“Fast 5” with Dan Bienstock and Robin Bot-Miller, EOS
Welcome to the first installment of 2023! This recurring pulse relays “nuggets of business wisdom” from leaders around the world. This time we have the benefit of two great minds from EOS in NYC, a vertically integrated investment manager and hotel operating platform. EOS Investors manages capital using a highly selective investment approach with attractive risk-adjusted returns that focus on high-quality, differentiated hospitality assets across the United States. EOS Hospitality is a best-in-class operator of distinctive hotels that span from experience-driven, select service, to 5-star luxury properties.
In Photo: Dan Bienstock and Robin Bot-Miller
Dan is the CPO, and Robin serves as COO of EOS Investors. They regularly partner to “align and maximize EOS’ people practices and business practices.” We recently had a deep dive chat about the nuances and complexities of this simple-sounding goal, and below is my synopsis of their pithy and potent insights on the value of talent and culture in today’s competitive landscape. Enjoy!
1. Is there a core “transferable skill set” that nimble, forward-thinking companies need across all mission critical roles?
Indeed, there is—at least for entrepreneurial and growth-minded companies. These businesses ultimately need very talented “doers.” This might sound purely tactical, but at EOS it means hiring for people with (a) high emotional intelligence (EQ) to effectively partner with various types of people; (b) high curiosity and enthusiasm that drive being a lifetime learner; and (c) a large dose of humility. Many of our mission critical folks are responsible for designing teams or systems, but we’ve found the best ones are also willing to also do the work to support their team even if that means “putting away their own dishes” (apparently a personal pet peeve of Robin’s). These qualities are exceedingly valuable, as they reflect talent that is poised to “stretch” in response to business change or growth and they help build a culture focused on anticipating and solving problems vs. hiding them.
2. Explain the value or business case of a strong company culture in today’s market.
I’ll note Dan and Robin first objected to the time bound here and said there’s always high ROI on having a strong company culture (I couldn’t agree more!), before expanding on EOS’ view of why this is important in any environment. There are at least two reasons for even the most cynical capitalist to focus on building a clear culture. First, you want your culture to attract the best talent out there – this is how every business (EOS included) wins, full stop. In both the investment and hospitality businesses, we are only as good as the talent we attract.
Second, if you get your culture statement right, it can be a huge competitive edge – we would never advise a culture of “brilliant jerks,” but if you’re clear that’s what you’re hiring for, you will get the best folks who fit that profile. Here at EOS, in most roles, we focus on hiring the most talented and creative relationship-builders we can find. Although this might sound “soft,” it has paid huge dividends in unexpected areas – including our deal sourcing. Recently, one of our brilliant Vice Presidents of Investment was speaking to a neighboring property owner near one of our assets and she told him that she was only interested in selling to EOS, because she had watched how we treat our employees and because she has genuinely enjoyed getting to know him. That may directly lead to an investment opportunity others would not have had (including a culture of “brilliant jerks”).
Therefore, culture is really about the strategic issues of reputation, branding, and market positioning. Companies ignore culture development at their own peril.
3. What are the biggest hiring mistakes (strategic or logistical) that companies are making now?
Leaders and hiring managers should beware of five recurring pitfalls: (a) over-indexing on technical skills versus cultural fit (and vice versa!); (b) not using interview settings to “sell” the company or opportunity to candidates, being that the days of one-way due diligence are over; (c) failing to be direct with candidates regarding the possible derailers to their longer-term satisfaction or fit at a company; (d) not balancing “speed and accuracy” in hiring, as top talent does not wait and so reasonably defined role needs and candidate characteristics upfront is paramount; and (e) hiring for the past or present versus the (reasonably near) future — this is especially important for fast-growing companies, but every manager must at least consider how they will eventually need that department, individual or role to look and then select the talent best equipped for that future.
4. CPO or CHRO… what are the differences in these roles that organizations must understand and consider?
We are biased about this at EOS and perhaps no decision works for every company, but “Chief People Officer” (CPO) gets our vote for being more positively received and more accurate description. This title and role highlight a company’s strategic emphasis on building a culture of talent. It really comes down to a choice — would you rather invest primarily in people and culture or merely in process and procedures? “Chief Human Resources Officers” (CHRO) can surely help companies demanding attention to compliance or administrative issues, but in our view this role is often viewed as more negative, transactional, and tactical.
5. From a people and culture perspective, what’s the competitive advantage that organizations should strive for in 2023?
Regardless of the year or market cycle, EOS has found that our own competitive advantage comes from a very simple “secret ingredient” and that is “alignment” between words and actions throughout the organization. Both brand and behavioral integrity attracts and retains the right talent a company needs to succeed. People leave when they feel an organization does not mean what it says or does not follow-though on its stated promises to team members or to its clients and while we’re certainly not perfect, we are focused on this as a clear driver of excellence. For us, this meant clearly defining a company ethos based on characteristics employees recognized in each other, acting with transparency to explain the “whys” behind decisions or actions, and to recognize that all of us, but perhaps especially, the next generation of talent values “balance” in their lives and finding innovative ways to support that where we can.