On Living in the Pandemic Age

By: Hart Hillman

Adversity, in business and beyond, is unavoidable; the only power we have over it is in how we choose to manage it.

As someone who has been in the leadership business for over 20 years, I’ve spent my career studying how our best business leaders react and adapt to difficult circumstances. This disease, however, doesn’t discriminate, and will ultimately touch each and every one of us. As a result, there is an opportunity for everyone to demonstrate strong leadership, to take responsibility for his or her actions, to offer assistance to those in need, and to improve our own wellbeing by supporting those around us.

Remaining optimistic in the face of a global pandemic that will kill thousands and impact millions isn’t an easy task, and by no means am I attempting to downplay the seriousness of this situation. However, my experience has demonstrated how, despite having little control over what happens to them, the best leaders are able to remain calm under fire, seek out positive solutions, and demonstrate to others that there is a steady hand at the wheel. This moment in time is absolutely unparalleled, but as we face down this global pandemic many of the same rules apply.

Much will test our resolve in the coming weeks, and while we can only do so much to control the spread of the virus we can make this very difficult situation better by being mindful of our approach, attitude and outlook. After all, reality is informed by one’s perception. Even when things are objectively trying, it’s often just a matter of how we choose to react.

As CS. Lewis wrote in 1948’s “On Living in an Atomic Age,” at a time when humanity was grappling with the possibility of total annihilation:

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s been difficult to ignore the instinct to retreat, panic shop, hunker down and maybe even give up. Each day has been a wild swing of emotion, ranging from deeply optimistic to deeply fearful as the impact and reality of this global epidemic hits increasingly closer to home.

What I’ve discovered through this experience, however is that what you choose to focus on will ultimately become your reality. Watching hour after hour of alarmist newscasts can strain even the strongest and most optimistic amongst us. Rather than watching the wreckage unfold on live television, hard as it may be to look away, we can instead help improve our own state of mind by dedicating our time and energy to nobler causes. Reach out to friends, family and associates, spend a little extra time on the phone, really listen to what they’re going through and offer a helping hand whenever possible, especially to those most vulnerable. Doing so will go a long way in improving your own wellbeing, the wellbeing of those around you, and by extension strengthen our collective resolve against a very real threat.

In the face of this pandemic many will deny, distance, cower and even profiteer from the challenges ahead. Others, however, are already rising to the occasion, improving their own wellbeing by doing what they can to support others. Neighbours are voluntarily helping at-risk neighbours, distilleries are converting their production lines to create and donate hand sanitizer, musicians are putting on live performances on balconies and rooftops, and our front line healthcare workers are carrying the weight of the world as they wage a daily battle against a deadly virus.

These are trying times for everyone, and all signs suggest things are likely to get worse before they get better. Instead of resigning to the spiral of despair, fuelled by dystopian news stories and uncomfortably close quarters, take a moment to think about the bigger picture, and the small role you can play in improving the overall outcome.

In the not too distant future we’ll all look back in judgement of our own actions during this extraordinary and perilous time. When the dust finally settles the question that remains is whether that change was influenced by the more noble aspects parts of our nature, or if we gave into our more basic instincts. I sincerely hope that we are able to reflect on it as the moment when we came together, allowing our shared adversity to dissolve the superficialities that divide us, and wash away those labels that separate us.

The coronavirus will bring many tragic outcomes, but I hope our shared adversity also brings recognition of our shared humanity. After all, this disease doesn’t discriminate, and in doing so it offers us an opportunity to unite against it. We’re all already fighting the virus in our own way by staying home, washing our hands and being mindful of the risks we could pose to others. We can further our collective cause even more so by demonstrating strong leadership. That means taking responsibility for our own actions, offering assistance to those in need, and improving our own wellbeing by supporting those around us.

I don’t care about your diverse hiring statistics: Here’s what equity inclusion really means

By: Hart Hillman

While most modern organizations have made a commitment to equity inclusion, not all gender diversity hiring initiatives are created equal. In fact, I would argue there is a wide spectrum when it comes to the sophistication and maturity of such efforts, and many who claim to be leaders in this space are actually falling behind.

Equity inclusion isn’t just some fluffy corporate social responsibility initiative, despite the fact that some treat it as such. Recent study have proven that organizations who commit themselves to diversity and inclusion in more than their hiring practices and press releases enjoy greater financial returns, higher profits, and experience less volatility.

At the far end of the diversity and inclusion spectrum are those that fail to acknowledge the problem, or acknowledge it but don’t address it. Not too far downstream from them, however, are those who are putting genuine effort into increasing diversity hiring, but believe it sufficient to end their commitment there. Such organizations often tout their inclusive hiring statistics, but I know from experience that such figures only tell one small part of a bigger story.

What these organizations are doing is basically affirmative action, often in response to pressure from the media, the board, the government, their employees or other external factors. When the goal is to silence critics by checking a box the focus tends to be on hiring numbers alone. Organizations that fail to see the bigger picture, however, often also fail to reap the ROI benefits of having a diverse workforce.

We see it all the time; an organization acknowledges a significant gender gap in their workforce, and prioritizes female hires until they feel a better balance has been struck. They make a big announcement about their accomplishment, and

responsibility. In many organizations, there is no recognition of this higher standard for parental responsibilities, nor any effort to support working mothers.

When there are only one or two women in the room it’s also not uncommon for them to experience unconscious bias. One CEO friend of mine who recently attended a meeting with her board was asked to take notes, despite being the highest-ranking executive in the room. Some might applaud the company for being progressive enough to hire a female CEO, but this friend quit her job soon after the incident, as it became clear to her that the board was only checking the gender diversity box.

Another major consideration for those that want to pay more than lip service to equity inclusion is compensation. Women still only make $.79 for every dollar earned by a man, but organizations can’t claim to be addressing equitable hiring if they’re not also tackling the pay equity as well.

In recent years we’ve seen a trend towards pay transparency, which helps employees of all backgrounds ensure they’re receiving the compensation they deserve, but conversations about earnings remain taboo for many, particularly older workers. Recent years have also seen provinces and states prevent organizations from asking candidates about their previous compensation, as it can serve to carry wage discrepancies from one employer to the next.

While these concerns and considerations seem nuanced they are actually very closely tied to the success of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Organizations that are simply checking the box without internalizing a true commitment to inclusivity and extending that commitment throughout their company’s culture will struggle to hire and retain diverse staff, and are unlikely to see much of a return on their diversity and inclusion investments.

That’s why I don’t care about your gender diversity hiring numbers.

If you’re not taking the time to understand nuanced issues like unconscious bias, wage transparency and salary history bans; if you’re not actively developing support systems, mentorship groups and innovative policies that support female employees; and if those initiatives aren’t part of your company’s core values, than such statistics are meaningless.

The same can also be said about other historically marginalized groups, as I will explore in my next post.

Bigwin Group COVID-19 announcement

The health and welfare of our team, families, clients and candidate community are of the utmost importance to us as we actively monitor and adapt to the news surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

In our commitment to provide you with excellent service, we have put the following strategies in place allowing us to operate with as little disruption as possible.

This course of action has been decided following the advice of the appropriate government agencies.

In summary:

  • Our team is available to operate and communicate effectively and remotely from their respective residences.
  • Our technology and databases are secure and well tested to work appropriately.
  • Face-to-face meetings and events are being moved to teleconferencing or rescheduled, as appropriate.
  • Our assessment services can be fully conducted remotely.
  • We have implemented work-from-home to support the recommended social distancing initiatives.
  • We have implemented a policy for our team who become ill or are concerned that they may have been exposed to the virus.
  • We have postponed all business travel and are advising against personal travel to prevent increased risk.
  • We want to assure you that our team remains committed to being fully accessible and responsive to your business needs.

In these unparalleled and challenging times and in the spirit of partnership, if there is anything we can do to assist you, or your business, please do not hesitate to reach out.

We hope that you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy as we navigate through this challenge.

The Bigwin Group

CSR Initiative: Loran Scholars Foundation

Believing in the work that the Loran Scholars Foundation does through its exceptional scholars, we at the Bigwin Group started a crowdfunding campaign, called ‘Changing the World with Extraordinary Character’ – Scholarship for young leaders who aspire to make a difference in the world.

We are very happy to announce that with the generous donations of more than 30 individuals we we reached our goal of $5000.00.

Thank you to all those who have generously invested in the the next generation of leaders of character!

We look forward to continuing our work with the Loran Scholars Foundation.

Fast Company: How Corporate Responsibility Affects Recruiting and Retention

Checkout Fast Company’s article, ‘How Corporate Responsibility Affects Recruiting and Retention,’ featuring Bigwig Group’s fifth session in our thought-provoking ‘Sharpen Your Axe™’ panel series held at the Soho House in New York.






Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer a choice for Indian companies of a certain size: It’s a legal requirement.

In April 2014, the hotly debated Companies Act forced approximately 3,000 organizations to form a CSR committee, and spend 2% of their average net profits over the past three years on social development and environmental projects.

The initiative only affects Indian companies with a market cap over 5 billion INR (about $77 million USD), turnover above 10 billion INR (about $155 million USD), or annual profits greater than 50 million INR (about $770,000 USD).


In theory, the mandate has its appeal; it’s comforting to think that “too big to fail” is, at least in one country, also associated with “big enough to do their part.” In the highly competitive North American talent market, however, companies that champion social initiatives also improve their employer brand, and ultimately their ability to recruit employees.


According to a 2014 survey by Nielsen, 67% of respondents prefer to work for a socially responsible company, and, according to a recent survey by Deloitte, 50% of millennials want to work for a company with ethical practices.

A competitive talent market has proven to be a strong motivating factor behind CSR programs in North America, but measuring their social impact is difficult. While you can quantify financial contributions, you can’t measure the impact those contributions have, or compare one company’s authentic commitment to social change against another’s.


In the United States, where CSR is voluntary, determining a company’s true level of commitment remains a challenge for job seekers. That was the consensus among a group of human resources and corporate social responsibility experts who gathered in New York City in late October as part of a speaker series hosted by the Bigwin Group, a Toronto-based global executive search and talent strategy firm.

“Right now, there’s no mandated reporting around corporate responsibility, and there’s different global entities that have tried to create standards about what CSR could look like,” said Tara Cardone, the head of employee engagement and volunteerism at JPMorgan Chase, during the event at Soho House New York. “I think transparency is a good thing in the extent that there’s mandated transparency around CSR metrics, but what are the right metrics to measure?”

While there is no universal measurement tool for social impact, pressure from job seekers has forced organizations to recognize the impact they have on the world, which may ultimately prove more effective than any government legislation.


“Everyone has a different definition, and its called different things at different companies, but it’s about more than philanthropy; it’s about how you operate as a corporate citizen,” said Karyn Margolis, the director of CSR and sustainability at Avon Products Inc. “It goes back to authenticity; it has to be about how the company operates, and philanthropy and social programs are an extension of that, but it’s much broader than giving away money.”


While governments in North America often play a role in tackling social issues, mandatory CSR has never been on the radar, and perhaps for good reason.

“The positive of the India example is a broader awareness that there’s challenges here we have to solve; I think that’s a silver lining to what I think is a negative in terms of legislating anything,” said Mike Dallas, senior vice president of human resources and global operations for Hewlett-Packard. “When things get legislated and mandated, you spend a lot of time on accounting and talking a good game, versus letting things happen organically, and we’ve had a much better experience when things are organic.”

Other panelists echoed Dallas’s sentiment, believing that mandatory CSR undermines the objective of socially responsible initiatives.

“It’s an opportunity for rash decisions, which concerns me,” said Margolis. “As an idealist, I think, ‘This is great, force these companies to give back,’ but practically I just wonder if this will end up being one of those check-the-box things, where at the end of the year if they realize they haven’t donated, maybe they don’t properly vet the charity, maybe it’s not a cause that’s even aligned with their business objectives.”

Instead, Margolis believes that the best way to encourage companies to engage in socially conscious business practices is to mandate transparency. Social responsibility, she believes, will follow.

“For example, the conflict minerals legislation here in the U.S. requires companies to report conflict minerals in their supply chain, which is a huge headache for companies, because it’s very difficult if there’s no chain of custody, but it’s mandated, so the companies are focusing on it,” she said. “When that happens, it forces your suppliers to think about it, which forces their suppliers to think about it, so in those situations, government intervention, especially around transparency and reporting, is very beneficial for making change happen.”

While the government has a role to play in getting large organizations to do their part, panelists agreed that there were better approaches than mandating financial contributions.

“I would take the John F. Kennedy, ‘We want to put a man on the moon in 10 years,’ approach,” said Dallas. “If it’s a greenhouse gas emission reduction, if it’s a number of people who have literacy, if it’s an amount of clean water, whatever it is, if the government took on an objective, and everyone partnered to accomplish that, however much you want to commit to it, there could be some universal benefit.”

The Meaning Behind “Sharpen Your Axe”

Many have asked about the Bigwin Group t-shirt with the “I’m not Sven” emblazoned on the front…well, this is its’ genesis:

Once upon a time, there were two lumberjacks, named Sven and Joe. Sven was a 35 year old, 6’3’ strapping Viking of a guy who had wash-board abs (not Photo Shopped), huge biceps and massive, tree trunk legs. Joe on the other hand was slight 5’6”, 58 year old, at the tail end of his lumberjacking career.

Every year, they competed in the local lumberjack contest seeing who could chop and cut logs in the shortest amount of time. As you might imagine, each year, Sven beat Joe hands down. However, strangely enough, during the rest of the year outside the competition, day in and day out, Joe’s production was always higher than Sven. Naturally, it drove Sven crazy!

So one day, Sven saw Joe at the bar and walked over to him and asked if he could buy him a drink. Joe graciously accepted.

“So Joe”, Sven started, “I don’t get it? I beat you every year at the competition, I am younger and obviously stronger than you, but your daily production for the rest of the year is ahead of mine. What’s your secret?” Sven pleaded.

Joe looked at Sven and a gentle smile formed on his weathered face. “Well Sven, I only chop wood for 50 minutes each hour.”

Sven’s brow furrowed and now he was really perplexed. “Wait a second Joe, I chop wood for 60 minutes each hour and you only chop for 50 minutes and yet your output always out strips mine, how is that possible?! What do you do with extra 10 minutes each hour?

Joe replied, “I Sharpen my axe.”

At the Bigwin Group, we love this parable. It reminds us that the best way to get results is not always to “work harder or more”, but rather to step back and take the time to think…to be creative. Taking time out to be strategic and sharpen our tools is the only way to drive the work to the next level and increase creativity, productivity, ideas, results or whatever other metrics make sense. We have institutionalized a daily “Sharpen Your Axe Session” and made it part of our web site and an integral part of the culture at Bigwin Group. Each and every day, we are striving to be more like Joe and keep Sharpening our Axe.

Interview with Simon Sinek: Leaders Eat Last

We at Bigwin Group are huge fans of Simon Sinek, his leadership philosophy and his work. Simon’s first book “Begin with Why” inspired some of Bigwin’s founding principles. In his most recent work “Leaders eat Last” he talks about transformative leadership, Hart discusses this topic in an interview with Simon on the C.A.T.A. website.


CEO Roundtable: Innovation & Discovery


What was the biggest shock of your innovation journey? – Gordon Pitts, The Globe and Mail

“A good business is only as good as the people that are in it. If we want to move forward we have to change our entire behavior platform.”
– John Hebden, Fusion Consulting

“The more change that happens the better you get at it.”
– Peter Aceto, Tangerine Bank

“I try to figure out how to keep people motivated by continuing to find ways to help people grow and challenge them.”
– Tony Lacavera, Globallive

“It involves a lot of story telling, that epic journey where you are going to change the world…people buy into that and it becomes emotional.”
– Michael Serbinis, Kobo

“I like the idea of having guiding principles. I would use this set of behaviours as a competitive platform.”
– Michael Serbini, Kobo

“It is challenging to get the commitment and time from the individuals who you need to make it happen.”
– Jonathan Goodman, Monitor Deloitte

“It’s easy to underestimate how hard it is.”
– Jonathan Goodman, Monitor Deloitte

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
– Jonathan Goodman, Monitor Deloitte

“Innovation is an evolution not a revolution.”
– Robert Boulet, Arrow ECS Canada

“Constantly, look for the change that will bring over time and transform the company.”
– Robert Boulet, Arrow ECS Canada

“The most important thing is understanding each of the stakeholders and what fundamentally motivates them.”
– Andreas Antoniou, El Caballito

“You don’t buy a Ferrari to drive it 200 miles per hour, you buy it to drive it 15 miles per hour.”
– Andreas Antoniou, El Caballito

“I am focused on writing down our mission statement, principles and goals and getting everyone to memorize and embody those things.”
– Andreas Antoniou, El Caballito

“When you make that connection they start thinking and feeling a different way. If the axe swings too far one way you kill entrepreneurism.”
– Larry O’Reilly, IMAX

“The biggest challenge is balancing.”
– Larry O’Reilly, IMAX

“The older generation does not like change, whereas the newer generation is more open to different options and new products. At the end of the day it is all about the trust and the way you treat the people.”
– Anna Galoni, Thordon Bearings Inc.

“Change is always different, but more do-able when there is a unified purpose everyone agrees on.”
– Hart Hillman, The Bigwin Group

“As Simon Sinek says, ‘Great leaders eat last’…people will follow leaders who wear their power lightly and put their teams interest ahead of them’.”
– Hart Hillman, The Bigwin Group