Author Archives: Jim Hess

Covid, Your Career, and Newton’s Law

Category : 2020

If you are looking for a unique sobriquet for 2020, the events of this year give you plenty of material.

  • How about calling 2020 The Year of Non Sequiturs? How many times have we found rapidly changing circumstances make an explanation we are giving no longer flow logically from what we said before? Most of us have felt like Alan Greenspan when he said, “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
  • This could be The Year of Paradoxical Performance. You don’t set record trading levels on the NYSE and NASDAQ while record numbers of people file for unemployment. Financial and retirement portfolios don’t give double-digit returns while major corporations and small businesses become the backstories for bankruptcy case studies.
  • On a positive note, we can’t deny 2020 is The Year of Unanticipated Productivity as businesses learn to operate behind a mask, employees shift to home offices and virtual workplaces, and education systems—and the kids who use them—demonstrate incredible levels of innovation and resilience.

If you can absorb a radical shift in analogies, 2020 also closely resembles Talking Head’s leading edge 1984 music documentary Stop Making Sense. The recording of the group’s three performances at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles powerfully demonstrates that a group that didn’t behave as expected felt no need to release a live album that played by anyone’s rules. The YouTube trailer feels a bit like watching 2020 in 3:10.

From non sequiturs to paradoxical performances, any effort to make sense of mixed signals can easily result in a demonstration of Newton’s First Law– every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. Uncertainty easily precipitates career inertia as a talented executive implements a business plan while, at a personal level, unconsciously or purposefully resisting any change in direction. What feels like steady-state is more accurately stuck.

Doing nothing or staying fixed until an unexpected force changes the scenario is a sketchy career strategy anytime, and especially when unanticipated changes, unexpected events, and hard-to-understand messages permeate life. As vaccines are administered across the globe, we will either see a clear path to “normalcy” or a face disappointment that carries overwhelming ramifications. As winter settles over us, we can’t afford to sequester ourselves with a cup of Newton’s Law and the hope that as spring blooms, life will revert to a pre-pandemic state.

While you provide clear messages of wisdom and counsel to subordinates, friends, and peers, you may find it challenging to locate a credible source for the insight and perspective you need as you contemplate your professional trajectory for the coming months. You need someone with expertise, a broad knowledge of the market, an understanding of your unique circumstances, and the ability to challenge your thinking in a way that stimulates purposeful, and proactive movement that isn’t dependent on an external force. 

Most people embrace change only when discomfort with a current situation exceeds their discomfort with or fear of change. A wise executive can’t afford to be like “most people.” Preparation leads to opportunities. If you want to avoid mixed message inertia and be ready for the unique prospects you face, let Leapfrog Executive Services help you create a new level of confidence about your readiness to take the next step.

The Ripples of Covid-19 on HR Leadership

Category : 2020

When some stones in life hit water, the ripples never stop.

~ Those who lived through the Great Depression have attics and garages full of things they’ll never use—but they can’t live without.

~ The Berlin Wall has been down more years than it divided Germany, but the shadow of its gun towers and barbed wire still linger in the minds of those who lived through it.

~ 9/11 forever changed the way airports and airlines manage passenger security.

~ The 2008 loan crisis added layers of complexity to lending and slowed the flow of credit to consumers.

~ A virus that debuted in early 2020 has dramatically altered the way we travel, eat, and visit grandparents.

Depending on who you ask, some will advocate that we are at the midpoint of the COVID-19 pandemic and on the verge of effective vaccines that cradle the hope of a return to pre-pandemic lifestyles. While we look forward to resuming “life as we knew it,” a more candid assessment would tell us the ripples of the COVID stone will continue for months after vaccines are in-play.

While it is easy to see how the pandemic has dramatically changed the way we work, COVID’s ripple effect has also altered what companies need to thrive. Specifically, HR leadership roles now incorporate a broader set of responsibilities and a greater set of expectations. In addition to the litany of traditional HR functions and accountabilities, the C-suite is now looking for senior HR leaders to provide enhanced contributions in these key areas.

Financial Acumen – Senior leadership now expects HR executives to create people strategies that align with and positively impact cash flow, profitability, asset management, consistent growth, and, of course, human capital. More than ever, the credibility of HR and the ability of HR leadership to win investments depends on a leader’s ability to fluently articulate the company’s market position and tangibly demonstrate how HR integrates with the larger picture of where and how investments will produce a quantifiable return.

Organizational Design – For most organizations, COVID-19 has retro-fitted steady state from an expectation to an aspiration. Companies that aren’t capsizing in the ripples of this pandemic have learned to operate as highly fluid organisms with a low level of viscosity. HR leaders wanting to bring value and thrive in structuring the organization must demonstrate decisiveness and agility, moving with confidence and timeliness in a frequently-changing, highly ambiguous environment.

Visible Leadership – Unlike traditional market forces that influence company performance, COVID-19 is unavoidably and undeniably first, a people issue. The pandemic’s force on business results is the consequence of how the virus has impacted people across the globe. The unique dynamics of this situation singularly position HR leaders to assume a more visible role. This is the time for HR executives to be a stabilizing influence that instills confidence, nurtures hope, and drives performance through authenticity and transparency.

Innovative Agility – Innovation is often categorized as progressive—incremental improvement or enhancements or disruption—bringing a forceful and transformative adaptation or alteration to a business or industry. This pandemic’s ripple effect is a clarion call for HR executives to aim for more than incremental improvements in benefits and people policies. COVID is presenting HR strategists with a unique opportunity to redefine the way leaders influence people across an organization, reimagine what employee engagement looks like, and construct a new model for how people work together in a workplace with fewer walls and different opportunities. If you need help identifying the person who best aligns with your organization as you chart a path into 2021, we’re ready to assist. Give us a call to explore the possibilities.

The Myth of the Best Decision

Category : 2020

“Indecision may or may not be my problem.” (Jimmy Buffett)

Many people struggle when making life-impacting decisions, so when they finally determine their criteria, weigh their options, and make a choice—they want the process to be done. Over. Finished. Something to look at in the rear-view mirror.

If any decision should offer that aura of finality it should be voting in an election. When a ballot is slipped into a scanner or dropped into the mail, a selection is made, and the outcome will happen. There’s no asking to see the options again. Like it or not, you made a choice and will live with the unknowns for now, and the knowns when they emerge.

In a year that has been punctuated with the word “unprecedented,” it doesn’t surprise anyone that the 2020 U.S. presidential election didn’t offer the same finality one normally enjoys after casting a vote. While it looks like we know who gets the big chair behind a 140 year-old desk made from recycled timber, it will take some time for the electoral dust to completely settle.

Waiting and anticipating the impact of a decision you made is frustrating. Missing the benefit of a decision you avoid is self-limiting. Ultimately, a decision not made is a decision. Every savvy adolescent eventually discovers parental procrastination or the innocuous, “We’ll talk about it later,” are sophisticated ways adults say, “No.”

Psychologist William James observed, “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” Any executive who has wrestled with solving a complex problem and choosing the option that they hope carries the right solution, knows the journey to the decision takes more energy than dealing with the impact of the choice. An unwillingness or inability to make a tough decision is physically and emotionally exhausting. The quest for the best decision is a laborious and disappointing journey. A carefully made choice with outstanding results rarely carries with it the quantified certainty of “best” because one cannot know what the other options would have yielded.

A pernicious pandemic, a mercurial market, and an erratic economy are generating professional opportunities shrouded in emotional uncertainty. For some leaders, obscurity breeds inertia and windows of opportunity are passed by without a peek behind the curtains. Telling themselves they are managing risks, these professionals allow uncertainty to keep them from considering a promising move to a new role, a different company, or a related industry.

Whatever the decision, it is more easily made when it is preceded by preparation. An executive considering a move in the dynamics of the current market is wise to proactively invest in a portfolio of a resume, biography and LinkedIn profile that communicates his or her marketing message with consistency, clarity, and conciseness. If you’d like to know how Leapfrog Executive Services can help, call us today. 

A CTA or Ice in Your Stomach?

Category : 2020

Online marketers call them CTAs or “call-to-action” phrases. You see them on buttons and in banners on websites as these subliminal (like a brick to the side of your head) invitations cajole, encourage, or outright tell you to “convert” your perusing to a purchase. Experts in social media marketing believe some words compel you better than others, lines like . . .

·        Yes, I want it.

·        Start your journey toward . . .

·        You’re running out of time.

·        Reserve your spot now!

During what we previously called a normal market, similar urgings felt like a clarion call, compelling an executive to jump at an opportunity, take a risk on a start-up, maybe even make a 90 degree turn in a career path. But after watching over 60 million people in the U.S. file for unemployment or 28% of the employees in one major airline take extended leave or exit packages, many leaders wonder if longings for change are an invitation to something better or a Siren call to a career shipwreck.

For some C-level executives at the top of their organizations, staying where they are and playing the pandemic ponies is paying off well. Peloton Interactive’s William Lynch and Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Edward Stack have both reaped stock-based gains of over $60M this year. One entertainment executive gave up his remaining 2020 salary for restricted stock grants equal to the $700,000 he was due. After the company stock recovered from its March low, the grant is now worth $1.3M on paper and the executive’s 2020 awards have appreciated by $4M.

Maybe what talented executives need at this moment is more of what Scandinavians call Is i magen—ice in the stomach. Roughly translated, the phrase refers to the ability to stay calm in a critical situation and take decisive action at just the right moment. A wise leader with ice in the stomach doesn’t hastily grab an exit package out of fear or naively assume “things will get back to normal” after a panacetic event like an election, or a vaccine, or whatever.

For some leaders, this is the time to act and make a change. For those rightly waiting for the ice in the stomach to warm a bit, there are other priorities worth some attention. An executive will be better prepared for an opportune moment if he/she invests time now to—

Become proficient with virtual technology.

Companies are pushing the dates when people will return to the office into mid 2021 or beyond. Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, or the platform du jour are not temporary solutions, and a wise executive will stop treating them like they are. Agile organizations are implementing new (and often better) ways for employees to engage virtually. An executive wanting to demonstrate relevance will recognize that always relying on others to manage an online meeting will soon have the same tone of asking an admin to “take a memo” or “make a Xerox copy.”

Sharpen your on-screen presence.

Television actors, famous people, and your local news anchor look poised and polished on a screen because they practice looking good on camera. Most people are not naturally at ease and fully engaged staring into a lens or a wall of faces. You want to reach a level of natural comfort that communicates you are comfortable, likeable, confident, and authentic.

Without resorting to watching bizarre YouTube videos for ideas, there are plenty of resources available for upping your on-camera game. Here are a few—

·        How to Elevate Your Presence in a Virtual Meeting

·        Camera Confidence: 5 Tips for Better Television Camera Presence

·        Instantly look Natural on Video

Refresh your digital footprint.

Companies focused on survival and stability for the near-term still need versatility and innovation to thrive in the months ahead. An executive as serious about being positioned for the future as surviving the present will invest time in making certain his/her digital presence, message, and branding are current, engaging, and in harmony (resume, bio, LinkedIn, etc. all say the same thing). Most executive roles are filled by personal connections or using executive search firms so a relevant and fresh digital presence on LinkedIn and other platforms is critical. Leapfrog Executive Services can equip you with the brand clarity and marketing resources to act with confidence and certainty. Call us to learn more.

That Thing You Do

Category : 2020

We are often asked questions to clarify what we do. Here are several examples:

Do you focus exclusively on human resources roles? Yes, although there have been instances where we branched out to help clients with other roles when we have a long-standing relationship and a deep understanding of their culture.

Is your work limited to executive roles? No, we are most interested in the quality of the organization, role, etc. That means we also work on Senior Manager/Director roles when we can partner well with the client to achieve a great outcome.

Do you work within a specific market area? Yes and no. We complete searches that are based domestically; they often have broad, global responsibilities. We work across the United States including Washington (state), Tennessee, North Dakota, Georgia, Texas, and many others.

Do you represent candidates for roles? No. We are retained by corporate clients and we are dedicated to identifying the best possible candidate for the role. In the course of our work, wego to great lengths to build strong relationships with candidates and support them in their pursuit of the role and in their current / future endeavors. Do you do any work outside of retained search? Yes, take a look at

Comparitives, Superlatives, and Your HR Executive Hire

Category : 2020

Hiring is like driving. The meaning of “better than” or “compared to” depends on context.

Surveys say ninety percent of drivers in the U.S. think they drive “better than” most people. But statistics tell us of the six million auto accidents occurring in the U.S. annually, one third are due to reckless driving. Another third are the result of speeding.

In the consumer product space, the grading scale of good, better, and best is designed to represent the difference between a good, solid product that has strong appeal and something comparatively better, or a best product with superior characteristics. Good is a step down from better and best outshines both good and better in performance and quality.

The good, better, best conundrum can easily cloud the search for a talented human resources leader. Business executives launch a search for a capable HR leader intending to identify, recruit, and engage a strong contributor that is “better than” whoever was in the role previously, while avoiding the adjustment in expectations or compensation that might be required to get “the best” performer. The company pursues an individual that will show up, do a good job, and support the business as well as individuals the candidate might be “compared to” in similar companies or industries.

As companies across all sectors chart their paths through a challenging and unpredictable economic environment, “better than” will get the job done, maybe even do the job well. But organizations that want to propel themselves beyond sustainability to profitable growth must hire leaders that are more than comparatively better. The catalysts, innovators, and models of stable leadership needed in senior HR roles will come from the circle of those who are superlatively better than their peers.

Three cognitive dynamics can complicate efforts to find a superior candidate.


In the early 1950’s, radar researchers developed the concept of Signal Detection Theory to distinguish information-bearing patterns (stimulus) from random patterns that distract from the information (noise). Cognitive scientists quickly recognized the significance of SDT. Decisions are often made within a cloud of uncertainty (noise) and a criteria-driven decision process is needed to help a decision maker isolate the decision signal (a candidate’s qualifications) from the background noise. Undeclared agendas among an executive team, the good or bad results of an incumbent, and the fear of making a wrong choice create a cacophony of noise that can complicate making a critical hire.

False Equivalence

Good, better, and best take on new dimensions of complexity when blended with the logical fallacy (bias) of false equivalence. When people believe two candidates are comparable because they share some similar characteristics, even while noticeable differences exist between them, false equivalence has crept into the hiring process. Much like categorical thinking ignores existing differences or finds similarities when they don’t exist, false equivalence exaggerates the degree or importance of similarities, making average candidates appear “as good” or even “better than” one another based on levels of performance that appear to be conceptually similar, but result in widely differing impacts on performance and profitability.


A third force that makes comparative hiring difficult is our tendency to rely too heavily on information encountered early in a decision process (the anchor), allowing that information to cloud subsequent judgments and evaluations. Rather than considering each candidate individually against defined criteria, focalism encourages hiring teams to compare candidates to those met early in the interview process, making a candidate, not criteria the basis for comparison. Whether the anchor is the previous person in the role or someone met early in the interview process, a candidate that aligns with the anchor is given more consideration than a candidate that is less like the anchor but might meet the original criteria more completely. When focalized anchoring sets in, if a candidate is considered “better than” the person creating the anchor, hiring executives mistakenly tell themselves that are making a “superior” hire that is really only superior to the anchor, not a superior example of who and what is needed in the role. Companies pursuing sustainable success in whatever environment is ahead can’t afford to allow focalism to cloud the search for a superior HR leader.

A 2016 Harvard Business Review article that remains relevant noted that, “ People are biased, emotional, and inconsistent when interviewing and as a result, decades of industrial psychology research has found, the validity or predictive power of a typical unstructured job interview is around 20%, meaning that only one in five interviews increases the baseline odds that a hired candidate will be successful.” The article provides a scorecard to help executive teams improve their odds at finding a superior candidate Objectivity needs to be the driving force in all hiring decisions. As a leading boutique executive search firm, Leapfrog Executive Search eliminates the good, better, and best confusion, by ensuring your search for superior HR talent is guided by defined criteria, a proven process, and repeated success. Call us today to explore how we can help you find the person you need to help lead your company to growth and profitability in the months ahead.