WGN’s Steve Grzanich CEO Spotlight with Jason Hanold

Steve Grzanich Opening Bell

Getting Jobs: From Executives to Janitors


Steve and Jason Discuss Executive Leadership and Organizational Culture


Jason Hanold, CEO and Co-Managing Partner of Hanold Associates was interviewed by Steve Grzanich of WGN radio’s Opening Bell. Below is the conversation between Steve and Jason discussing how executives search for jobs, why they might be attracted to a struggling company, organizational culture–who is doing it right and who isn’t and more. Audio of the conversation is available above.


Steve: Lots of issues these days in the workplace, it is also becoming kind of a tight job market too and so that is creating some new challenges for human resources, but it’s the organizational culture that could win out with executive searching and this morning we have one of the people who is busy doing that. Jason Hanold, CEO of Hanold Associates in Chicago is in our CEO spotlight today and we’ll be talking about those issues. First, Jason, welcome to the Opening Bell. Glad to have you here.

Jason: Thank you, Steve. It’s fantastic to be here.

Steve: It’s exciting to have you here because there’s a lot going on in this area recently in the news, lots of headlines, let’s begin there. You have companies that are, for instance, Sears, there are other companies too that aren’t doing so hot right now. How do you get executives to go to those places, because they’re probably in need of executives just like any other company even though they may not be doing so well?

Jason: Yes, that’s right. We serve a variety of clients across industries and with that there are some that are known for having fantastic cultures such as the Patagonias or REIs or Nikes or Googles of the world. Then there’s organizations such as the Sears or those that are facing business headwinds in the market. But there’s a large population out there that they describe themselves as problem solvers. These are people who get most excited about an opportunity where there is perceived to be a hairy mess and their motivation is, ‘I’m smart, I can fix it, I love a challenge and, by the way, if I get through this and play a role and have a big impact in a turnaround of an organization, I’m going to be better for it and I’ll have a great story to tell as I continue to build my portfolio of experiences.’

Steve: Is that one of the big things these days is attracting that notion of how you attract executives to those companies, what kind of traits do you look for, to maybe hire a fixer or solver to one of those companies?

Jason: So, an easy first question for people who may want to go into a troubled organization might be around, ok, if you see a burning building do you tend to run away from it or into it, and for those types of problem solvers right, they’re the ones who will describe what they need in a culture, in an organization and they don’t want to be maintainers, they don’t want to join an organization where it’s simply about taking it to its next micro-evolution. They want to be in an organization where they have a big chance to innovate, to have a big impact, to put their signature on the company and, so, as we’re going into assessment with individuals, with executives, a big part of our conversation is really about what drives them, what motivates them, what really engages them. Which is another way of describing this discretionary effort that you or I or they bring to their work every day right, what keeps them motivated. And so, those are things we look for.

Steve: Are a lot of those people out there or are they few and far between?

Jason: There are a lot of people out there with all different socio-economic backgrounds, all different kinds of educational backgrounds. You see people who maybe have never had formal education past high school that are equally motivated as someone who has, you know, an advanced degree from elite universities, but it’s really about their wiring to make an impact and to go into an organization where they can help shape it, as opposed to, those who want to join an organization that already has a phenomenal brand, a fantastic culture and is doing really well.

Now, there’s something about stability and there’s a certain set of people who want to have both. They want to have stability because they appreciate a business model in an organization and where it’s going, but they, at the same time, want to still be in the shaping and so these are individuals who typically will join a company at a particular stage, whether it be startup or breakthrough, as opposed to a mature company.

Steve: Before you came in we were looking at your website, the number of companies, the logos on your website that you’ve worked with is really amazing. So you have sort of a breadth of all kinds when you talk about some of the issues that we’ve been talking about.

Jason: It’s really a product of us focusing on HR leaders for these companies. So, you know HR people are transient across industries and so it does allow us to serve companies across industries at all different stages and sizes. Having said that, every organization across these industries are facing very similar challenges at a very high level and that is, how do you elevate the talent we have? That is, bring in better people because with better people you can do more with fewer of them, and then, how do we create an amazing organization and culture where people are naturally attracted to us as a company. And fundamentally, that’s what a great HR officer does.

Steve: And the question is to set you up for this next question and that is, out of all those organizations, you mentioned culture earlier, there’s organization—who’s doing it well? Who’s not doing it well and how do you recognize what’s good and what’s not?

Jason: Yeah, so, fundamentally you think about, well what does culture do? Culture drives engagement. Engagement is that, as I mentioned, this discretionary effort that we bring to work every day. And to get a culture some people say well, ‘Gee, that’s soft. What does that really mean? You know I’m interested in results and bottom line.’ Great culture is great for business. So, great culture equals a thriving business. And what that means for organizations is those that tend to do it well like the Patagonias of the world, like REI, like Vail Resorts, or even Live Nation Entertainment or a Cummins, right, a Kohler.

All of these organizations across industry what they are doing well, it’s embracing kind of what they’re hearing from their employee population and that is, we’re articulating our values; so, that means we’re showing what we care about and we’re showing how we treat people that care about things that are important to them. We are, when we’re focused on culture, we’re in a position where we want to focus on what behaviors do we accept and tolerate, how do we care about people and how do we want to reward and incent people.

And fundamentally, how you incent people encourages behavior within that organization, whether it be we want to have a company that’s highly collaborative, we want a company that embraces the compassion not only for our fellow colleagues but for those on the outside, are we a culture that gives back and exercises a sense of social responsibility? Or, are we a culture that allows for a toxic-bro culture? Are we a culture that permits bad behavior as long as it drives results and profits? Do we look to maximize profits regardless of behavior within the organization? And so, fundamentally when the organizations pinpoint what behaviors they will tolerate, embrace, endorse, they’re sending us a clear signal about what they want their culture to be?

Steve: Do those go hand in hand, do the companies that have good culture, good organizations, are they always successful financially from a profits standpoint or no?

Jason: Mostly, but not always. So, you can have organizations that have phenomenal cultures, everyone feels great about showing up to work, but if you don’t still have a performance edge within that culture, if you still don’t have a results orientation, you won’t thrive. And so, you have to strike a balance. And, by the way, having a great culture where people enjoy going there, it doesn’t equal the tradeoff between poor results. Right, if anything, the opposite’s true. But if you still don’t, if part of your culture is not having an essence of accountability, if part of your culture does not include repercussions if you don’t perform, if part of your culture means, ‘Hey, you know what, we’re not going to have tough conversations with slackers in the business,’ then those companies won’t thrive. Right, so being part of a culture, it’s having balance like you would in any meaningful relationship whether it be personally or professionally.

Steve: When we are in a situation where the economy is where it is now, the job market is very tight. Do these notions that we’re talking about become even that more high stakes?

Jason: Absolutely, because when the job market is tight and even when it’s thriving frankly, you have a very similar focus by organizations and their boards and their executive committees. They want to hire people who emulate what their organization is about and what they value.

And, when we look at small companies for instance or mid-sized companies there, every one person you hire—so, if you’re in a 10-person company and you hire one person who isn’t a great fit for that organization or they’re poorly behaved or they’re not collaborative, that can truly impact the dynamic within that organization, which can impact how others lean in or away from the work they need to do on a daily basis.

Steve: We talked earlier about that HR person’s responsibility and what you look for in those folks but let’s talk a little bit about a CEO, what would you say is their number one responsibility in 2017?

Jason: Well, that’s a great question because while the chief HR officer is fundamentally your culture champion, the messages and tone is really set by the CEO and their board because it’s the board, if they have one, that will hire and fire a CEO and decides who they’re going to compensate, who they’re going to retain.

And so, from the board to the executive committee and specifically to the CEO, they’re the ones that through their own personal behavior as well as professional behavior set a tone for what that organizational culture and the behaviors are going to be within that organization. This is what, you know fundamentally, it’s your CEO who is, based on their actions and what they have to say and what they do in the public eye, that sets your employment brand in the market. That determines whether people at all levels want to work for that particular company.

Steve: So, let’s talk a little bit about the folks who you might be recruiting. As we mentioned it’s a tight job market, people are looking around, if they’re not happy where they’re at now there’s a lot of places they can go. If you’re one of those people, what would be your top three things to advise them on in terms of making sure their skills are competitive, that their package is competitive.

Jason:  What I go to, so, there’s a couple of approaches to an effective job search, one is, you know your skills and experiences and oftentimes by the time you get to the point you realize okay, I need to conduct a job search, there’s not much you can do about your past experiences and skills. But there’s a lot you can do about how you engage in that job search whether it be with a recruiter or whether it be with another employer directly or whether it be with your network that you have—friends, relatives, what have you.

And with that, the best advice I can give is really about your own sense of transparency, it’s about the willingness to be vulnerable; and what I mean by that is the ability to talk and articulate about what you know well but what you don’t know and where your gaps are. Because when you give a sense of transparency plus this willingness to be vulnerable, you exude this authenticity that people, that employers or potential employers will absolutely embrace because fundamentally we, as employers, we hire people who we trust and we can’t trust those who we don’t know.

So, the more you put yourself out there in terms of talking about your skills and experiences, what you really desire in life, what you like, what your gaps are, what your strengths are with balance and where people feel they get to know you quite quickly, as long as you can build that relationship plus trust, you’re going to better your chances for an effective job search.

Steve: Jason it’s so good to meet you and the best of luck to you and we appreciate you coming in on our CEO spotlight.

Jason:  Well, Steve, thank you. It was terrific to be here.

Steve: Jason Hanold is the CEO and managing partner at Hanold Associates HR executive search in Chicago. It’s an HR retained executive search firm where leadership experts, clients include Patagonia Nike, eBay, lots of them. You can check them out online at hanold-associates.com and HanoldHR on Twitter.