The Atlanta Braves' roster consists of 26 baseball players and a dozen coaches, but the full Braves "team" is much bigger, comprising 450 full-time employees and almost 2,000 part-time ushers, food vendors and other game-day staff. As the leader of the Braves' HR function, DeRetta Rhodes oversees hiring, training and the employee experience for all of them.
Like many HR leaders, Rhodes didn't start her career with HR in mind. She began working for PepsiCo's restaurant division after graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. As part of a management rotational program, Rhodes worked as a recruiter for a new restaurant concept in the Carolinas. She loved being part of the leadership team that was hiring new talent. She never left HR after that.
After 20 years of increasingly high-profile HR roles at ADP, EY, Turner Broadcasting and the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, Rhodes was recruited to join the Braves as their senior vice president for HR in 2019. She has since been promoted to the chief culture officer position, overseeing HR as well as communication and community affairs.
What are you especially passionate about in your professional life?
My passion is the importance of voice. When you sit in the role of HR, you always must ensure that you are providing perspectives that may not be favorable or even liked, but you always have to have "fierce" conversations. The challenge of having fierce conversations is that it takes an emotional sacrifice and toll on you. I can personally say that I've struggled with anxiety in many conversations that I've had throughout my career. But I know that I must have them. There had been a time in my career when I was afraid to say things that needed to be said. I am better for the conversations that I have had and the future ones I will have.
What is one initiative you're proud of that has improved the Braves' employee culture?
I am most proud of the focus on wellness that we have for our staff at the Atlanta Braves. I must admit that as a HR leader throughout my career, I did not put wellness as a priority. I pushed that to my health care partners. But with the pandemic and the insurgence of the importance of wellness, I have made a full pivot to know that wellness is a component of engagement and is critical to our staff for their well-being. We created a wellness room in which employees can schedule time for any use, such as tele-med meetings, relaxation, etc.
What is the greatest challenge you see for HR professionals right now?
The three biggest challenges I see right now are the continued focus on employee health and well-being; retaining talent with a best practice of employee experience (and leaning in on the employee value proposition); and continuing with diversity, equity and inclusion programs even during all the current controversy over canceling DE&I.
How is HR for a professional sports team unique from other industries?
In some instances, it is no different. You are still dealing with the human condition. The challenges and triumphs are the same. The one difference is how sports brings people together. I am in sports entertainment. It is about bringing joy, camaraderie and fun to an experience, and it makes what you do every day magical. I know that may sound cliché. But I remember when I was a little girl and I would watch baseball with my grandparents. I truly cherish those times with them. That's what makes sports unique: It brings all people together.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
"Let the game come to you." A CHRO that I worked for would tell me that all the time. I was always anxious for what was my next thing. But he reminded me that if I focused and worked hard, it would be recognized. And he was exactly right. It is funny to me because, although that is a sports quote, it has been important to me ever since I worked for non-sport organizations early in my career.