommon to hear a recruiter claim the great employees they “hired” years after the fact, as in “Yep, he’s our CFO now, but it was me who hired him as an Analyst eight years ago (cocky sniff for emphasis).”  I would like to think that I identify something beyond the job requirements when hiring a new employee, but that could also cause a high-flyer to want quicker advancement than what the company is prepared to offer.

So, back to the original question – is Human Resources responsible for turnover? Certainly not, but maybe it should be. How would that impact the recruiting process? It would be a game-changer ~ and that might be a good thing.

How? Tune in next month for Part 2….

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

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Pareto’s Principle is for Amateurs

Listen up Heathens!

I joke, I joke…Pareto’s Principle is the equivalent of business gospel, and I’ve been evangelized.

Sometime after my 35th year on this planet, I began to realize that if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Oddly enough, that’s also the time I got married, started a family (in that order, thank you), bought my first house, took a new job…looks like I picked the wrong year to stop drinking.

Thus began a different philosophy in life and in business ~ there are very few things you can control, so why kill yourself trying? Pick the critical few, apply your best efforts accordingly, live a happier life. If only…

How many “Key” objectives do you have this year? Let’s say, for ease of percentages, that you have 10. Can you pick two? I’ll do you one better, can you pick ONE? That’s Pareto on a sugar-high…80/20 has been watered down over the years, almost commoditized. You want to get things done? Narrow your focus even more ~ try to have tunnel vision & go minimalist. Try 90/10, it’s what all the cool kids are doing.

Tim Ferris, the guru of the 4-Hour disciplines, has made this kind of “de-cluttering” into nothing short of a religion. It’s surprisingly difficult to identify your key priorities, as most of us have adopted the habit of multi-tasking to the point of negative returns. It actually takes practice. If you are anything like me, you’ve become a prolific juggler – sometimes because of circumstance, sometimes as a result of uncontrolled inspiration; we dreamers have a real hard time resisting another “great” idea.

The fact is, without a conscious effort to say “no,” to additional tasks, we have a corporate environment ripe for burnout. Companies run leaner, but they rarely carve out responsibility commensurate with headcount. Find your priorities, stick to your guns, and find your blinders. The other “work” will always be there, promise.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ ; read more, and celebrate my entire catalogue 🙂

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Lost in Your Translation

“ooooh yeah, forgot about that.”

Words mean something. We are forever reminded of this, whether it be a tersely interpreted email, an emotional outburst at your child, or any number of recorded gaffes that become internet memes for the ages. The advent of social media as an additional communication vehicle only assures that our mistakes will be easier to share and quicker to capture.

Why, then, do we continue to fail miserably, as individuals and as a collective society? Last week, tragedies in Boston and West, respectively, were exactly the kind of events that desperately need buttoned-up communication, but we just can’t help ourselves ~ careless, hyperbolic, unsubstantiated, unfettered, and unnecessary words~ anything to fill the awkward pauses between fact and conjecture. If there was ever a time to be clear in communicating…

Than again, people in glass houses…

What’s the communication like in your company? Better yet, what’s in like in your house? None of us are without room to improvement, so here are four simple edicts I try to follow (emphasis on “try”):

  1. Be Clear
  2. Be Brief
  3. Be Sure

“Brief” and “Clear” should be no surprise to anyone…it’s the “Sure” piece that is really suffering these days. In times of great uncertainty, the combination of emotion and pressure create bad juju. False data, rumor mongering, grand-standing, and fabrication. You see the same kinds of dysfunctional communication during an acquisition, during a layoff, and during employee investigations. We are a chatty, creative bunch, aren’t we?

Yes, I realize I said there were FOUR simple edicts I try to follow:

4.  Be Quiet

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

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Unemployed and Ignored

NOT an effective business card.

I wrote about this in a previous post…“The Stink of Unemployment” specifically refers to the proclivity of recruiters to utilize “employment status” as an unspoken job requirement. In other words, if you’re not currently employed, you won’t be considered for employment. Ironic, yes? Illegal? No.

But, as this Atlantic article points out, there is a very scary existence for those who are part of an especially discriminated-upon population ~ the long-term unemployed.

There’s no way to sugar-coat this particular issue. There is most definitely a filter in the hiring process that targets and eliminates applicants who are not actively employed ~ especially so in any situation that depends on a “blind” resume submission. Right or wrong, as a recruiter you react to supply & demand. Positions that are in high demand will have no problem attracting a supply of candidates, so a candidate with a long-term (per the article, “long-term” is longer than six months) state of unemployment will be an immediate (and easy) elimination. Why?

  1. Relevance ~ In some jobs, being removed from the game for six months could put you at a considerable disadvantage
  2. Perception ~ “Why do I want you if no one else wants you?“; harsh but realistic. Do you want the Chevy with a current owner, or the one that has been abandoned for 6 months? Show me the damn CarFax.
  3. Candidate 2.0 ~ Even if a LTUA (long-term unemployed applicant, you like that?) is identified as a leading candidate, the thinking is that another more attractive (i.e. “employed”) candidate is right around the bend.
  4. Cost ~ Internal Staffing resources and/or Contracted Recruiters are an investment; the way to show value to your client is finding the candidate they can’t find themselves. Even better if you can stick it to a competitor by taking someone they value; that doesn’t translate to the long-term unemployed.

Using a Beveridge Curve (don’t ask) to illustrate the point, Mr. O’Brien reveals even worse news – a candidate who is less qualified, if unemployed for less than six months, will be called back before an LTUA.

This all basically sucks for you if you’re currently in the unfortunate state of being unemployed for an extended amount of time. I can’t crack that code yet, but I do have one recommendation I would offer anyone who cares to listen.

Save a tree and quit sending resumes. Don’t expect a callback from an on-line or mailed resume submission. The stakes are much higher for you, so your role is now a full-time network maven. Network, network, network – in PERSON. Find groups, cold-call offices, call in favors, take a lessor position to get closer to someone in a position of influence. Your job is selling YOU. Ask for help…start here, I’ll listen. We need to get you a different acronym.

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.


The Gray Area & Tiger Woods

The Augusta National Golf Club is to “conservative” what the Sun is to “hot.” The place is tight, get it? You can picture a group of men named “Beaufort” and “Aubrey” summoning their man-servants for slippers and another flight of bourbon samplings. Not a place to embrace change very lightly. It’s a stuffy place is the point I’m trying to make here.

So where did this sudden glimpse of progressive judgment come from, and why is everyone so twisted off about it?

Quick recap ~ Tiger Woods, after a really tough break, is forced to take a “drop” that incurs after a penalty situation (as in, his ball “sleeps with the fishes“.) He does so [incorrectly as we will soon find out] and finishes his 3rd round at the Masters; Woods signs his scorecard, goes back to his Tiger-den to do whatever super-human things Tiger does, and waits for his final round on Sunday. The “drop,” executed incorrectly, was addressed with Tiger before he left the grounds so there was no need for concern. He even mentions his thought process in the post-round interview; his drop was intentionally done at a distance further back to allow for a better club/swing selection. (This is all very “golfy,” but hang in there with me.) A television viewer (many, actually) notices the drop, notices the comments regarding the drop, and calls in to report his concern with Masters Rule Officials. At this point, it gets very dicey – Tiger’s illegal drop should have resulted in an additional penalty (2 strokes). By signing his scorecard with an incorrect score, he could have been immediately disqualified from the tournament. By “could have,” I mean that 99,999 people out of 100,000 people not named Tiger would have been (and have been) DQ’ed. He was later given the 2-stroke penalty, but there are many people now screaming “INJUSTICE!!!” that he would be allowed to continue the tournament. Puh-lease.


So what is the positive lesson we can take from this as HR professionals? Well, there are actually a few:

  1. Golf’s rules are asinine ~ read them sometime, you’ll agree. Archaic, Draconian, and full of rules that make little sense. Case in point, the “incorrect scorecard” DQ. Stupid rules should be challenged, amended, or over-ruled. In this case, the PGA had very recently (2 years ago) added a bailout rule to allow some discretion by scoring officials if a situation like this should occur. Discretion = Good.
  2. The rules are different for some people ~ Sorry folks, but this is Tiger-Freaking-Woods. Do you hate him? Do you love him? Good, that’s what the PGA is counting on. If he’s disqualified, the tournament, the sponsors, and the spectators are literally robbed of their investment. Woods is Michael Jordan multiplied by Babe Ruth – he made the current state of golf into what it is. So, if Tiger gets a little more discretion, deal with it. The day before, a 14-year old wunderkind was penalized a stroke for slow play (virtually unheard of in a Major) – you know why? No skins on the wall, pal, that’s why.

    Sure, now you tell me
  3. Honesty still means something ~ Many of us have done workplace investigations where we knew a steady stream of cowdung was being sent our way. Tiger did something admirable in all this ~ he admitted his mistake, didn’t hide from it, accepted responsibility, then moved on. He could have ranted and raved about the fact a Television viewer turned him in for a violation, but he didn’t do that, nor did he complain after the fact about the updated decision by the Rules Committee (from no penalty to a 2-stroke penalty).
  4. The gray area is alive and well ~ If you want to succeed in the highest-levels of Human Resources, you better learn to navigate in the foggy borders of right & wrong. Anybody can read a rulebook or a corporate policy – it’s the enforcement of the rule that will define you.

Thank you, sports, for all of your wonderful applications in life and business. Because of you, I get permission to watch just a little bit more than I might normally be allowed. “It’s for work, Honey!”

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

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America Has Talent (but I’m not sure where)

“Talent” is a subjective term – reference American Idol, The Voice, et al if you need proof of that. As hard as it may be to define what “talent” might be for your particular organization, but for all of its importance we are all pretty clueless about how to find it, keep it, and/or replace it.

There’s not a better example of that than the NFL Draft, scheduled to begin on April 25th. A huge part of the evaluation process is the NFL Combine, an invitation-only event bringing scouts and “talent” together under one roof. Akin to a Fat Stock Show, college football players are graded out on seven separate physical drills, subjected to the Wonderlic™ Assessment, and then interviewed by executives representing their respective NFL franchise.

It’s crazy, really, and it’s all accessible for your viewing pleasure on the NFL Network. There are no skeletons, there are no secrets (really, nothing could be hidden in the outfits they wear), it’s a coming out party for college debutantes.

It’s also a crapshoot.

“My turn Uncle Jerry!”

Football geeks will easily recognize the names of LaMarcus Russell, Tony Mandarich, Ryan Leaf, Lawrence Phillips, Vince Young, Jeff George, and Todd Marinovich. Their common thread is their complete failure in the NFL coupled with a complete mis-evaluation of their talent. How the hell does this happen when you have a team of people evaluating every last piece of data and film available for each individual under consideration? Well, being a Cowboys fan, I can speak to that directly:

  1. Beauty Pageant – Pharma companies hire babes to sell product, NFL teams want dudes that look like Zeus. Both theories work about 50% of the time, but at least one is capable of marrying a doctor – customer for life!
  2. Hannibal Lechter theory – “What do we covet, Clarise?” Remember this? We covet what we see every day; guys on the big college teams & on the big college stage become “must haves” to a dreamy-eyed NFL GM.
  3. Ignoring the obvious – The “busts” listed above were not cases of bad data; each of the guys had “off the field” issues; behavioral, substance, criminal, or capacity (as in, “mental midget”). But they look so good, “can you imagine him in our uniform?!”
  4. Big noses abound – It’s ironic in business and in sports; “talent” is the lifeblood of the company. People skilled at finding the talent are often at the bottom of the food chain. All the data in the world can’t overcome a Senior Executive sticking his or her big fat ego into the situation.
  5. Paper Tigers – A major cause of bad hires & bad draft picks; on paper, the candidate looks great. During the “20-yard Shuttle” or “Three-cone drill” a guy just jumps off the charts & catches everyone’s eye. Never mind he was an under-performer in college and high school. Never mind his interview is similar to watering a houseplant, it’s so intoxicating to see a 4.2 time in the 40-yard dash., we temporarily forget the felony charge.

As someone who advises and consults leaders on the practice of identifying, developing, and retaining top talent, it’s painful to watch the manner in which Jerry Jones conducts his draft. I’m offering my services to you, Jerry, at a 10% discounted rate, to manage your draft for you this year.

I’ll even go so far as to offer a money-back guarantee, ‘cuz that’s the kinda guy I am. 817-733-3052, I’m waiting for your call.

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

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In the Cold

In our offices, there’s a very regal reception area. The front desk is often unmanned, but a “mahogany row” of offices stretches out behind the desk area, and a large, glass-enclosed conference room punctuates the scene. We like it, our clients like it, and maybe more importantly, our prospective clients like it. It’s an impressive, professional scene, man.

There is, however, one group of people who hate it……solicitors. To a solicitor, it can be a very imposing and non-receptive place, and that’s not even considering the “NO SOLICITATION” sign on the front entry. Go sample your wares elsewhere, pal, we ain’t buying.

If you’ve ever been in a sales role (even if you don’t call it “sales”) you’re familiar with the term “cold call.” Just thinking about the term gives me a queasy feeling. True “cold-calling” is one of the more frightening things you could ever experience. Twenty+ years ago as a fresh college grad, I can remember working job interviews that included actual cold calls…I was mortified. Since then, I’ve been in roles that required internal sales (selling ideas to my internal customers), outside sales, consultative sales, professional sales, Soupy Sales, and various other responsibilities that involved the process of influencing someone’s decision-making process. Like you, I’ve read all or part of any number of books that instruct or advise a better way to skin this particular cat. There is nothing new under the Sun regarding this topic, but I do have a few simple bullet points that sum up my approach (because I haaaaaate doing it.)

  1. Lucky 13 ~ It’s been hypothesized by those who know these things that it takes 13 “No’s” before getting a “Yes.” Start mowing down those “No’s” so you can get to something more positive.
  2. Be curious ~ If nothing else comes out of the experience, find out something about the individual. “What keeps you up at night?” If you can’t sell something, you can at least soften up the gatekeeper. People buy from those they like, try being that person.
  3. Be a farmer ~ Make realistic goals for each visit, each interaction. It’s all for the greater good, right? If you can’t convince yourself that you’re cultivating a future sale, it’s going to be very, very hard to enjoy your life. For reference, watch Glengarry Glen Ross (again, if necessary) and pretend for a minute you are Shelly Levine (Jack Lemon.) Not…..for… “Always Be Closing” is a really sure way to scorch the Earth below, for you and future generations. Don’t screw it up for your successor, too.

[There’s also the highly under-rated value of “showing up.” Even a terrible salesperson, if consistently making calls, will sell more than the dude sitting in the car with flop sweats.]

“Can we interest you in personal hygiene products?”

The capstone to this story? One day while having an impromptu office “hallway” pow-wow with a group of colleagues, we noticed a young lady walking our way. Unwavered by the pomp and circumstance of our reception area, undeterred by the lack of a receptionist, and unfettered by the prospect of approaching four people having a hallway conversation, she proceeded to initiate a conversation about our office supply needs. “Leave us your card and we’ll pass it on” was the response from one of my colleagues – that usually indicates “class dismissed.” But her response was so good, I felt it deserved a larger audience – “I’d love to leave you a card, but can I also get the name of your Office Manager so I can be professional about my visit?”

Wow. That, my friends, takes stones. That was several months ago. She didn’t get a sale that day. She did, however, leave an impression that stuck. Because of that visit, we’re taking a look at our various providers. My guess is she gets a call.

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

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Get the Hook…Leadership and Human Resources

leadership-change-baseball-human-resourcesIf you’ve watched even one game of professional baseball in your life, you’ve seen the manager visit the mound and give his Pitcher “the hook.” Could be for any number of reasons, but it translates into one universal truth ~ a change is needed.

How great would it be if we could emulate the same practice in our professional setting? So many relevant applications:

  • The Pitcher is gassed: Worn out, struggling, been in the game too long. Fresh arm is needed to, at the very least, give the team a better chance. A great start to the game does not (and should not) insure the same player is on the mound to end the game. A succession plan is established, roles are defined and understood, change is seamless.
  • Matchup strategy: “Different horses for different courses,” i.e., there are some who will excel with one particular client or project. Mitch Williams was a hair-on-fire left-handed Pitcher who made a career out of scaring the heck out of left-handed hitters late in a game. Pitching to a right-handed hitter, he made Joe Carter a World Series hero (and made himself a goat.) You may have a salesperson who can hit the mark with one particular client, but gets escorted out of the building in others.
  • The Pitcher stinks: Some times, it’s just not your day. Wild, inconsistent, inaccurate, ineffective. The manager, in effect, is “saving” the Pitcher in these situations. Hit the showers, live to fight another day. One bad outing does not a career make, but delaying the inevitable only hurts the team.
  • Hunches: For people who don’t believe in “gut” feelings, intuition, or hunches, this means nothing to you ~ but it’s more likely you actually do know the feeling of which I speak. Instincts are hard to overcome, and the best managers don’t ignore those nagging hunches when making a decision. It’s more acceptable to say “stick to the data,” but your instinct is often driven by data points you are unconsciously collecting throughout the day/week/year/life – don’t dismiss this gift of information collection.

No matter the reason, the manager is doing what managers do…they manage. The players on the field gather on the mound, give the departing Pitcher a pat on the butt, welcome the new guy, and carry on. The team realizes the need for a change, and it’s understood that it’s the responsibility of the manager to make the decision. To avoid that responsibility is to risk “losing” the team.

The Genesis of this post? I’m watching a colleague conduct a presentation, and he’s dying. The first of four days and he’s as flat as a flounder. If this were baseball, the home crowd would be booing relentlessly. He’s already hit two batters, walked the bases full, and he seems to have a case of the flop sweats.

It’s just not his day, time to get the hook.

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



Taste Test

So, what does HR Hardball mean?” I get asked that quite a bit, and my standard reply is “tell me what YOU think it means.” The responses vary, but here’s a quick refute of guesses that miss the mark; HR Hardball is not a:

Nope. The name derives as a nice way to explain my interpretation of a philosophy espoused by my Dad; Son, everybody has to eat *poop* sometimes, but you don’t have to acquire a taste.” 

Yes, it’s a gross metaphor, but it’s also brilliant (and PG-rated; after all, my kids read this stuff).

“Today’s special?”

The meaning seems pretty evident, but let me expound for clarity ~ I don’t care who you are, there are times when you’ve bit your tongue instead of responding. Whether we deferred because of  potential consequences, the emotion of the situation, or our own internal doubts, the fact is we have all been there. But we don’t have to make it a habit….and especially not on the job.

When organizations are young, nimble, energetic, and successful (note: “success” is not always counted in shekels), several common characteristics can be found in the interactions between the employees comprising the company: honest, transparent, positive, direct, respectful, and fluid; “fear” of communication doesn’t occur to people in this kind of environment. These are the times of great innovation, tremendous growth, and optimum engagement of the employee base.

Does that sound like your place of business? As a consultant, I can tell almost immediately if a company is living in the sunshine or suffering in the shadows. Sadly, the Human Resources organization is especially prone to having “poop sandwiches” served to them on a daily basis; we hear the complaints, we see the intimidation, we witness the lack of fairness – but often say nothing. That needs to change in an immediate and profound manner. That’s where I can help.

HR Hardball is a brand that sounds pretty catchy; but the purpose is much deeper – I’m really just trying to improve your diet.

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.