Category Archives: Development

You Know You’re a Manager When….

I can count many blessings. Among those is the fact that not only do I have a great boss, I have two fantastic managers reporting to me. When you have strong people supporting your efforts, you can sometimes take for granted the fact that development continues for all of us – even those who are already at a pretty advanced level. So, I try to take mental notes from time to time that fall into the category of “You know you’re a Manager when…”

These things may not appear in the leadership “handbook”:

  • You can admit that “YES”, you do have favorites, but the reasons better be in direct correlation with performance. Jimmy Johnson, the sainted ex-coach of America’s Team freely admitted that the “rules are different for different players.” Fairness is different than “the same.” Don’t let a policy hound tell you otherwise. The funny thing about favorites is that they are usually disguised as excellent performers with good attitudes – it’s the damnedest thing, but performance and reliability should count for plenty.
  • Speaking of performance, many of your own moments of brilliance will happen in a vacuum. Part of our job as leaders is to remove obstacles or at least pave the way for our respective teams – chances are your people will never have visibility to many of the things you do for them. They will see the benefits of your work eventually, hang in there.
  • “Happy Hour” with the team has a time limit for you, Cinderella. It usually coincides about the time you pay for the 1st round.
  • If you think they are talking about you,  you can relax. OF COURSE they are talking about you – you’re the boss, at some point you will not be terribly popular. This is one of the reasons you leave Happy Hour after the 1st round. It’s a part of the tribe mentality – and despite what you might think, you ain’t in the tribe. Don’t take it personal.
  • “Be who you are” in your management style. Don’t try to be a hard-ass if it’s not in your DNA; you won’t be good at it, and you’ll seem phony to your direct reports. It happens to all of us when we first get into a leadership role. At the same time you’re learning your new responsibilities, you’re trying to put on your face for the team. Are you a friend? Mentor? Coach? Disciplinarian? Be yourself, act accordingly.
  • Time + attention = “Development”; if you can’t determine what a “formal” training and development plan should look like, spend time with your people and give them some dedicated attention. A lot of budgeted (read: expensive) training opportunities may not be available to you, but face time is always an option.
  • Here’s one that I recently learned myself…slow down. Yup, actually pasted a stickie on my computer screen that reminds me to “breathe, think about it, then act.” We’re all working managers (pretty funny that needs to be a point of distinction), so we’re juggling alley cats throughout the day. In the world of recruiting, we all live with our hair on fire, so it’s not uncommon for things to occasionally get missed, mixed up, forgotten, delayed, misplaced or miscommunicated. I had a whopper of my own just last week when I sent sensitive information over email to a distribution group that still included the subject of the sensitive information.

Which leads me to my final nugget…

  • Forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. As a matter of fact, you’ll make several – something about being “human.” Own it, learn from it, then forgive yourself and move on. I’m still having to remind myself of this tidbit, no one will be harder on you than you. Covering it, rationalizing it, dodging responsibility all lead to bigger problems. Humility is a lesson we all need occasionally, it’s good for the soul.

Saying that, I’d still double check that email first…


John Whitaker is Vice President, Talent Acquisition for DentalOne Partners. For more than 20 years he has built and developed high-powered recruiting teams focused on developing a competitive advantage via strategic Human Capital positioning, planning, and practices.

(Leave) Behind The Music

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the (somewhat overused) metaphor “rock star,” usually bandied about when someone is trying to quickly summize an unbelievable talent. An interesting metaphor, to be sure, considering the history of behavior by actual rock stars, but that’s another post for another time. The obvious connotation is to describe someone who can set the stage on fire with their very presence (but you may not want them doing your taxes.)

Little known fact ~ I almost chose the path of “rock star.” The only thing that held me back was my complete lack of skill at singing or playing guitar. As bad as I wanted it to happen, as a musician, I stink…so I no longer spend a lot of time practicing chord progressions. Or anything else related to being a rock star for that matter. After two or three experiences with guitar lessons, it became clear – whether I spend 10 minutes or 10 hours developing my skills in this vocation, it just ain’t happening.

I’m not the first person to learn this lesson, simply the latest – but it’s worth reminding ourselves every day of the validity of the Pareto Principle. You have a focused set of strengths inherent in you that have produced 80% of the results you have accomplished…or, rather, they should have produced 80% of your results. But we still aren’t comfortable leaving weaknesses unaddressed, so an inequitable amount of time and effort is put into making ourselves “better” at things which:

  • We don’t like doing
  • We aren’t good at doing
  • We will improve only marginally, if at all

Why? Could be any number of reasons:

  • We’re hard-headed
  • We’re taught to “never quit”
  • We feel a skill is needed

I have to be careful with how this is phrased, having a rather snarky 13-year old who might use this post as an excuse to ignore his Language Arts homework, but…in your personal development, why not focus on taking a strength to the next level?

Or are you still trying to be a rock star?

HR, Who’s Your Data?

Hide the women and children, “Big Data” is coming.

Big Freaking Data; a lot of it, from a lot of places, all coming at a rapid pace. Internal and external information sharing the same spreadsheet, looking backwards is now looking forwards, up is down, human sacrifice, dogs & cats living together….mass hysteria. If only there were a webinar to help us understand.

SHRM is calling the movement towards utilizing big data as “HR’s Golden Opportunity.” And, based on the buzz in HR discussion groups, periodicals, blogs, and white papers, a lot of people agree. Not only is it buzzing, it’s profitable – Gartner Inc. predicts the big-data “industry” to grow into the $200Billion range within 5 years.

So, now what?

Now we need to figure out what to do with it. How to gather it…curate it…analyze it…interpret it.

This won’t happen overnight. You can expect a transition period as Human Resources is asked to use data as a predictor of future trends rather than a description of past occurrences. It’s not enough to have the information, we need to learn how to use it effectively and separate meaningful information from the “noise” created by information overload. And, as with any significant change, you can prepare yourself for a few bumps in the road:

  • Some will be reluctant to jump on board: Could be you, could be your team, but there will be resistance. Whether it’s a lack of understanding or a feeling of helplessness, this movement will not be universally embraced. If big data is here to stay, continued resistance will be a career-killer.
  • We can expect it to get worse before it gets better: If analytics aren’t part of your current SOP’s, expect the adjustment to cause a dip in productivity before turning the corner. There will be a learning curve – as an HR leader, you need to be prepared to shepherd your people along and tolerate mistakes.
  • Your bench may blow up: Especially in large HR organizations, this shift in the paradigm will offer opportunity for talent to shine at multiple levels. For the 50% who slowly adjust, expect 10-20% to absolutely “get it” from the word “GO.” That may be a nice problem to have, but you have to consider the disruption that comes along with a change in thought leadership.
  • You, personally, will need to take accountability for upping your game, HR Person. Don’t expect IT to run this show – this is OUR turn to shine. Yet we still need internal partners to make it a successful opportunity; how do we “own” this without taking the lead?

So, consider this your opportunity for an on-line Cliff’s Notes version on how to prepare, adjust, and excel in a new analytical world.  Join us June 26 at 2pm EST for HR Moneyball: The FOT Bootstrapper Guide To Getting Started With Big Data and learn the best ways to effectively deploy BFD (Big Freaking Data) from the HR suite.

Kris Dunn and Steve Boese, both of whom we all knows (see what I did there with the rhyming) will keep you on your toes as they describe how this all goes.

Wow, that was freaking brilliant. See you there ~

Register Here for “HR Moneyball”


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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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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Dream a (very) Little Dream

I’m currently witnessing a very interesting example of the adult mind-set. My colleague, Dr. Price Pritchett, is delivering the 4th installment in a series of talks regarding “You2” (as in “You Squared”, not a cleverly disguised manifesto from Bono). The gist of the message is to aim high, refuse to be bound by incremental gains, find your passion, and soar. In other words, dare to achieve a goal that exceeds your pre-conceived limitations.

It’s great stuff. It’s simple, direct, inspiring, and (most importantly) it’s incredibly effective.

“One day I’ll finish all 5 Seasons of ‘The Wire.'”

With one small catch…

You need to actually HAVE a dream.

I’ve watched over the course of these 4 weeks as a group of 100+ educated, professional, mature individuals struggle to come up with one specific “Aiming Point” to shoot for. In a group of 120 people, there may be 10% who grasped the concept of a personal stretch goal. For many of the rest, it’s paralysis (“I can’t think of anything.”) or marginalization.

What do I mean?

Imagine the Genie coming out of the bottle and granting you the ability to accomplish one goal that you’ve always considered beyond your reach. For many people, that wish would manifest itself into something similar to this:

“I want to increase my revenues 20% of last year-end.”

If your dreams are measured in incremental gains, I’m here to tell you that you don’t really have dreams. I’ve mentioned in other posts my belief that fear is not your enemy but your source of inspiration. The real obstacle is comfort.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. Known for my straight talk and penchant for buggery. 

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