Author Archives: Jim Hess

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.

(Un)Conventional Insights

Category : 2020

If you crack open Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities, his overture sounds like the sentiment of both political parties during their 2020 conventions.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . .”

One hopes the similarities end here. Dickens set his novel in the period leading up to the French Revolution and the Jacobin Reign of Terror. But we digress . . .

While running the risk of offending everyone who reads this blog, a superlative opportunity would be missed if we didn’t reflect on the eight days of pageantry, posturing, portraying, and the inevitable prognosticating that emerged in our 2020 pandemic presidential convention cycle. Both political parties faced the unprecedented (there is that word again) challenge of capturing an audience, widening their sphere of influence, and communicating their message from multiple venues, using a symphony of diverse voices, and leveraging every conceivable form of media to get the job done. The 2020 COVID landscape eliminated the possibility of the edge-of-your seat suspense seen in the 1924 Democratic convention when it took 103 ballots over 17 days to secure a candidate—after a fist fight by two governors, spitting on delegates from the gallery, and delegations having to leave early because they ran out of the money needed to stay in New York city.  

In the whirlwind of disagreement and debate about who got a bump, who took a hit, or who missed a chance during their convention,  as senior leaders continue to explore ways to focus a scattered workforce around a shared vision,  two weeks of historic events leave us with some enduring insights.

Technology improves efficiency and creates complexity.

When both parties accepted reality and embraced some type of virtual conventioning, they set themselves on a course that required juggling dozens of locations, getting feeds from simultaneous events, and orchestrating everything so the networks would carry the best content during the few hours they devoted to the event. It worked, and it didn’t.

Pete Buttigieg left more than a participle hanging when one network stopped broadcasting his speech mid-sentence. A delegate roll-call across the states made for intriguing television, but without the opportunity to offer context, the impact of the identities of the delegates was lost. Using a location to add meaning to a message underscored the unfortunate reality that the desired interpretation of something cannot be assumed.

As communication teams try to help leaders engage with their organizations in fresh and innovative ways, the temptation to take the use of technology to new heights is alluring. While crucial leader messages are more engaging when presented live,  the risk of a wonky (or over-loaded) wi-fi, the unexpected occurrence at a virtual venue, or the inability of an employee to properly engage with an online platform may result in the message getting blurred by the medium.

Authenticity is hard to discern in a medium designed for illusion.

From the early days of television and for decades that followed, when Walter Cronkite said, “That’s the way it is,” or Huntley and Brinkley bid each other, “Good-night,” people knew the news was over and entertainment was ahead. As employees now live and work in the same space, they can, in seconds, shift from watching news, to hearing opinion, to engaging with social media posts that have no link to reality, to being entertained by illusions offered by people with too much spare time. Add to that mix larger-than-life FPS video games and augmented reality and for many people, fact is separated from fiction by choosing what to believe, not necessarily by knowing what is true.

Political candidates using television to communicate what they consider life or death, peace or chaos, me or the other guy messaging, somehow have to help people remember the candidate is presenting (one can only hope) facts, not reality TV.

As more work gets done online, leaders are wise to remember the broadly blurred line between what is real (true) and what is imagined. An employee escaping into the world of a video game or catching up on the Kardashians during lunch may not take seriously what happens in the next business call. Leaders wisely time important discussions and orchestrate serious presentations when team members are least likely to be distracted or to be reorienting themselves to work after a dive into virtual reality.

It is helpful to remember the wisdom of one media mogul who noted, “It is difficult to communicate an authentic message through an inauthentic medium.”

Less is more in a virtual world.

For decades, political conventions were multi-night extravaganzas filled with roll-call votes, crowd-stirring speakers, floor fights (the last was in 1976), and unexpected moments like when Dan Rather was roughed up by security guards while trying to interview a delegate on the convention floor. Those televised marathons were the exception. During the first forty years of television’s reign we developed 12-minute attention spans—the length of the average scene in a T.V. show before a commercial break.

The instantaneous nature of communication, the speed by which we can find an answer to a question, and real-time everything has reduced an adult’s attention span today to less than a minute by even the most generous surveys.

In on-line and virtual formats, less is more. An unengaging leader using Zoom or Microsoft Teams can become a speaker without an audience with the click of an employee’s mouse. People won’t listen to endless strategy presentations or boring quarter-end reviews when an alluring list of YouTubers are begging for “likes” or screaming to be discovered. However long a leader thinks a speech should be—it should be shorter. An executive unable to make a point in 3-5 minutes will quickly lose his/her audience and an opportunity to influence. Shorter engagements with enhanced interaction are critical when communicating important information in a virtual environment. The 2020 political conventions showed us that even an 88 year-old institution built around crowds and bravado can adapt to a virtual environment. The key concept in that statement is adapt. A leader that wants to engage more effectively with employees and expand their influence as a leader across a dispersed workforce will leverage technology to communicate authentically and make a point quickly in the new normal of employee engagement.

Leading from Both Ends of the Pyramid

Category : 2020

Do you remember early in 2020 when strategic discussions about your workforce focused on providing development opportunities for Millennials, creating meaningful recognition programs, and designing career paths that would retain top performers?

As Spring Break extended into a second and third week, conversations shifted to helping people feel connected and included in a virtual workplace that solidified into more than a temporary solution. As we moved into June and July, the bottom levels of Maslow’s hierarchy became an unavoidable priority as the loss of shelter, stability, health, end even food became very real possibilities for many workers.

French philosopher Michel de Montaigne observed “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” Many in 2020 wish they could say their lives were that simple. Corporate leaders will soon reach a six-month milestone of trying to ring a bell of certainty that can be heard above the COVID-19 cacophony. Executives now face the very real demand of continuing to allocate energy and resources toward resolving very real physical, security, and social needs for employees without losing sight of the longer-term expectations people still hold for their ego and self-actualization goals.

Complex problems don’t require complicated solutions. Order can be created in the mayhem. It is possible to find a place of equilibrium in the chaos.

Avoid pandemic panic. Build the necessary models and create the needed disaster plans without assuming the worst and feeding the already robust level of fear that pervades every industry. During a season of uncertainty (however long it may continue) people want their leaders to mirror confidence, without bravado. Blind optimism is little more than Pollyanna blather without a difficulty to give it meaning. Get agreement on the problems to solve while refusing to create complexity by swimming in the quicksand of speculation and conjecture.

Direct the disruption. Use uninvited forces of change to create fresh momentum. A disruption in a business, market, or industry implies there is energy to disturb. Companies that will emerge on the other side of the pandemic healthier than before are those that use market dynamics to generate ideas that will birth the disruptive innovations that will define their businesses in the future.

Communicate to inform. There is a difference between having information and being informed. In a time of uncertainty, it is difficult to over-communicate. Leaders multiply their credibility when they increase transparency when talking with employees during a crisis. Gary Kelly and the leadership at Southwest Airlines have used All-hands meetings, videos, and team meetings across the enterprise to provide employees with the information they need to make informed decisions about the future. While their 47 year run of continuous profitability has likely reached its end, executives at Southwest remain confident that their innovative approach to business and workforce management will get them through this storm. Four decades of balancing people with profits have paid off with hundreds of Southwest employees volunteering to take weeks off work with reduced or no pay to help ensure the future of the company.

Invest in the future. Companies that ignore the reality they can no longer be who they were and refuse to invest in whatever type of organization they are becoming, will be one of the dozens of case studies explored in B-schools in years to come. While facing dramatic changes in how they serve customers, secure business, and manage a diverse workforce, one Texas professional services firm is launching a comprehensive, company-wide talent development initiative to build their brand and create greater differentiation in the market. This progressive CEO recognizes that while physical, security, and social needs demand attention, future growth hinges on providing employees with resources to achieve their ego and self-actualization goals. This company believes it is better to invest in people during a crisis than invest in replacing people when they leave after the crisis is over.

Leaders do not have the luxury of maintaining an either/or approach to managing through a pandemic. Geodesic solutions must integrate demands of the present with needs of the future if leaders want to chart a path through the continued uncertainty they cannot avoid. For additional insights into Maslow’s hierarchy in a COVID-19 world, check out the insightful model created by Randstad at

Get Ready for Tomorrow, Today

Category : 2020

If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. (Hamlet – Act 5, Scene 2)

During an unexpected, unpredictable, and now extended global economic tsunami, many executives have invested so much energy in disaster preparedness they’ve lost sight of the importance of opportunity readiness. Since school districts tacked an extra week on Spring Break in March to accommodate what we thought was a public health blip, CEOsleading organizations of all sizes have rightly focused time, energy, and resources on helping their companies and those they lead navigate the uncertainty, relentless change, annoying distractions, and like-it-or-not demand for attention COVID-19 has unloaded on the world. As businesses adapt to current realities and craft new strategies for the present, it is time for senior leaders to focus some attention on their personal preparedness for what’s ahead.

Surveys reveal an alphabet soup view of what people think the months ahead will look like. Some CEOs anticipate a U-shaped recovery while others see an L or W-shaped journey ahead. Perhaps it is best to not look for a recovery at all, instead charting a path to readiness for the future without preconceptions that whatever is ahead will resemble what we knew before.

A seismic shift in the business environment will likely perpetuate a parallel adjustment in the top leadership in organizations as boards recognize the capabilities they looked for in the C-team pre-COVID 19 are not the skills required to succeed in the unprecedented market shifts we are experiencing and will face in the months ahead.

Surveys by major consulting firms underscore this anticipated talent transformation. Boston Consulting Group found “. . . more than 80% of surveyed CFOs also see transformative change—for example, in their organization, in digital, or in innovation—as a strategic opportunity. (Boston Consulting Group, CFO Pulse Check #2, Boards now face the decision to rely on current leaders to drive needed transformation or to look outside the company for another skill set or someone with a different vision for the future.

If boards listen to voices beyond their circle, the likelihood they will consider new leadership is multiplied. McKinsey stated, “Our research has also shown that CEOs who are hired externally tend to move with more boldness and speed than those hired within an organization, (McKinsey, The CEO Moment: Leadership for a New Era ( The demand for boldness and speed may drive a need to consider talent from another industry or situation.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger aptly noted, “The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future.” As C-level leaders manage themselves for the future, it’s time to stop adjusting and begin anticipating. Forward-thinking executives will find a way to clearly articulate a differentiated message in a distinct voice and tone, that can be heard above the cacophony of uncertainty whirling around us.

Leapfrog Executive Services engages with C-level executives to help them prepare for the future while they drive results today. Recognizing that C-level leaders have unique career management expectations and limited available time, our turn-key executive branding package includes an executive resume, an engaging biography, and a market-focused LinkedIn profile.

Our approach to communicating an executive’s brand goes beyond a recitation of past successes. We help a leader articulate his/her resilience, agility, adaptability, ability to reimagine the future, skill in navigating through uncertainty, andability to balance expedience with ingenuity. We have completed executive branding programs for people leading as CEO, CFO, Chief Sales & Marketing officer, Head Data Scientist, CTO, VP Operations, and Chief Learning Officer, and others. Industries have included technology, consumer goods, manufacturing, and consulting.

Clients tell us they value the professionalism, personal service, and sense of urgency Leapfrog Executive Services provides. Executives we support approach conversations and new opportunities with a renewed confidence that comes from the ability to consistently tell their stories in an exemplary way across a variety of platforms. First century poet Ovid said the one “who is not prepared today will be less so tomorrow.” As you lead your organization through today’s challenges, invest some time in preparing for tomorrow’s opportunities. 

Wind in Your Sails

Category : 2020

…continued from a previous blog

Our last article began defining four dynamics that will help leaders move their teams and organizations forward. The last to consider is motivation.

Where We Find Motivation

We rarely get to choose our circumstances. We always get to choose our response to life’s events. Success is less about talent and opportunities, and more about commitment and motivation. Here are five ways to keep the wind filling your sails as you chart a course through rough seas.

Stay connected with positive, optimistic people. You weren’t wired to make the journey through life alone. All of us benefit from relationships that help us maintain perspective, remind us to believe in ourselves, and give us valuable, even candid, insights when we need them. If you don’t know any optimists — find some. You don’t have to lose touch with reality to maintain an attitude of optimism and hope in the face of whatever you encounter.

Minimize time with people that enjoy a negative view on life. You will always find plenty of people that will do what they can to encourage you to be as miserable as they are. Use social distancing as a reason to stay away from them or maintain clear boundaries in how you allow their thinking to influence you. Negative people have an amazing ability to pull the unaware and unguarded to incredible levels of misery.

Manage your mental input. You don’t give anyone unguarded access to your money or your time. Why would you allow anyone free access to your mind? Analyze what you engage with on social media, the blogs you follow, your movies and weekly shows. If your mental diet is negative, it will be hard for you to stay positive. Begin and end your day by reading something positive or listening to music that relaxes or energizes you — depending on what you need at the time. What you consume mentally has a lot to do with how you feel emotionally.

Keep active. Your doctor isn’t the only person who will tell you regular exercise releases endorphins — powerful, natural mood lifters. You don’t have to train for a marathon to gain significantly from physical exercise. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise can do wonders in keeping your motivation high. Get up after every video conference and move around. Your body and brain will thank you.

Keep moving. Study the lives of highly successful people from any corner of life, across history, in any environment, and you will discover they share one trait: They keep moving forward. Sometimes slowly. Often with great difficulty. Frequently after painful mistakes, defeats, or failures. In the past 150 years there have been over 45 financial crises impacting one or more countries. The majority of those have been in the last 35 years. We will find a way through this.

We’re beyond looking for quick solutions and temporary options. It’s time to put together a game plan that will drive whatever growth we can create. We’re not alone and we are far from finished.

Adapted from Sharpen Your Life, Copyright © 2016 Joseph M. Jordan/Jordan Development, Inc. Used by permission.