Shrinking Market or Shrinking Mind? Why Talent Selection Is So Important

“All of these people had character.  None of them thought they were special, born with the right to win.  They were people who worked hard, who learned to keep their focus under pressure, and who stretched beyond their ordinary abilities when they had to.”

–     Dr. Carol S. Dweck in her book “Mindset; The New Psychology of Success” at the end of a section on champions who won without playing their best

Last week’s series on The Heston Group leadership model began with “R,” recruiting and retaining the best talent we can possibly afford…

I believe that’s key.  But there is one thing that trumps talent.

Mindset.  And it should over-rule pure talent when we’re selecting / de-selecting our team members.

Mindset is what puts us in a position to win even when we don’t have our best stuff.  That’s why I’ll take a talented person with a growth mindset over an amazingly talented person with a fixed mindset every time.  As for the REELAX model, that’s why the Environment and Expectations are so important — talent is a great place to start, but it’s just a start.  In other words, selecting for culture is at least as important as drafting the star player, lest we risk throwing off the balance of the team.

Market application matters, so if you’ll forgive me a slightly-longer-than-usual post today, let’s look at the mindset / talent selection matter from the market’s perspective.

Everywhere we look we find “shrinking markets,” right?  With the exception of IT / IT Services, one need not look far to see contraction, if we believe the media and / or our simplistic view of those markets.

Retail is shrinking, right?  Banking is shrinking, right?  Telcom, commercial real estate, legal services — all downsizing and pulling back, right?

That’s the fixed mindset view.

Let’s just look at the first two examples.  Retail isn’t shrinking.  Amazon just reinvented the way we purchase consumer goods.  Banking?  Even with one fewer bank (and credit union) this morning than there was Friday, the number of people consuming banking-like services is not going down. Fintechs and disruptors like Apple, Sofi, Starbucks, Square and Venmo are simply affecting the way the services get consumed, and the business models of those that provide those services.  Bankers and provider beware, by the way, it’s coming to commercial lending, too.

The question we have to answer today is simple:  Is the market shrinking or is it just our mindset?  And when we choose who we’re going to add to or keep on our teams — we need to get this in crystal-clear perspective.

Dad always said, “If you keep doin’ what you’re doin’ you’re gonna get more of what you’ve got.”  These days, what “we’ve got” may be obsolete, or, at the very least, subject to attack from competitors or just from the status quo.  If we’re going to win in these times, we’d better be willing to grow our mindsets.  (Buy and read the book.  You’ll be glad you did…)

Times of great challenge and great change call for ideas – because ideas are the currency of difference makers.  And ideas sprout best from a growth mindset.

Instead of “Woe is me,” let’s strive for, “WHOA!  It’s me!”



A Week to REELAX — Part V

“All organizations start with WHY.  Only the great ones keep their WHY clear, year after year.”

–     Simon Sinek (b. 1973), British author of “Start With Why” and four other books

Yes, the “X” stands for “Why?”

“Heston,” you might be saying, “you need to work on your alphabet.”

OK, OK.  The “X” stands for “X-ray everything you do or don’t do until you understand why you’re doing it or not doing it.”

The typical business or team expends 90% or more of its energy on the what and the how.  This is what we do and this is how we do it.  Instead, if we were to focus on the why, the what becomes almost impossible to lose sight of and the how matters less, as long as we’re keeping to our culture and our expectations.

Russell Ackoff, an icon in the beer industry and a leadership guru said it this way:  “All of our social problems arise out of doing the wrong things righter.  The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become.  It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter.  If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better.”

And therein lies the whole reason to REELAX, and the whole purpose of The Heston Group.

Getting better.

When we know why we’re doing something (or why we’re not doing something) it all lines up.  Especially if we’ve put the other pieces of the puzzle in place, as well.  When we know “Why?” and we start at the top, we get better, ever day.  So, know why.

And then, REELAX!  

Recruit / Retain the best talent we can possibly afford, create an Environment where success is the most likely outcome and set Expectations that are so clear they cannot be misunderstood.  Lead.  Great talent expects to be led, not managed.  Rely on Accountability that runs all directions through all levels of the unit and finally, X-ray everything until we understand “Why.”

This approach to our teams and our business will make a difference.  We will get better ever day.  And while “perfect” is a pipe-dream, “better every day” is as good as it gets!

A Week to REELAX — Part IV

“The best kind of accountability on a team is peer-to-peer.  Peer pressure is more efficient and effective than going to the leader, anonymously complaining and having them stop what they are doing to intervene.”

–     Patrick Lencioni (b. 1965), author of the best series of business books you could ever buy…pick one, then read ’em all!

The “A” is for accountability.

When we get it right, accountability runs all day, every day, in all directions in our team and our businesses.  Every member of the team ought to be able to hold every other member of the team accountable, regardless of rank, role or tenure.  If the person on the factory floor knows that the CEO expects and is ready to walk his or her talk out there on that floor, not only has the rubber hit the road, but we’re cruising at highway speed!

If sales doesn’t see what they need from finance or product, the accountability should be just as intense as it is to the sales pro chasing a number.  Not only should every functional team be accountable to every other functional team, every team member ought to be accountable to do a) what they say they’ll do and b) what they’re needed to do.

It’s why getting the second “E” (expectations) right is so important.  If everyone knows what’s expected, everyone is marching to the same, and more importantly, the correct drum.

Up and down.  Over and across.  Accountability that is relentless, in the context of the model, gets us closer to our targets faster.

REELAX — Recruit / Retain the best talent we can possibly afford, create an Environment where success is the most likely outcome, set Expectations that are so clear they cannot be misunderstood and set in place Accountability that runs every direction, all day every day.

That leaves only the “X” factor — tomorrow.

A Week to REELAX – Part III

“We must not only give what we have; we must also give who we are.”

–     Desire-Joseph Mercier (1851 – 1926),  Belgian Cardinal and noted Thomist scholar

The “L” is for lead.

Recruit / Retain the best talent you can possibly afford, create an Environment where success is the most likely outcome and set Expectations that are so clear they can not be misunderstood.  Then, lead.  Don’t manage.  Great people don’t want or need to be managed.  Great people expect to be led.

In fact, management is a greatly over-rated skill set in the modern, knowledge-based economy.

Leadership is not only under-rated, it’s too often AWOL.

If we’re spending time reviewing every receipt on the expense report, second-guessing our teams or weighing in on every decision — we’re not leaders.  We’re the problem.  Leaders hire people they can trust and they trust the people they hire.  Leaders know that it’s ok to measure yourself on how often you decide, and they also know they should take the “under” on that bet.  In other words, the higher up the ladder we get in our careers, the less frequently we should be deciding.  Leaders recruit, develop and retain talented teams and then they pay them to decide.

“But, Steve!” you might be asking, “what if they screw up?”

They will.    Part of it is environment and expectations.  Even strong talent needs to know the ground rules, or at least the landscape that determines when they can and should decide, and they have to be able to function in the gray space around the edges of those limits.  And make no mistake, they will, from time-to-time, screw up.  Just as we do.  And when they do, leaders use mistakes as teachable moments.  In fact, great leaders celebrate mistakes and use them as fertile grounds for learning.

Leaders function in this realm:   “That was an awesome decision, great job, Pat!  Tell us how you made it, please!”  Or, “Wow, Greg, that sure didn’t turn out like we expected, did it?  Let’s look at where the train jumped the tracks so that we don’t find ourselves in this position again, ok?  Let’s walk through it together…”  Leaders ask, “What would we do differently if we could, and what would we never do differently, even if we could.”  In asking and leading with questions like these, leaders set context, contributing to the “E’s” in the formula and leveraging the heck out of the “R.”

Which tees up the “A” for tomorrow…

REELAX — Recruit / Retain the best talent you can possibly afford, create an Environment where success is the most likely outcome, set Expectations that are so clear they can not be misunderstood, and then Lead.

Any guesses on the “A?”



A Week to REELAX – Part II

“People would rather believe than know.”

–     E. O. Wilson (b. 1929), American biologist

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is.  Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”

–     Stephen R. Covey

Yesterday, we set the stage with the “R;” recruit and retain the best talent you can possibly afford.

Next, we’re called to create an environment where success is the most likely outcome and to put in place expectations that are so clear they can not be misinterpreted.

Environment.  Expectations.

In the case of environment, it’s usually about removing obstacles.  Our systems, processes and biases are obstacle-builders, if we’re not careful.  When we honor processes over outcomes, and when we dictate what we will do by what we’ve always done, we risk sucking all the life out of our growth plans.  Good intentions or not, I’ve seen “the way we’ve always done it” kill growth in dozens of companies.  What’s even scarier?  It adversely affects good talent — people don’t want to be in a place where the primary obstacles are self-imposed.  The team has to believe that they’re supposed to win, not just know they might.

As for expectations, think “simple,” and “consistent.”  Complexity is our enemy, and we’ve all heard it over and over again, “Well, our business is very complex!”

Um, no.  It’s not.  And if it is, revisit “environment” above.  Difference makers, winners and leaders find the simplistic and build upon it, creating an environment where success is the most likely outcome.  That promotes belief.

So, then, what about expectations?  When our expectations are greater than the team’s current reality, the team will rise to those expectations, and become as they can and should be.  They.  Will.  Rise.  (If the “R” and the first “E” are in place, that is!)

When we put the right talent in an environment where winning is the most likely outcome, and provide expectations that are crystal-clear, we can literally feel the positive energy and forward motion.  It becomes the best possible kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.  We succeed, because it would be difficult not to.

And that tees up the “L” for tomorrow’s post.

Summary — REELAX:  Recruit and Retain the best talent you can possibly afford, create an Environment where success is the most likely outcome, and provide Expectations that simply can’t be misunderstood...

I hope you’ll weigh in.  Comment below and let’s turn this in to a dialogue.

Until tomorrow, make a difference out there today!


A Week to REELAX – Part I

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit.  Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

–     Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860), German philosopher

This week, we’ll focus on The Heston Group’s framework for leading a business.  There can be a ton of stress in owning or running a business, and our philosophy and practices are aimed at helping private company’s leaders “reelax.”

It starts with talent.

The “R” means our first obligation is to recruit (and retain) the best talent we can possibly afford.  Because it all starts with talent.  There are some corollaries here, as with each other letter in the acronym.

Corollary #1:  It is better to be short-staffed than poorly-staffed.  Too often we fill a position instead of selecting the right talent.  If you have no open requisitions, but find the perfect addition to the roster, hire them anyway.  If you have six open positions, but no candidates that make the team better, don’t hire any of them.  Your top performers will notice, and appreciate the conscious, intentional commitment to improving the team.

Corollary #2:  De-selection is almost as important as selection.  It doesn’t matter how long someone has been in place, unless they’re making the team better.  That means that a key part of retaining talent is developing talent.  Constantly finding ways to challenge and grow key members of the team is crucial to long-term success.  And, when someone reaches their maximum potential, either because they’re unwilling or unable to keep growing, we have to choose; we either let them know that there won’t be any more upward movement, or we help them find a home somewhere else.  Moving people to great new careers can be a huge selling point in recruiting, because not everyone can grow up to be the boss, and when we get the “R” just right, that means we’ll become a employer of choice for high potentials, who will know that we’ll help them have the best possible future — here, or wherever they can make a difference.

Corollary #2-B:  De-selection is even more important when someone has stopped growing or is otherwise holding back the organization.  It should never be fun firing people, but again, your top performers will notice and appreciate it when you remove people who are holding the company back.  Regardless of rank, tenure, title or role.  And, they’ll notice when you don’t, at your own peril.

Back to the quote:  Relentlessly focusing on talent means you’ll keep raising the bar.  Getting talent so right that it evolves into genius means that you’ll set the bar for your market.  I bet we’d sign up for either of those two outcomes, right?

REELAX:  The “R” means recruit and retain the best talent we can possibly afford.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the two “E’s…”


Meaning Making

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”

–     Carl Jung (1875 – 1961), Swiss psychiatrist, founder of analytical psychology

“Meaning is not inherent in events; it is made by people.”

–     Dave and Wendy Ulrich in their book “The Why of Work”

Meaning is made.  That’s pretty powerful.  The Ulrich’s talk about true leaders as “meaning makers.”  When we set out to make something effort, focus and conscious consideration of the outcome are required.  Otherwise, we don’t make something, we arrive somewhere.

We don’t have to be brain scientist or rocket surgeons to make meaning from our work.  It isn’t limited to white collar people with fancy titles.  There was a shoeshine guy in the Minneapolis airport who made meaning through his work.  He drove 20 miles to work, parked three miles from the airport and walked in to do a 12-14 hour shift every day.  He was very good at shining shoes.  Even better at telling stories.  And better yet about providing a bunch of self-important business travelers with a dose of perspective that not only impacted our careers, but our lives and our families.  When you walked away from his stand, your shoes shined, but so did your eyes.  Your day was better.  Because of him.

The key is to be intentional.  To intentionally seek a meaningful outcome.  To intentionally put aside the static and distractions that too easily creep in and to seek to make a difference for each person we touch.

Difference makers are, therefore, meaning makers.  What a cool calling that is, right?


Ark Building Inspiration

“Predicting rain doesn’t count.  Building arks does.”

–     Warren Buffett (b. 1930), legendary investor / Chairman & CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Yesterday, I reconnected with two ark-builders.

One, I’d only met once, about ten years ago.  Ten years on, in an inspiring and energizing conversation, I was reminded that the rising waters are not something we can do anything about.  All we can do is intentionally decide how we’re gonna respond. Build arks, if you will.

It’s like my dad, a farmer, told our neighbor, a white-collar guy who was freaked out about the 8-feet of water covering the crop Dad had recently seen sprout (circa 1967-ish) — “What are you going to DO, Richard!?” our neighbor implored.  “Wait ’til the water goes down and plant it again,” Dad said.

The figurative crops that my coffee guest has harvested over the past decade have taken a whole company and hundreds of employees (and their families) from a harsh reality brought on by torrential rains to relevance and a viable future with some showers still in the forecast, but good shelter for the rainy days and bountiful new crops to harvest.

The second was a friend and former (future?) colleague.  Many a flight, meeting and party were shared “back in the day,” and while social media has allowed us to “watch each other’s kids grow up” and “keep in touch,” the voice-on-voice, idea-on-idea interaction was missing.  When we connected yesterday, her energy, passion, selflessness and connection reminded me that it’s not just about the difference we get to make — it’s about with whom we get to make it.

Water recedes.  Arks last.  Staying connected to difference makers is where the magic happens.

Election Perspective, Labels and What Comes Next

“Most things in life are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong.  Most things just are.”

–     Tom Graf, PhD

Welcome to the morning after the election…

In what is, by far, the most often repeated lead-in for the Daily Difference, Dr. Graf’s reminder is never more pertinent than today, regardless of the outcomes from yesterday.  (Editor’s Note:  I am prepping this post several days pre-election.  There is no way to know how the voting turned out yesterday, and it wouldn’t matter, even if there were a way…)

As you read this, some will say whatever happened yesterday was good.  Or bad.  Some will even posture that it was right.  Or wrong.

It is most likely that they’re mistaken.

You see, with most things, we never really know because whatever the thing is, it just is — whenever and however it happened.

Everything, ultimately, comes down to what we do next.

Labels are helpful, when they include directions, calorie information or ingredients.  But when the labels include “good, bad, right and / or wrong,” it’s probably false labeling.

“Next” starts now.  Difference makers are ready.


Why Leaders Are Lonely, If They’re Willing to Lead

“Command is lonely.”

     –     The final lesson in Colin Powell’s 18-lesson “Leadership Primer”

Most people think they want to be in charge.  Most people think they’re leaders.

Until they realize that command is lonely.

Most people want to be in charge when it comes to speaking at the company Christmas party, or when it comes to hosting the customer for dinner and a ball game.  Most people want to be leaders when bonuses get handed out for a great year, or when there’s a ribbon cutting for the new plant, the new park sponsored by the company or when the charity giving campaign is tallied up.

Those are not lonely times.  Those also represent about one-tenth of one percent (or less) of the way a leader spends his or her time.  Let’s look at the other extreme, and gain some insight as to why leadership can be, and often is a lonely place.

Firing someone is a lonely time.

Laying off a shift because the plan has failed is a lonely time.

Admitting a flaw in the strategy, a mistake in calculating the earnings, a theft by an employee or the loss of a customer — those are all lonely times.

Deciding which product to fund when there’s not enough capital to fund two.  Deciding whether to cut salaries to offset an increase in taxes and / or regulatory and compliance expense.  Exiting a market in order to fund and launch a “make it or break it” move in to a transformational new space.  Going “all in” when you truly understand the ramifications of “all in.”

Those are not times when most people want to be in charge.  Those are times that call for leaders.

“The essence of leadership is the willingness to make the tough, unambiguous choices that will have an impact on the fate of the organization.”  Note he didn’t say “ability.”  The ability is in more people than is the willingness.  It is far easier to know the right thing to do than it is to do it.  Leaders lead.

No matter how open, informal and collaborative your culture becomes on your watch, General Powell is right  — “Prepare to be lonely.”

Leaders lead.