Episode 359: Being the Supplement to Communication With John Reeves Whitaker, CHRO at NPH

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Episode 359: Being the Supplement to Communication With John Reeves Whitaker, CHRO at NPH

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Table of Contents

But if you are considering benefits, it is basically one kind of an AI chat system where you can tell them your situation, what you’re looking for or what’s most important to you. And it can start recommending what parts of the benefit plan will be best for you, what you might not really need, what you ought to consider. And then the different levels of the plan here’s your out-of-pocket, this is what you’d be looking at. And you can sit down with your spouse or your family and go, Well, look, if we do this, this here. I mean, it helps you budget. It helps you build a comfort level with what is in your benefits. And that has been really popular. We found not only was it popular with our current employees, but that became a real big vehicle for us. When we do these little acquisitions, most of our, our growth is via acquisition.

Episode 359: Being the Supplement to Communication With John Reeves Whitaker, CHRO at NPH


Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:23.88] Welcome to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. These are two of the courses that Workology offers for certification prep and for recertification for HR leaders. You can learn more about these at Learn.Workology.com. Now, this podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast that is focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer or CHRO. The CHRO is sometimes called the SVP of HR or the Chief People Officer, and it’s an executive or C-level role that deals with managing human resources as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. This series, the CHRO series on Workology, is powered by HR Benchmark Survey. You can share your insights at www.HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. One of the reasons why we keep doing this series on CHROs is because not only is there a lot of mystery about the role, but frankly, this role has drastically evolved very quickly over the last 24 months. So I want current CHROs to share best practices with one another, and I want aspiring CHROs to know what type of skills and experiences they need to promote into a future CHRO role. Along with hearing from senior HR leaders about how they’re partnering and collaborating with their executive peers. You are in for a treat in this podcast interview. I promise you that. I am joined today by John Reeves Whitaker. He is the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at National Partners in Healthcare, also known as NPH. And in his 20+ years in HR, John has worked throughout the spectrum of the health care segment with companies that include AAlcon, CVS Caremark, Baylor Scott & White, Bayer, Bausch & Lomb, HMS, Genentech, DentalOne Partners and Sage Dental Management, all before joining NPH in June of 2020. John, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:03:25.65] Hey, Jessica, how are you? Thanks for having me.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:27.84] Absolutely. We have known each other for a little while, but I would love to know how you got into HR and how your work has evolved over time into your current role?

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:03:39.72] Sure. I think my story might be similar to a lot of people that I, had no intention of getting into HR. Just sort of stumbled into it through the recruiting door. I think trying to remember, it was, oh, God, you know, the emphasis on the 20+ years in human resources. Plus, it was at Alcon, roughly 22 years ago, and I was doing some recruiting. I was actually doing contract recruiting because I was in between jobs and ended up doing pretty well for them. I mean, Alcon at the time was a really easy sell because it had a just a hell of a package to offer. But did well and had one of those moments where you get to prove yourself where they were going to build a whole new sales force and we’re going to outsource it. But I raised my hand and said, I’m pretty sure that we could do it internally. And that became a big success. And based on that, I got tapped on the shoulder for a promotion opportunity as an HR business partner. And I think when you get into that role, that’s when you really see the kind of the gears inside the tractor about how it works for HR. And so did little swims through benefits and comp and already had the recruiting under my belt. But the HR business partner, I found out that role being that strategic business alignment kind of embed yourself with your client group.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:05:02.88] I really found I love that and had no idea that was a career. When I was in college, it was like, You can do this. You can just sort of be sort of a business person, kind of like a concierge, a consigliere in The Godfather, where you you talk to the leaders, you kind of whisper sometimes that, hey, you might want to think twice about this, but you’re trying to walk the fine line between being an employee advocate and what’s best for the business. And I enjoyed that. I enjoyed that walk. So it’s evolved now into, you know, it’s like. It’s evolved all the way to 2020 and then it evolved again in 2022 now, because I think all of us in HR saw our entire profession change drastically and radically in a hurry in about 26 months ago. So now I think the importance and the focus on HR, I don’t think has ever been bigger. I don’t think it’s ever been more critical the role that we play in wellness and, and security for our employees and retaining them, I mean, some real-world issues that came up that, you know, we were cruising along pretty good 2020, feeling pretty good and things are pretty normal. And then you see, boy, the rug gets pulled out under you and HR better get out there out front because we’re, we’re the people that are supposed to help our people.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:27.58] Well, I love that you said swim. You swim through these, these different areas of HR because sometimes your stroke is good and other times you’re just treading water. So and I, and I feel, and I think so many HR people have experienced a drastic change in their role in HR. And that’s why we keep doing this series where we’re interviewing heads of HR and CHROs and Chief People Officers because everybody’s job is a little bit different, what’s coming and what do we need to be prepared for in our position as people experts, and then how can we better support our organizations. And, and employees, too. Like, all those different pieces. So, along those lines, I wanted to ask you thinking about, like, pandemic and now hopefully post-pandemic, what skills and experiences do you believe are absolute requirements for somebody moving into a Chief Human Resources Officer role? Thinking about maybe somebody who is really green, they’re just starting out like you and I were 20 years ago.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:07:38.22] I would have said this before the pandemic to communication. I think you have to be your communication skills, but since then I think that times ten, as far as your communication, I think that, the, probably, the whole country has gone through this, this pretty traumatic time where we’re dealing with some real serious issues and then not sure if we’re getting all the information right. We’re not sure if we’re getting the right information or there’s disinformation or misinformation or conflicting information. And, you know, you as the HR leader at your company, you have to be a supplement to that communication because your people are still concerned about the same things that that everybody was. They just need to hear it from a source of somebody who’s calm and can just sort of lay it out for you can be a curator almost. We got this information. You’ve probably noticed this. I mean, throw it out, share an article. Many of you saw this, you had questions about this. Let’s talk about how that might impact your role here or if it does. Because, you know, the we’ve seen all these studies about mental health, the real crisis that we’re going through right now with mental health. I have some friends in different roles, like a sleep expert, or, sleep deprivation is a national emergency. Our mental health is a national emergency. You have suicide rates that are climbing. I mean, these are all real fun topics. But the fact is you have all these people feeling all this angst and when we got separated and we’re working remote on top of that, HR, we have to go into people’s homes now and comfort them and still try to build some sort of engagement with them. Because whether we see them every day or not, they’re still dealing with some of these big problems. So your communication skills have to be top notch, I would say, first and foremost.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:30.75] Well, I love communication. I do think it’s more important. And you’re right, we’re working remotely. We’re doing hybrid, we’re doing it some in person, and we’re hiring people in different countries and different places. And everybody has a different family and life situation and challenges that they’re experiencing, too. So we have to be able to find a way to navigate that, and communication is incredibly important. One of the other questions I wanted to ask you is you joined a new job at National Partners in Healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:10:04.53] Yeah.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:05.58] What has been your biggest challenge in your first few months on the job there?

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:10:10.59] Oh, man, it was such a surreal thing. I mean, my first day with NPH, I did go to the office, a huge, beautiful, brand new office that the lease had begun March 19th, 2020. So the day that everybody got sent home, you know, there’s beautiful office building that could you know, I think it can hold about 250 people and it’s really great. There was nobody there. It was just me and my boss. So you are, you know, you’re going to be the new kind of voice and face of the people part of your company, and there’s nobody there. I think that’s the first challenge is actually feeling, can you really, how do you feel like part of the company? How do you, how do you even know what the culture is in the company when you really can’t experience it in person? It’s all virtual. I think that was the, the biggest challenge initially was just trying to capture what exactly is the culture and what, or what, what was the culture, because it’s going to change. And you knew it was going to change immensely just based on the pandemic and a new virtual workspace. And I guess after the first couple of months, we thought, well, it’s temporary.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:11:22.61] And then after about month 12 and month 20 and, you know, we, you know, it’s funny because going back to the communication, the importance of that too, it gets to the point where you have to give updates just to tell people there are no updates, but just to make sure that they know that you’re still doing updates, there’s just nothing much to update you on. And that became part of the, the first, I guess, initiatives that I was going to take on was what are the different ways that we can communicate to our employees that we are not currently doing? Are there, are we using technology or we have in town, virtual town halls or we have in virtual happy hours? Or are we doing a newsletter? I mean, stuff that everybody thinks is like HR 101 really got through, thrown into the spotlight because it is what you’re doing to reach your people that you might not otherwise have. So that was the big challenge is, how do I, how do I assimilate into a culture I don’t know what it is, and I have no visual proof of what it is?

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:23.53] I feel like that’s the reality for a lot of people right now and will continue to be because people don’t want to go back to the office. We’re recording this now. Apple is losing people and some of the other tech companies because they’re saying, hey, we’re going back to the office and other organizations are scooping up those people. So I think we’re going to have to figure out some sort of middle place where we have a culture online and in person or just online or just in person. And how do we, as HR leaders, communicate effectively, build culture and relationships potentially in a digital space in a permanent, permanent or semi-permanent way.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:13:09.70] Yes, I do. I think that’s a real good point. And just the information that we use to make our decisions becomes more important to you. So you have to, you have to open up where you’re getting your information. And again, it goes back to that curating of things. There’s a lot of, I mean, you need to gather all the information to somehow make it palatable and digestible for your people.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:32.26] I feel like you have an advantage over others and just for some background of how we met, we met online. We met on the Internet, on Twitter and various places. So you have, you’re familiar with the digital space and accessing information and communicating digitally, and particularly in places where you might not actually have met that person face to face. I feel like as an HR leader, a head of HR, you have an advantage maybe that other leaders don’t because you have a comfort level and experience level with that, too.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:14:07.21] That’s right, that’s true. You know, it’s funny because during the pandemic as well, I started just doing short videos and putting them out to the employees, just filming baseball cap, just to let them know, because there was so much information, you remember at the beginning of the CARE Act and all this type of stuff. And what does this mean to me and what is a furlough for God sake? No one in our generation had heard of a furlough. You know, what is a furlough? That sounds like something from the fifties. But yeah, so I started doing that and yeah, there was a comfort level in that. We had done it before and I’m sure you found the same thing and people want to see that. They want to, especially if you can put something visual. So they, they really want to connect. And if it’s a two-minute video from this new guy, that’s great. Now they’re getting to know me a little bit.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:51.90] Well, I, I think that the fact that you have your podcast and all the, as a blogger and all the things that you have done digitally, it is definitely something that hopefully employees felt more at ease. They felt like they knew you, that you were really approachable and that you were sharing information in a way that that worked for them.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:15:16.05] Yeah. Yeah. I think that was maybe a differentiator at the time, too, because not a lot of people were equipped to do it at that time. I just happened to have the happen to have the whole system set up already from goofing around.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:28.11] Yeah, well, hey, goofing around can pay off. I feel like the pandemic started, and then I decided to do this series, the Chief Human Resources Officer series, where I just interview Chief People Officers, VPs of HR. And previous pre-pandemic trying to get a practitioner who’s the head of HR on a podcast was really a challenge. But I think that as we became more comfortable with Zoom and these digital virtual meetings and the technology, it’s been a lot easier for me to pick up the phone or send a LinkedIn message or whatever and say, Hey, I’d love to have you on the podcast. Even for people who it’s their first time, which I just recorded a podcast interview and it was the Chief People Officer’s first time on a podcast.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:16:11.40] Wow. It’s funny you said that because, and maybe because, again, we’re living in this world a little bit the comfort level. But you will talk to somebody and they’ll say, well, I’ve never, I’ve never done that before. And you’re like, Really? I thought, everybody done it. Now it’s just sort of, but, it’s not. But people are open to it now. Whereas before, maybe they weren’t.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:29.97] I mean, not too long ago I had a very nice woman named Daphne, we sent out an email talking about one of our HR certification prep resources. So we have practice test questions available for SHRM and HRCI test takers, and we sent out an email and she called my Google Voice number, which has my voice and say, hi, thank you. This is Jessica. And she said, I want to make sure you’re a real person before I put in my credit card number to purchase this test question. And I want to know who you are and why you know these things. And, and so I called her and she was very wonderful. And I answered her questions and she asked me, you know, how do I know how to do this? Have I worked in HR? Am I a scammer from another country? Like am I a Nigerian prince? The answer is no, Daphne, I am not. I live in Austin, Texas, and I’ve been in HR for over 20 years. But it was a good reminder that everybody comes from technology adoption or understanding from a different place, and it’s important for us to be open to that, whether it’s HR leaders or employees who are just starting out at our companies.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:17:37.71] Yeah, you’re right. And it’s, I think it’s critical too if you are a HR person, HR leader in your company and the other senior leaders on your team aren’t comfortable with that. I think you kind of help them with that because nothing makes a bigger impact to the employees that we found. You know, you have a different leader sort of share their $0.02 for the month and have a featured leader that they might not ever hear a real thought from other ones.

Break: [00:18:02.22] Let’s take a reset. My name is Jess Miller-Merrell, and you were listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. We’re talking about CHROs with John Reeves Whitaker. He’s the EVP and CHRO at National Partners in Healthcare. This CHRO podcast series on Workology is powered by HR Benchmark Survey. You can take the survey at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com.

Break: [00:18:31.21] Benchmarking and data is crucial to HR leaders. Workology’s HR Benchmark Survey is an always-on survey and just by taking the survey at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com, you’re signing up to get comprehensive quarterly results, white papers and other research from the survey right to your inbox. It takes 10 minutes or less to complete. Visit HR Benchmark Survey.

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS)


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:57.31] Well, let’s switch gears a little bit. I want to talk about something that you’re using called eNPS. So let’s talk about what that is and the impact of the feedback that led you to to develop that.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:19:12.16] Yeah, eNPS is, Employee Net Promoter Score is eNPS, and Net Promoter Score, I think a lot of us are familiar with as consumers where you get that text immediately after leaving a store and said, Hey, based on your shopping experience, how how likely are you to recommend the store 1 to 10? And it’s cool because it’s simple. It’s one question and it’s pretty clear 1 to 10, 10 being the best, 1 being the worst and all that. So companies started utilizing this a little as an engagement survey with their employees. And I like that idea because I know sometimes you can get survey fatigue and just response ratio and we deal with a lot of clinicians too. And getting clinicians to stop and answer a survey is just ain’t going to happen. So what could we do? Well, we could do this net promoter score and that way twice a year, we scheduled it twice a year, we can just get a pulse on the company. And our one question is, how likely are you to recommend NPH as a great place to work to a friend or family or colleague? That’s it. And the way they do scoring on an eNPS is your overall score can be anything from a -100 to a positive 100. Anything that’s in the positive is better than anything in the negative. The higher you get, the, the better. And you’re going to see a good score would be in the teens to the twenties, maybe the thirties even. So we didn’t know what to expect in our first survey. We did it, we got a 16, we were happy. We’re like, okay, that’s cool. But within that, you can see which groups are either pulling that number down or which groups are really picking that up. And that’s your, that’s that was our benchmark.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:20:54.91] So based on that, I mentioned it’s a one question survey, but there are two additional optional open-ended questions about what do you see as our biggest strengths as a company, what do you see as our biggest opportunities for improvement? And you know the participation on that. If you answered the first question, chances are about nine out of ten that people went on and did that as well, which was great because that’s where you get a lot of gold. Sometimes you get feedback like compensation and you’re like, Wait, was that something we’re good at or was that just a one word answer? But we would get things from people that were that were really helpful. And you have employees that were offering real examples in their in their feedback about this is something that we see. It really would be cool if we had more communication vehicles. This was early on that we realized where you’re not we are not getting the word out to our people very much and that that manifests itself in a few different ways because we also knew that benefits now with our health and benefits is more important than ever because people were really concerned about making sure that their insurance and what’s available to them. So what ended up happening is a couple of things launched. We we did do a newsletter and we did implement text technology so we could get to our people, get messages to our people. That’s pretty easy.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:22:11.23] But then we also realized that we could utilize some AI. There’s a tool called Alex, which is really pretty cool, and I’m sure they’re not alone in this, so I’m not endorsing them per se. But if you are considering benefits, it is basically one kind of an AI chat system where you can tell them your situation, what you’re looking for or what’s most important to you. And it can start recommending what parts of the benefit plan will be best for you, what you might not really need, what you ought to consider. And then the different levels of the plan, here’s your out-of-pocket, this is what you’d be looking at. And you can sit down with your spouse or your family and go, Well, look, if we do this, this here. I mean, it helps you budget. It helps you build a comfort level with what is in your benefits. And that has been really popular. We found not only was it popular with our current employees, but that became a real big vehicle for us. When we do these little acquisitions, most of our, our growth is via acquisition. And we’re doing these little pockets, maybe 20, 20 person, 25 person. But if they’re that, if they’re in a company that size, chances are they didn’t have a real formal HR program or any kind of formal rollout benefits enrollment plan and that. So when they see this, it’s like, oh my God, this is the coolest thing ever.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:23:24.43] And now I have a little, I have a little information about what my benefit plan actually includes, how much it’s going to cost. So the people who are coming on for the, the acquisition, we’ve had 100% participation of that. I mean, it’s an optional tool and they have used it 100% so far. And I guess we’ve made three acquisitions since we implemented this tool. And for us that was a, I guess we should have seen that. There’s going to be a huge benefit. We are concentrating more on our current employees. But that has been a huge plus and that all came out of the eNPS. It’s like this is something we’d like to see. Don’t understand my benefits. You guys need to communicate more. Hey, the AI tool that explains benefits, let’s do it. And that was, that was a, came directly from that and we remind our employees we just with the eNPS now, we just finished it, just got the score back. Our score was 36. So you can, yeah, we’ve, we’ve really made some leaps. But part of what you do is you’ve got to, you’ve got to sell the sizzle in the steak. We remind them, hey, remember in eNPS in the past, these ideas came out of that directly and we’ll point to some of those things just to let people know we’re listening and good ideas will get implemented. And even if we’re not going to implement it, we’re going to, we’re going to highlight the fact that you shared it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:40.10] So many good nuggets in this one. First of all, NPS is one question, right? It’s not 100 survey questions that comes out once a year or of seven question post-survey that goes out once a week. And like when you said you got a 16 like in the world of grades like for school, that’s an F.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:25:02.69] Right.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:02.69] Right? So that’s where my mind goes to like, oh my gosh, a 16. But NPS, that is a reasonable score. It’s not a negative, as you were saying, and then you can see the change. I do have a podcast interview with Will Staney. It’s from a couple of years ago, but he talks about how he used NPS scores for candidates for recruiting. So we’ll include the, the, the link to, to Will’s interview so you can kind of see the different ways that this could be used. I wanted to also mention you talked about a chatbot, an artificial intelligence chatbot, and I have some resources on that that we’ll link to as well if you’re like, Oh, that sounds cool. Can we do that with more? Yes. Benefits. There’s a whole other, there’s a lot of cool ways to, to use AI to kind of answer frequently, ask questions and help employees.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:25:55.91] Yeah.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:56.42] Number two and the question that I wanted to ask is, how are you tying organizational KPIs to that NPS score?

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:26:08.81] That’s great. Well, you know what? It’s it’s actually one of our key. I guess there’s four key buckets and our employee engagement. That eNPS is a huge part of that. So we have managers who now we set KPIs for participation rates and for overall score. So we want our managers to encourage their employees to take it. The more participation, the more realistic and the more valuable the data. So we need to make sure that they’re driving participation first and foremost, so we will set goals for that and based on the participation for the business group, and that goes all the way up to the Chief Operators and also the score. And what we have, we found very, it’s so funny to look at on paper, but with our clinician group, they’re tough. They don’t like to do surveys first and foremost, but they’re also not like, you know, these are anesthesiologists we work with. These are not lovey-dovey people. These are people who wake people up from surgery, put them to sleep so they don’t feel pain and hopefully wake them up. They’re not known for bedside manner. So you’re going to get, we’ve got I think our overall clinician score was seven and we were thrilled with that because we finally got it into a positive score.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:27:24.53] The, the MSO, the support organization was over 50. So the people who are, there’s a very, there’s a very clear line in delineation about what our clinicians are seeing as, I guess, our overall performance versus what the people who are in the trenches are seeing. So we realized that we had to do a lot more education to the clinicians and we would go to their monthly review meetings. We would talk about the methodology of how this is actually calculated. What you’re actually telling us, if you just score, you just figure, Oh, everything’s fine, I’ll give you a five. Basically what you just told us is it sucks to work here. So you have to tell them, this is what you’re telling us. So if, if you are having a bad day and you rate us a one, why would you ever work at a company that you think is a one? One out of ten? I mean, really, let’s talk about this. And you, you have those tough conversations with them and say, are we I mean, are we really let’s talk about some examples about why we’re you only gave us a four because we can’t pick out the individuals, but we can say, hey, your group, this particular group scored us lower than any of our other groups and we’re going to own that.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:28:30.44] But what we’d like to know is a little bit more about that. So the next time we find out is not going to be on a survey, will already have talked about it. So you get the, you get some feedback from the survey and then you go talk about it. So the only time that, you’re not going to get surprised, it’s like reviews, right? You get your performance review at the end of the year. If you’ve, if they’re surprises, then you haven’t done what you’re supposed to do. So we’re using the same philosophy of eNPS as we’re going to talk about the feedback, good and bad, and we’re going to encourage them to keep providing it, good and bad. But if you’re going to give us a challenging score, realize what that means before you put it down. If you think things could be better, but I’m good, give us a seven or an eight, because that’s non-factor. That doesn’t factor into the score one way or another, but it doesn’t hurt us. But you really need to, you need to educate your people and throw it up there. You look, you tell us it to one. I don’t know if I’d work at a company that I rated a one. So there’s, there’s some good conversations to come out of it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:28.60] This is all good. And I and now it’s, it’s making sense. I don’t know if the listeners are, are seeing the connection like communication most important skill. Now we’re rolling out the eNPS. We’re making some changes. Now we’re re-educating and having conversations with employees about the why behind these things and what can I do to, to make it better. I have often said that HR people are really, in a lot of ways PR people internally, because a lot of what we have to do is remind people and walk them through all the things that we did that we have been communicating. But they’re busy and not everybody reads all our emails shocking or listens to all the announcements or they’re doing other things. So a lot of our job is remarketing and sharing the winds, and here are the changes that were made over and over and over again. I often did this like three months starting three months before we did our employee surveys when I was in corporate, the 100 question surveys because we had A, new people, and then B, some people just don’t remember, or maybe they just missed that email or whatever that communication is. So communication, marketing, public relations like HR really is becoming more and more like all the things.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:30:52.22] Oh, it’s totally I think, the, HR and marketing should be attached to the hip. I mean, not only for your external value prop but for your internal value prop. And I think that’s part of it. Your public relations, you mentioned it, I think that’s perfect because you are you’re making sure that remember people these, I know, everybody’s going to have some things about work maybe there that are challenging but remember we’re doing this, this, this and you have accomplished this and this. You have to remind people because we have a whole thing with our recency bias that sometimes doesn’t, doesn’t translate well into a survey unless you remind people.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:26.56] Yeah, no. One of the other things I wanted to make sure that we touched on is that, and you have referenced us a little bit in the conversation today, is that a lot of your company growth comes from acquisitions. So I wanted to ask about what is your role in those acquisitions? And then what happens when you, how do you bring on these new employees in as the Chief People Officer or the Chief Human Resource Officer?

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:31:55.60] I guess the best way to describe our role is we’re an ambassador for the new company and for the new company they’re joining. And a lot of these folks are going to come from what had been privately owned, little surgery centers. So, there’s, there’ll be a handful of anesthesiologists, some CRNA, which is an anesthesiologist-nurse and maybe a few administrative-type support. And there are all of a sudden now you’re part of a corporation and that can feel can feel kind of weird if you haven’t been part of an organization. So one of the first things we do is we try to pull back the curtain on, look, we’re a corporation, but we’re, we’re a series of little guys like you. I mean, we’re not a big monster. We have, it’s actually it ties a little bit into our employee value prop is, even in our acquisitions. We are huge on autonomy. We want our people to if they have a culture they embrace in that little pocket, we’re not going to go in there and blow it up. I mean, we’d like them to assimilate some of the overall values we have, but most time they do. But we don’t want to go in there and impose our will on, on people. What we want to do is you want to go in and assimilate and offer them a chance to kind of assimilate into your culture at the same time.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:33:10.21] You also know what the big pain points are going to be. Anytime there is a, an acquisition coming up, you can bet people are going to know about their benefits and they’re going to know about their pay. And you can’t screw those up, you know, first and foremost. And, you know, I’ll fall on the sword here. We have screwed that up before where we did not do a good job of communicating certain things to people. And you will hear about it if it has to do with pay and benefits. So we are trying to provide a comfort level with the transition. Transition is going to be seamless to you. It’s going to be painless. Here’s what it’s going to look like now. I mean, even things like this is what your check is going to look like now. These are some of, this is some of the internal lingo that you might hear because every company has their own acronyms. But we are one of the things that really handicapped us at first, and I’m sure a lot of people felt this pain is even having these little acquisitions. You know, you mentioned how I started during the middle of a pandemic. Well, we had a whole little pockets of new acquisitions start during a pandemic, too, and they would never meet the people that are just acquired them other than virtually.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:34:16.45] And how weird is that? And normally we’d get a team out there, go out and do like a welcome team and an onboarding team and let’s do a happy hour and let’s do some dinners and blah, blah, blah. Well, you couldn’t do that. I mean, we’re just now getting to a point where people are now they want to see people. They’d much rather see people. You could tell the hesitancy. And again, a lot of this comes from our survey data, too, is the biggest comment was always, please don’t call us back to the office. Now, that was always it. First and foremost, that’s what people are most concerned about. We want to stay working from home or at least hybrid. So that’s that was a big part of we’re seeing it a little bit less now. Now, people trust the fact that this is kind of the new normal. I mean, this is really the way it’s going to work. That’s another thing that was revealing this time is it probably only came about half as much, but with new pockets of the organization that don’t know our history, then we have to educate them and tell them how we got to where we were, because this was a 0% hybrid work environment two years ago and now I’d say it’s 90. So that’s been a big change to us.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:35:19.76] What is the average size like employee size of the acquisitions that you’re doing just to get people a sense it’s not thousands upon thousands of people, right?

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:35:29.00] No. No. It would be, I think an average one would be 20 to 40. Now, there are a few like anchors. If you can get to a market, you get a big one that there’s some targets that are much bigger than that. But that’s going to, that’ll require us to really change a little bit about how we support them too. But most of it is a collection of these, say, 20 and 40.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:35:49.88] Okay. All right. I just feel like it’s good to level set so people don’t think like, oh, my gosh, you’re acquiring a 25,000 person company. How do you do that? I mean, I have been involved in those. I’ve been the HR person in the field that goes and meets with all the employees, takes them to dinner, have those compensation conversations. But these are small pockets, but they happen frequently.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:36:09.65] Yeah. Yeah. And you know what? They’re going to, they know you now. I mean, you go there, we, that’s one of the, the traits of having these small acquisitions, too, is you’re going to, I mean, you’re going in and talking to the entire company. It’s 12 people and you’re actually probably got to know their names when you walk out of there. It’s not, like you said, a 20,000 acquisition where you’re going to know a few of the key leaders and you’re just a face to the rest of them. I mean, these people will know you. They’ll call you by your first name before you leave. So it’s, there’s a lot more personal.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:36:41.00] Kind of, I kind of like acquisitions like that better, frankly.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:36:44.96] Yeah.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:36:45.68] So that they feel like you care. It’s hard when you’re, you’re dealing with, like I have worked a lot in retail and a lot of the acquisitions that I was involved in were large retail stores, big box. And so you would go in and sit in the break room and have meetings with managers, and you were just the face. You didn’t really know all the people and all the players.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:37:07.40] Yeah. And you know, it was kind of like office space with the two guys sitting there and the two bobs. And when you do these big acquisitions in the back of everybody’s mind is still the, ok but when are the layoffs going to begin? You know, one of the redundancies when you’re doing these 20, 30 person acquisitions, they’re all coming. They know that they’re all coming. So that’s a big dynamic that’s different.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:37:33.23] I want to kind of go back to something you said earlier. You talked about your company’s employee value proposition. So can you describe what your employee value proposition is there and then maybe how it has changed or evolved over the last couple of years?

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:37:48.11] Yeah. And I think that hand in hand with the pandemic, I mean, it definitely changed our, our employee value proposition. We, we market the fact that we are a remote workplace now. That is a big thing, but you will have the option to do either. And we have equipped our people to work from either home or the office. I think the, what I sell and this is what it is selling when you’re talking about recruiting is our secret sauce is in our, our model, our financial model. Our CEO, he developed it. It’s his pitch. It’s brilliant. He’s a brilliant guy. And our pitch is different. I mean, he created this after years and years of different companies. So we have a little bit different program that attracts, it attracts a different type of client and a different type of employee. We want people to remain entrepreneurial. We want people to remain really, we will pay you more, but we have high, have high ambition, have a high motor and want more responsibility. If you’re, we will stay away from, that sounds worse than it is. But if you’re coming into a company our size, which is maybe 500 people and it’s private equity-backed, and you know that every quarter somebody’s going to expect to see the results.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:39:07.91] And that’s different than going, I worked at CVS. That’s different. It’s if you have somebody that is working for a company big enough for them to hide in, it might not be the right environment to come to a place where people have their hair on fire and they like it. You know, that’s part of what they like about it is you’re going to have your, you’re going to have your bandwidth stretched. You’re going to probably end up doing things in different departments and for other people that you might not have even considered because it’s all hands on deck. So and I think we sell that. We sell that we have a unique offering to our clients. So if you want to be part of something that we’re offering to our clients that is unlike any of our competitors, if you want the flexibility with how you work and where you work, and if you want the opportunity to upgrade your skill set considerably because of the things that you’re going to be doing, this is a good place for you.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:40:00.90] I love that. And my entrepreneurial heart loves that, too, because you’re always learning and growing and small companies can be really intense, but you get an education and have access to things that you never would have at these larger organizations. And that takes a special person to want to come and work for your organization. So your employee value proposition should, should be saying those things because then they know exactly what they’re getting before they go to that interview or, you know, God forbid they go to the first week and they’re like, oh my gosh, I didn’t know it was this way. I would rather have people walk out of my interview and say, I’m not interested because I now understand that this is not for me. Then have them show up and be there for one week, three weeks, three months.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:40:50.49] Now. I think you’re right. It’s better to. What do they say? Higher, higher slow. Fire fast. I mean, you want to make sure that you’re laying it out there because it’s not you’re not doing any good. If you rent somebody for 30 days until they figure out you sold them a, you know, a bag of dirt. This is the way it is here is you’re going to be expected to do this. And one of the things that is a differentiator you may have already alluded to this is you get to make decisions when you’re in a small company, you’re going to make them and you’re going to own them. And, you know, you better be brave enough to do it and also be strong enough to accept the blowback if sometimes they go wrong. I mean, that’s part of it, too. But you get to make decisions without filling out the F 20 form six times and filing.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:35.13] The TPS report.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:41:35.85] Right. The TPS report.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:37.83] Oh, my God.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:41:38.73] Decisions. That’s it. That’s fun. I mean, when you get to actually see things get implemented quickly without going through the bureaucracy of a large corporation, that’s a lot of fun.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:48.37] I do love it. And I also think that you have to have a real solid awareness on your mental health and ways to help find have a place, whether it’s a therapist or an activity or something to, to work through. Because it also can be incredibly stressful, a lot of different things moving. So you have to have outlets if you’re going to be in that kind of environment. So if you’re high anxiety and you don’t have someone to talk to or a means to help eliminate or reduce that anxiety, probably not working at a small, fast-moving company like yours, like mine, is the right place for you.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:42:28.81] Well, that’s why that’s a good point. I know there’s a lot of people in HR and otherwise that they do need, they need some help. They need to have people to talk to. They need to have outlets. And, you know, perfect example is we know what people generally are, are suffering right now. There’s mental health issues. There’s people are scared for their health. People are scared for their or their kids. Their kids aren’t getting sleep, their kids are struggling. So you can preemptively try to address those types of things. Brought in a sleep. I think I mentioned sleep scientists to talk to our people about here’s what your sleep is doing for you. Here’s how you do it, right? This is why it’s important. And we’re going to roll it out again this year as we get closer to back to school when everybody’s internal clock goes wing go because we know our people will want to hear it, is one of the best-attended things we’ve had. So, you know, mental health things that are relevant, just things are relevant. And you know what they are. It’s just are you going to do something a little bit different, bring it out and, and say, hey, this could fail, but I think this is going to be a huge hit.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:43:32.99] Well, John, it has been a pleasure, as always. I love chatting with you. Where can people go to connect with you and learn more about you and National Partners in Healthcare?

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:43:44.87] Well, for the company, it’s NPHLLC.com. It’s pretty basic. But you will, you’ll see a little bit about our business model and our values and our leadership team. It’s a pretty it’s an interesting and diverse leadership team. We have a really strong group. For me, hook me up on LinkedIn. John Reeves Whitaker. I use my middle name because John Whitaker is a really common name and there’s some horse rider in England who gets all my, gets all my hits. I know. And Johnny Whitaker used to be the name of the star who was on like Sigmund and the Sea Monsters for any people who are really old. But you can hit me up there. You can go to HRHardball.com, which if you want to reference my blog and the podcast episodes are also available there. And the podcast is HR Hardball.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:44:37.53] I love it. Thank you so much, John.

John Reeves Whitaker: [00:44:39.66] Oh, thank you, Jess. It’s been a great time. And as always, you’re, you’re fun to talk to on these things, so you make it easy. Thank you.

Closing: [00:44:46.79] The CHRO podcast series, this episode that you’ve just listened to is part of this series on Workology and is powered by HR Benchmark Survey. Take our HR survey by going to HRBenchmarkSurvey.com.

Closing: [00:45:00.51] It is so interesting to delve into how a role like the CHRO whose experience connects them to strategy and operations of the overall business. You heard from John. His insights with, when it comes to communication, his eNPS, and really their strategy and how they tie what they do indirectly with business objectives and strategy is so fascinating. I loved talking with John. I hope you enjoyed listening to him. The CHRO doesn’t just lead HR within the company. I truly believe the company depends on this leadership role to set standards and benchmarks for everything from company culture to employee engagement and connection. Organizations don’t always have a full grasp or understanding about what we do, but it is our job as HR leaders to set those standards. I appreciate John for taking the time to share his experience with us today, and thank you for taking the time to join us. The Workology Podcast. We’re sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. These are two courses over on Workology to help with HR certification prep and recertification. You can see our whole host of resources and courses at Learn.Workology.com. This podcast that you’re listening to is for the disruptive workplace leader and you are tired of the status quo. I know that’s you. That’s why you’re here. My name is Jess Miller-Merrell. Until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous Workology Podcast episodes.

Connect with John Whitaker.



– John Whitaker on LinkedIn

– National Partners in Healthcare

– CHRO Job Description

– How Chatbots can help HR be more productive

– Ep 195 – How to Use Net Promoter Scores in Recruiting 

– Episode 352: Three Elements for Growth, Change, and Strategy With Noelle Burke, Chief People Officer at ESW

– Episode 358: Thinking Like a Business Leader to Drive Success With Sung Hae Kim, Fractional Chief People Officer

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