The Subtle Art of Influence opposed to "obnoxious" Art
…as opposed to “obnoxious” Art

When I was a kid, my favorite bedtime stories were the ones with a point (even then, I was a real piece of work) – so my inclination was to steer far away from frivolity in lieu of some good ol’ Aesop. Face it, if you want a good metaphor, you need to kick it old school with the Ancient Greeks.

One of my favorites is the story about the “Wind & the Sun.” Two great forces of nature in a competition to see who was, in fact, stronger. A passing traveler makes the contest possible, as the Sun suggests they see which is able to force the stranger into removing his coat. The wind, full of bluster, blows harder and harder in an attempt to whip the coat off the man’s body, but the man only grabs his coat more snugly around him, refusing to let go. The Sun, however, decides to slowly turn up the heat, making the man warmer and warmer, until the man finally decides to take off his own coat.

In Human Resources, there’s a tendency to be the wind ~ more policy, more rules, tighter regulations, harsher punishments. I know I’m guilty of advising the same type of action, especially in a particularly sticky situation. Strike hard, strike decisively, and deliver an unmistakable message. The problem with that, of course, is that we are a business unit built on our ability to influence – yet we often default to our perceived empowerment to dictate, even using the dreaded “zero tolerance” mindset at times. Big mistake.

Of every attribute needed by an HR professional, the ability to influence effectively is by far the most important ~ it is also, for many people, the hardest skill to develop. Make sure you recognize your default pattern when in crisis mode and fight against the urge to lean on policy. You can “force” someone to take action, but when you can convince others to remove their own “coat,” you have truly made the jump to a Business Partner.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources. 

You Never Forget Your First….

One of my favorite things to do when studying a resume or reviewing a LinkedIn profile is to go back in time to see where it all began…this impressive person in front of me may have made a seismic shift in their professional history that led them to their current state in life. It’s one reason I always recommend that you include your first job, even if only in a summary paragraph – for the interested observer, it provides multiple points of potential connection that may not otherwise occur.  It’s like studying someone’s professional family tree.

Back to the point of my message…if you were to walk by my office, chances are you can hear me mutter, “so, where did you come from?” Well, what about me, you might ask?

Gallo Sales, South San Francisco Distributorship, 1989. My first professional gig. I was rich – $28,000 a year + a company car (Pontiac station wagon, aka “Shaggin’ Wagon”), and I was officially a part of the adult world – except…my first sales meeting resembled my last fraternity meeting ~ 150 guys who looked like they could chase pretty women, break 80, drink a lot of beer, and forget to study. We were the guys who didn’t have an answer when people asked, “so, what are you gonna do after graduation?” Unfortunately, we were also without Trust Funds, so at some point, work was definitely going to be involved….

in retrospect, NOT a good role model
In retrospect, Billy Hicks was NOT a good role model

And so, there we were – selling Bartles & Jaymes, Carlo Rossi jug wine, and various other semi-palatable goods into “end-cap” displays at grocery stores; I knew every Lucky’s and Safeway in the East Bay (stand back ladies, I’m taken) – for two years I had a feather duster in my back pocket and a pencil behind my ear. “No ma’am, I don’t work here” should have been painted on my back. I clearly remember freaking out just a little bit, thinking, “this is my career?”

But it wasn’t a career ~ it was an initiation. Our army of 150 ex-frat boys covered the Bay Area like preppy little ants, learning life lessons every day, all the while bitching and moaning about our lot in life and trying to find a way back inside the collegiate womb (some people call this “Grad School”). But, like it or not at the time, those two years are my reference point for so many things I still utilize now, 20 years after the fact. I’m grateful for that first job – my experience in a role outside of HR, and more specifically inside the Sales organization shaped a perspective that continues to serve me well when dealing with clients, both internal and external. There is no teacher like experience, and having my own stories of time spent in the sales foxhole provides some credibility for those who are not always convinced about HR’s knowledge of “real” business.

I still connect with a few of the old “Gallo Boys,” almost all of whom are in Sr. Leadership positions in different companies around the country…without fail, each of us can now appreciate the building blocks we were laying down. Don’t get me wrong – it was hell, but we are the better men for it.

My point? Whether it’s your first job or your current job, wear it loud, wear it proud. You are a summation of your experiences, and not just the ones that look “good” on a resume. Sometimes the most interesting part of the journey is that first terrifying, memorable step ~ don’t rob yourself of that memory.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources and life in general. Peace. 

Intentional Walk – Broc

Every couple of weeks, I thought it might be nice to dig a little deeper into the mindset of one of our HR colleagues. With scary possibilities aplenty, this wily newsman interviews fellow HR Hardball™ member (and Texan) Broc Edwards.

1. So, you’re going to give advice to 22-year old Broc about a career in HR; what do you tell him?

I’d tell my 22 year old self to write, write, write. Join Toastmasters. Find outlets to write and speak. Be relentless about it. Read all you can about personal development and start with Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie. Oh, and wear earplugs to concerts

 2. Looking at the future of Human Resources, what keeps you up at night?

My biggest worry is that the field of HR will remain stuck in the past, stay caught up in petty in-fighting and comparing merit badges, keep whining about the lack of respect it receives (“seat at the table” – UGH!) and never realize what an amazing opportunity it has to make a real difference for business and people.

3. If LinkedIn had the ability to play a theme song whenever someone viewed your profile, what song would we hear when accessing yours?

 “This is Now” by Hatebreed. Loud and hyper-aggressive, I love this song for its message about putting the past behind me and taking personal responsibility for my own life to create the future I want.

images4. Musical chairs: there are 49 seats, 50 states, which is the first to lose a seat? 

Given the sheer number of “Secede” bumper stickers on pickups and SUVs here, I’d say Texas would probably volunteer to go first so I wouldn’t have to choose.

If someone wants to connect with you (to offer an improved profile photo), where do they find you?

Whit, are you suggesting I need an improved profile photo??? Find and connect with me at:

Twitter: @brocedwards

My blog:

Amazon: (yes, I am plugging my book)

Shameless, Broc, simply shameless….(and thanks again for the signed copy)

Bad Beats

I love me some poker. Not enough to make a living at it, but enough to keep ponying up to the table for a game. Such a great game, with so many great parallels to human behavior. Anyone who’s played poker for any extended length of time is familiar with the term “bad beat.” For the uninitiated, a “bad beat” is a nicer euphemism for “I got royally screwed.” Every player has a story; a time when a seemingly unbeatable hand turns into a loser through a series of events outside of your control.

These stories always speak to the improbable nature of what transpired,i.e. “he needed three running hearts to win…” Even more unbearable is the bad beat at the hands of a neophyte; someone who goes “All In” with 7/5 off-suit, then proceeds to hit a Full House on the flop, laugh at you in front of your buddies, then go back to watching the “Property Brothers” on HGTV (purely hypothetical, Honey, this has nothing to do with you.)

"Et tu, Grandma?"
“Et tu, Grandma?”

Without boring you with more hip lingo, there’s a lesson to be learned in these situations. Whether it’s a job interview, a sales call, a promotion opportunity….stuff happens. Not only does stuff happen, but most of the time it’s something completely out of your control. The real question is, how do you respond to a bad beat?

  • Screaming Mimi ~ Chances are, the person throwing a fit is someone who hasn’t played enough poker; get over yourself, we all have stories of times when the cards didn’t go our way. You keep playing, mark it up to experience, knowing with certainty that the unexpected is always a possibility.
  • Get Religion ~ I have buddies who no longer play cards with the group; they may sit and watch, but they got burned & gave up the game – a kind of self-imposed sideline “benching.” True, they won’t lose another hand of Hold ‘Em, but they won’t win any hands either.
  • Full Tilt ~ One of the cooler terms in poker is “on tilt.” Emotionally wrecked after an unexpected loss, the player begins recklessly betting due to the seismic shift in the expected outcome of a lost hand. In other words, they get goofy with negative emotion and lose the ability to play with reason. This is an erratic and short-lived condition in which to operate; if you’re unable to quickly get past the emotion of the unexpected, you won’t be at the table very long.

Bad beats happen to us all, and we know they are ahead. Focus on the controllable aspects of the game and learn to live with the unexpected in as certain a fashion as you do the daily sunrise.

Price Pritchett, Ph.D, in his book “Hacking Uncertainty“, explains it this way: “We are all products of choice and chance. Working in tandem with circumstances that life puts before us, we choose our moves, and so become co-designers of our future.”

Now….quit talkin’ and deal ’em.


One More Thing…dealing with Human Resources

“Be prepared to leave the company…”images

That’s the professional opinion I gave the Mrs., sometime last year when she was feeling jerked around by her employer and had reached the point of making a formal complaint to Human Resources. It’s a sad commentary on our profession, but I knew the potential end-game she faced once that bridge was crossed – don’t be lulled into a false sense of comfort by the rather progressive-minded individuals that contribute to FOT; Human Resources is still a sticky wicket to navigate for the common employee.

I’m referring specifically to the HR Business Partners who act as an advocate for the employee company. That’s right sportsfans, the HR Business Partner, despite all good intentions, is your gateway to a new corporate existence; things may get better, but it won’t be a smooth ride, and it won’t ever be the same.

So, you find yourself in an intolerable situation; what are you supposed to do?

  1. Get your Shinola™ together ~ You do know the difference, right? Get your facts, gather your documentation, and plan your discussion prior to any discussion with Human Resources. Bring your notes, and then ask to take notes during your HR discussion. If you’re going to be puckered-up, you may as well share the experience.
  2. Remember One Thing ~ There is no employee/HR confidentiality law; you want it kept secret, tell your dog (and no, I wouldn’t tell a cat, they’re too damn self-serving.)
  3. Know the Score ~ How do I phrase this in a sensitive way? Are you a jackass? Meaning, is there any reason to believe you would be in full-fledged CYA mode? Your credibility is a consideration – how about the accused? Did they invent a new polymer that saved the company?
  4. Present yourself in terms that are your own ~ Too many people self-educate themselves on employment law…if you want to play junior barrister, all you’re doing is waving the red flag of lawsuit. HR pros are reading you, and we’re usually pretty good at it – rational, factual,  and personable is a tough combination to doubt.
  5. Get used to awkwardness ~ At some point, the target of the complaint will receive an opportunity to respond. This is not a time to stick your toe in the water, then retreat. If it’s important enough to bring to HR, it’s important enough to see through. But….make no doubt about it, it’s going to suck.

So when I told my wife to “be prepared to leave…” it was based on this same checklist, because things may not turn out as you would hope. There are absolutely issues that need to be reported to Human Resources, if not for you then for your team and/or future employees. This isn’t a call to avoid reporting illegal or unethical behavior, only to do so with your eyes wide open.

Are we still a “go?” Atta kid, I thought you might say that – next month, let’s talk about what happens inside the investigation.


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources. This post originally appeared on, 6.29.2013. 

The Working Dead (Employees)

It happens to very one of us; some fad or buzz-worthy movement will pass us by, either via out-of-sight stealthness or deliberate ignorance. Or…sometimes we just decide it’s obviously stupid.

For me, “The Walking Dead,” serves as an example. How can a show so gross and so poorly performed become a critical and popular success? I don’t know, but this ridiculous show certainly has a strong foothold of support, so maybe I just don’t get it (for that matter, the whole “Zombie Movement” rivals only the Justin Bieber phenomena in terms of bizarre and unexplainable.)

But I’ve actually seen zombies.

Truth is, you’ve probably seen zombies, too. They are usually stumbling down the corridors in a recently acquired company. Blank, emotionless expressions; slow, almost trance-like gait; life seemingly sucked out of their vapid, soul-less carcass.

It’s sad, really. These are the stunned and unsettled employees who are either unwilling or incapable of adapting to the new company for which they work. It’s not uncommon for the vast majority of employees in the “bought” category to go through a similar experience, at least in the short-term; we may consciously ignore the changes, determine that the changes are stupid, or even leave the company ~ but we get over it. “Zombies,” on the other hand, stay in the dark place of the undead, never fully committing to their new world; “alive” in the sense they still shuffle through the hallways, but dead in terms of contributing any real value. Not surprisingly, they are slowly but surely taken out with a crossbow.

Allow yourself time to grieve the loss of all things as they wereThen, make the conscious decision to move quickly to a better frame of mind, support the new cause, and get on board. Energy, excitement, zeal ~ these are the qualities that show “life.”

(And don’t let the other “zombies” sneak up on you.)

Zombie 9-Box
Zombie Succession Planning


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources. 




Intentional Walk – Interview with Lisa

Every couple of weeks, I thought it might be nice to dig a little deeper into the mindset of one of our many HR colleagues. Sticking with the baseball theme, here are four pitches decidedly out of the zone.

who decided "QWERTY" was a good idea?
who decided “QWERTY” was a good idea?

With scary possibilities aplenty, this savvy journalist leads off his grand experiment with friend and fellow HR Hardball™ member Lisa Chase.

Ball 1 – So, you’re going to give advice to 22-year old Lisa about a career in HR; what do you tell her? 

“I’d tell her having multiple personalities may help since she’d have to see challenges through many different pairs of eyes, some of them contradictory. And under no circumstances was she to take a job where planning the company picnic was listed in the job description.”

Ball 2 – Looking at the future of Human Resources, what keeps you up at night?

“My worry is that HR may not have a future! What keeps me awake is trying to figure out why and how, in this age of business incubators, small business accelerators, crowd sourcing, angel investors is it still so hard to persuade people who are obviously open to new ideas that just like they need finance people, operations people, marketing people and R & D people, they need someone to help build the infra-structure of the company. And that is the role HR should have.”

 Ball 3 – If LinkedIn had the ability to play a theme song whenever someone viewed your profile, what song would we hear when accessing yours?

“If we can go one better and separate them into “anonymous” and all others, anonymous would hear Hopelessly Devoted to You, all others would hear Thunder Road.

Ball 4 – Musical chairs: there are 49 seats, 50 states, which is the first to lose a seat?

“You forgot the District of Columbia Einstein. Just make sure Congress is back from vacation before the music starts.”

If someone wants to connect with you (or offer professional counseling), where do they find you?

One of the other HR Hardballers has already offered me counseling but I figure I worked hard to get this way, it’s too late now to figure it out. You can find me on LinkedIn Lisa Chase or e-mail at

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources. Want a chance to take a walk, send the old boy a note?

Stay Conversations – Merger Attrition

HR_Hardball.jpgEmployee attrition is one of the few solid metrics we can utilize in Human Resources. We can track it, define it, analyze it, and even pair it with a dollar amount to quantify the financial impact. There is some debate as to the percentage of “desired” or “acceptable” turnover (unless your name is Jack Welch), but a representative ratio can be determined by dividing the number of employee departures by the 12 or 24 month average headcount. Accounting for fluctuation between certain positions (Sales vs. Finance, e.g.), a company with 15% or less attrition signals a rather healthy mix of retention and replacement.

And then you have an acquisition.

In the first year after a merger, almost 50% of senior managers from the acquired entity will leave the new merged company. Tracking the same group over the course of the first three years, the percentage increases to 75% (Human Resource Executive, 2011.)

“Wait a minute Einstein, you’re supposed to see turnover from the acquired company – that’s what happens when you get acquired.”

Granted, that stat could be colored by the redundancy process during integration (and thank you for referring to me as Einstein); so extend the time frame out a decade and you’ll still see one in every five has departed the company, a rate that is double that of “non-merged” organizations (Journal of Business Strategy.)

“I still don’t see the big problem here, it’s a process of trimming fat & becoming a more efficient entity.”

Maybe. But who is it that leaves? Unless you’re acquiring the Dallas Cowboys front office, there must be some inherent talent in the target company. When a merger is announced, there is a real simple sequence of events that occurs:

A. Uncertainty Hits.

B. “Take Care of Me” process initiates.

C. Certainty is sought after.

As a savvy professional, you are certainly aware of the fact that the dinner bell is ringing for your competitors, and they aren’t targeting the table scraps; they want your prime cuts.

Phone lines are buzzing, plans are being made, alternatives are being sought. It’s up to you to determine if the source of these communications are externally or internally generated.

Moral of the story: When the company around you is shaking, grab your valuables first. The rest is replaceable.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources.

I Would Win the Bachelorette

Father, forgive me, for I have been sucked into the ridiculous melodrama known as “The Bachelorette.” Every Monday evening, I temporarily suspend my manhood and watch the wonderful, disastrous, emotional train wreck that disguises itself as a “true love” vehicle.

Please hold this for me...
Temporarily revoked…

I’m not proud of it, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I must in some way actually enjoy this stupid show, because every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in…where else can you see this much general douche-baggery? The entire premise of the show is ridiculous, the “contestants” are vapid fame-whores, and based on the outcome of previous seasons, the matchmaking “formula” is nothing short of toxic.

I’d blame my wife, but there are higher powers at work ~ no Monday night football during the Summer, frequent MLB off-days, and a general crapfest available on other channels. So there I am, analyzing a show that I’m embarrassed to admit to watching. But……

I could win it…(if my wife would give me permission.) It’s a pretty easy formula really, and it’s a lot like the job interview process:

  1. Act like you have the job – She likes hang-gliding, you like hang-gliding. I could even pretend to like Kenny Chesney if I had to. When you’re interviewing with the big boss & see she’s got 12 pictures of her cats, you’re a freaking animal lover.
  2. Don’t be a narc – EVERY time a contestant tries to rat on another contestant, it ends poorly for all concerned. (It’s actually hilarious to see men justify being a snitch because they doubt the sincerity or good intentions of another dude, considering it’s a game show to find a wife.) Remember to take the high road in the interview as well; don’t bad-mouth the previous employer or manager, it’s a real bad way to start.
  3. Make a great first impression – Just like that first job interview, dazzle ’em in the beginning. Look at any recruiting chat-board and you’ll see a disturbing number of stories that explain how a candidate eliminated his/herself within the first 2 minutes.
  4. Be sincerely engaged (or at least fake it) – Nothing gets the girl like a good sob story, as long as it doesn’t result in a full blown man-cry. Get a little teary, blink back crocodile tears, apologize for getting “emotional,” then get fitted for your rose for the evening. I’m not suggesting you cry in the interview, but it never hurts to show true passion for your work.
  5. Don’t confuse it with love – This isn’t a courting process, it’s a contest that rewards a winner based on limited data. It’s not personal, and it’s not life-or-death. You miss this girl, there’s another one around the corner. You don’t get this gig, it wasn’t meant to be.

Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t win the show, because really there are no winners. But, give me a few weeks to power cleanse, a spray tan and a lobotomy, and I could get to the Final “Home Visits” episodes.

Then, of course, it gets a bit awkward when I introduce the wife and kids, but talk about riveting TV!….


John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer) temporarily suspending his own Man Card; HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources.