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  • Johnny Knatt

Dance Steps, Science, and Feelings of our Workplace Lifecycle

About 20 years ago I was at a turning point of my life ready to embark on a career in the pharmaceutical industry with the goal of contributing in some manner to improving the quality of healthcare when along came a kind, dynamic, open-minded senior executive with decades of experience at Procter & Gamble (P&G) who visited my college of pharmacy (Xavier College of Pharmacy in New Orleans) during Career Day to scout talent once a year. He became my mentor who would invest his time in me as an individual, whose friendship and leadership has withstood the test of time regardless of the geographical distance between us over the decades.

Johnny Knatt is a long-time friend and mentor with whom every single conversation is stitched in my memory as a highlight so it was time to capture and share yet another memorable podcast episode for all of you, Alloutcoach fans and listeners! He did not only listen to my problems, but guided me to solve them, helped me rehearse prior to job interviews, and connected me to the right people that led to job offers and created critical opportunities. And over time he has fully supported me during my trials and tribulations across my own journey.

Johnny is currently the Chief People Whisperer at JJK Workplace, a senior executive with over 32 years of experience at Procter & Gamble (P&G) in sales, manufacturing, human resources (HR); at General Mills; as Deputy HR Director for the State of Georgia (GA)'s Law Enforcement Office of Public Safety Mentor and HR Director of GA Community Supervision; is GENOS certified in Emotional Intelligence and a recognized expert in Organizational Development, Employee Relations, Diversity and Inclusion.

In our most recent conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety at, Johnny takes us through the most critical moments in his journey across his workplace lifecycle during which he provides practical lessons that have allowed him to uncover the secrets of how things work and decisions that impact our career, performance, job engagement, and advancement are made.

Below is a summary of my key lessons from our latest memorable conversation.


Johnny comes from a small town in the south, and a hard-working, honorable family that instilled in him a strong work ethic and discipline since childhood. He was an athletic, talented and respected student who was elected as class president and had gone to a predominantly black school, when after de-segregation he had to suddenly go to a predominantly white local school where he was now a minority. As a result, he immediately felt he did not fit in and simply stopped showing up to school...until he met one gentleman there, that is. This one individual became his first mentor and saw something different in Johnny, and he would literally pick him up by the collar, come to his house in the morning and personally make sure that the young man would show up to classes. His first mentor would later follow him throughout his high school years, and ultimately changed Johnny's view of himself, his own self-identity.

His next memorable moment came during his first work experience at General Mills as a food production supervisor. Johnny was an ambitious young man, and he recalls telling his senior management how to run their operations soon after his arrival, after which they taught him a lesson he would never forget. They decided to deliberately shut off their operations which cost the business money and time, and asked him to direct them and tell them step by step what they needed to do. Being placed in such a spot quickly taught the young Johnny to respect people and optimize the "human resources" and peers more efficiently.


When Johnny joined Procter & Gamble (P&G), he received various first-time roles that required supervision across various functions in manufacturing, sales, and HR, yet it dawned on him one day that most of his transitions where lateral, and he was ready to leave P & G out of frustration for not rising more vertically than before....until once again, he came across a mentor who sat him down and asked him whether Johnny had clearly communicated his personal goals to his management and other decision-makers. That was when Johnny began to learn how things worked in what he calls the "workplace lifecycle", and he took the advice to be more deliberate and strategic in his communications rather than let the work speak for itself alone. And the results started to come, as within months he had began to be promoted, and ended up staying at P & G for over 32 years.


So what were some of the lessons his mentor shared with Johnny during this turning point of his career?

- "It's not about working hard. You get a paycheck for working hard."

- "It's about aligning with the company's mission, vision, purpose, philosophy, and demonstrating that you can do more, that you can act like an owner of the company, not just an employee."


In order to clearly communicate your ambitions to rise in the ranks, receive specialized training or tuition, build up your skill-set, a good idea is to demonstrate some progress or effort you have made already. However, this task becomes impossible if employees are unclear about their expectations. Throughout our discussion, Johnny emphasizes just how prevalent the lack of communicating career and personal aspirations or awareness of expectations is in the workplace today. He mentions observing too many people who leave organizations just because they are not clear about what was expected of them, nor knowing how to communicate to their leaders what they want and need in order to succeed.


The workplace lifecycle has one critical precursor, however, prior to setting expectations. This is recognizing and cultivating talent over the long term. So I explored how Johnny learned to be so incredibly perceptive as a recruiter. After all, it was he that had opened up new opportunities for me studying pharmacy in New Orleans at the time, which was not known in the early 2000's for its exposure to career options in the pharmaceutical industry. When he visited our university, I had quickly realized how competitive the path for a pharmacist to the industry was and how challenging it was to gather actionable information or intelligence to pursue such a journey. Yet Johnny saw something about my character or resilience in being proactive and focused, and recognized my potential.

Thus, here is Johnny's advice on recognizing talent, hiring, and promoting from a corporate business owner's perspective.

- 1. Get a broad base of good talent. Look beyond resumes.

- 2. Behavioral interviewing - try to get the candidate to talk about themselves and their likes during their interviews, because their specific past behaviors are good predictors for what to expect in the future.

- 3. Recruiting is not rocket science - it is intuitive. Assess if they have not just the technical skills which they can learn cognitively after they join and are trained, but also the emotional intelligence skills as well as the ability to endure adversity, or resilience.

After hiring talent, to keep employees engaged, organizations have to continuously cultivate their strengths and Johnny recalls that P&G hired college students and promoted from within and did an absolutely excellent job of preparing their people for the next level.

One important area of cultivating talent is stimulating their agility. Johnny says "we've got to prepare people for change. At Procter and Gamble there was a saying. You are guaranteed employment for life. But in the 1990's things changed. Wall Street was scrutinizing performance like never before."

While the current and next generations of talented employees are now thinking multiple jobs ahead and are probably more impatient than ever, all of us, regardless of our generation are looking for attention and recognition of our efforts and contributions in the workplace. This is why, Johnny believes that we spend too much time talking about different generations and their preferences for a particular workplace, or job engagement and retention. Instead, we need to stay consistent, provide them with coaching, continuous feedback, training because those needs have not changed over the years across generations even though Johnny recognizes that "the world has gotten smaller, technology has advanced, we have become more diverse, and need more specialized skills than ever as well".


Thus, ensuring the valuable employees you hire fully express their potential and identity depends on one single variable, according to Johnny - employee's emotions. As he recalls the people he saw that failed and succeeded, he always traces the outcomes to how management made them feel. In retrospect, Johnny says that "Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure when we do not consider or reward people's ability to be empathetic. Feelings impact how well we perform, the decisions we make, and whether or not we stay."

At this point of the conversation Johnny quotes Maya Angelou who had said "It's not what you say, it's not what you do, but it's how you make people feel." He also references an Emotional Intelligence Certification Exercise during which employees are asked to respond to questions such as - "How did the best boss you had make you feel? Did they demonstrate an awareness of your emotions when they talked to you? how did the worst boss you had make you feel?", the scores of which invariably show a significant difference between the best versus worst managers based on this "feelings" domain specifically.


Relationships are critical in the workplace. There are 6 points Johnny trains employees on collaboration, that are like 6 spokes on a wheel.

  1. Get clear direction.

  2. Understand your role as a leader.

  3. Understand your role.

  4. Understand the expectations of your communication

  5. Understand how the work gets done.

  6. Understand the relationships you have and need to develop.

Relationships are the most important elements of what you can do because without all 6 spokes, the wheel won't turn effectively. Relationships build trust, and trust makes work fun. Trust makes intentions of others clear and allows you to extend the benefit of the doubt and stand up for others. And ultimately, they lead to more innovative ideas.

This is when Johnny describes a person who has approached him recently for his executive coaching services confiding in him "I just want to do my job", which I suspect is a quite common phenomenon in the workplace today, which has become impersonal and now virtual, regardless of its benefits or shortcomings. Well, Johnny responds to this individual simply "It does not work that way. You have to develop relationships regardless of how well you perform".

To me, Johnny personifies a true leader and mentor, and probably one of the most powerful and perceptive people of our generation I have had the fortune of knowing, because he is the type of person who you never doubt for a second in having your best interest in life. And as a result of the friendship I have developed with him over the years, I have been able to express my self-identity and potential completely with him, for which I can only be grateful.


Most metrics are regarded as reports of the past episodes, yet they somehow determine our effort and level of dedication to achieve future outcomes, but are rarely considered to be inspiring because of their lack of clarity or relevance to the results we seek, and therefore an area I research and am asked to speak about in my function all the time. So I ask Johnny to share his approach to measuring performance in the workplace during our podcast. And he reminds me that metrics essentially represent the expectations that have been communicated to you and for this reason alone are critical. How they are defined or designed however is another question, according to Johnny.

  • Firstly, he believes you should not do what you cannot measure.

  • Secondly, one of the reasons people get confused by metrics is that they often cannot control them. Thus, he says "know what is in your circle of control. Know what you can influence because clarity of expectations is everything".

  • Thirdly, your metrics should be directly aligned with your strategies and priorities. You need some empirical data to communicate your activities especially if they are done repetitively or consistently. They cascade up the chain and allow you to understand how your contributions impact your team at large, which all of us want to know in detail. Everybody wants to know how they are contributing to the success of the mission of the company!

  • Finally, Johnny believes all owners ought to include in their metrics dashboards "employee retention and level of engagement".


When making a decision, realize that there are consequences for the outcome. Are you willing to accept the consequences of your decision? Look at the facts, not the emotions first. Johnny has mastered integrating emotions with logic to make decisions. There are instances when previous facts and patterns do not predict what happens, and you need to consider feelings and intuitions. Think about how your decisions impact the feelings of your employees.

As he says, "No precedent could have predicted how people would be impacted in the work from home environment of the pandemic." And I agree with him that the best organizations learned quickly they needed to manage not just the work but the lives of their employees! On the other side of the token, you have a business to run and sustain, and therefore are often pressed to make difficult decisions which you should aim to be based on best evidence and science available at the moment.


The common thread to managing disagreement is straight talk. Ask questions, open-ended detailed questions, because as Johnny says, what you uncover is that the answer is always in the problem/question. You ask them questions like: What is your goal? Do you have the skills? Have you spoken to someone who is in this role now? And if they are honest with themselves they will identify actions to keep moving forward. If they focus on the past, they can't move forward. People often identify as being stuck, but in reality they have stopped learning something new and developing themselves, communicating what they want. And ultimately, they have to be able to execute, not just plan.

Because conflict that is left unresolved will always resurface and linger, I ask Johnny about the role of timing in resolving it, to which Johnny adds an important touch of composure and patience. He states that you need perspective during conflict to see things from different sides. And this does not take place overnight. It needs time. If the challenge is urgent it may require a timely resolution, but most of the time, Johnny sends people back to think first in order to prevent making a rash, hasty decision. The best answers do not come immediately. This is why Johnny tries to ask people "to avoid coming up with the answer to their problem but to instead think through the answer themselves and come up with the right questions in order to make the best decision for them."

Therefore, I find his method quite scientific, in which he is somewhat the type of coach or executive producer that stimulates you to form your own hypotheses, questions, and eventually conclusions based on best, critical, unbiased methods available. Here, I share my thoughts from my Alloutcoach platform with Johnny to express how important I believe it is to explain abstract concepts using science. An example I provide is using the third law of conservation of momentum for to explain the impact of conflict. I argue that any aggressor who attacks someone else actually loses momentum which is gained by the person the aggressor targets as this physics law states that in a collision of two particles, the sum of the two momenta before a collision is equal to their sum after collision because the total momentum is conserved in the process. Thus, the momentum lost by one particle is gained by the other.


The people you hire all come from a diverse universe, beliefs, and values whether or not those differences are visible to the eye or on a job application. While all of us have different baseline motivations to come to work, we all share similar fundamental expectations of dignitiy, respect, identity, voice, and opportunity. The diversity is not only reflected in our backgrounds but in the ideas we express, argue or debate with our teammates that may lead to conflict or competition. The foundation for how you manage diversity and the extent to which you engage your team members needs to be clear immediately. This is why Johnny recommends investing in onboarding as the first 90 days at work are critical in determining employee's success, engagement, and performance.

He discusses an "In the House" vs "Out of the House" study at one of his former companies to demonstrate that diversity is one of the most powerful tools we have in the workplace. In this study, he found that 20% of employees considered themselves to be disconnected or "out of the house" and not included, which is consistent with other workplace research. So, according to Johnny, "about 20% of the workplace feels like they are not included or shut down. It's not that they do not know the data or do not have the skills. They have simply been invited to the dance, but nobody is asking them to dance."


And we end our conversation with an introspective look into Johnny's best accomplishments over the years. He remarks with absolute content and conviction "in every job I have had, I have been able to save someone's career. Either a person was failing, and I was able to turn their career around, helped them relocate because of their spouse's transition, helped someone obtain a higher compensation by confronting the right people to make those adjustments, all of which I attribute to learning the system and how things work in the workplace. Most of us would be surprised to know just how many people do not know how things work in business or in the workplace".

At the end of the day, as Johnny says, the workplace is a complicated place. All of us are going to run into obstacles in the workplace but there is always an answer to a workplace issue. This is why his passion is helping others navigate through their workplace life cycle more easily and efficiently with less stress, by learning from others' mistakes Johnny has seen or lived through and learned from as well.

I remind him of the quote he had shared with me a long time ago that sums up our lifecycle best I think.

"You go through a cycle in life that consists of three stages

during which

1. You are raw,

2. You are cooked, or

3. You are burned, and then start all over again!"

When I ask Johnny for the next phase of his own reinvention, he says the biggest area of his current focus is to help people understand how they are perceived because "the way people perceive you is the way they are going to treat you". He sees emotional intelligence addressing all the issues we face in the workplace today and Inclusiveness of people is the second specific area that must he addressed to which he is contributing. Finally, the third area is helping people manage and overcome their differences and conflict, which are the types of issues Johnny loves most and thrives on when helping organizations and individuals. He prefers the term "rewiring himself", is a voracious reader of 3-4 books at a time, and recommends a book called "RESET" to the Alloutcoach listeners, which is a guide to rethinking our organizations!

I thank Johnny for sharing his journey. There are many colorful details and context you can pick up by listening to Johnny speak during our podcast or watching it when it is published on the Alloutcoach youtube channel. Make sure to contact him at JJK Workplace, as he is an inspirational leader who in my mind redefines the human, emotional, personal, and scientific side of human resources and employee relationships, and takes them to a depth we all seek but often fear to confront as individuals or an organization. His email is

Comment below and let me and Johnny know if you have questions, comments, or suggestions on the ideas he and I discussed in this episode!

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