Stop The Vanilla Blog

The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship


“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”   That famous line by Humphrey Bogart from the move Casablanca can be how every new relationship starts for you using four simple words. Whether you’re interviewing a job candidate, meeting your new neighbor or getting to know a customer, asking someone to “Tell Me Your Story” accelerates the building of your relationship with that person. It’s like going from zero to sixty in a new relationship.

Now when I ask the person to tell me their story the most common response is ‘where should I start’?  My response is to have them start by telling me where they were born and we are off and running. Hearing someone’s story can be a moving experience.   Recently, I was getting to know a very talented team member of a client organization and she told me her story.   The day she was born in China her father immigrated to the United States. A year later her mom joined her father in the United States and she was raised by her grandparents for the next five years.   At the age of 6 she flew to the United States to meet her waiting parents at the airport.   I was moved by the story as I imagined this little girl leaving her grandparents who was all she knew, and taking a long flight to meet her parents in a new world for essentially the first time. Just think about that.

After hearing her story I felt like I have known her for years.   The number one benefit of hearing someone’s story is that you are able to build a deeper and more effective relationship in a much shorter period of time. Understanding how the challenges and accomplishments in their life have shaped them helps you get to know that person to their core.   You will almost always find something that you have in common during the course of their story. You also better understand their perspective and are able to provide them more grace on their journey.    Understanding their journey may also provide you the information to help them build on that story. That could mean just listening or sharing what you have learned from your experiences.

Now, remember that telling your story should go both ways. Once the person is done telling you their story, you should be prepared to tell your own. I actually have a story in my head that takes me about two minutes to tell. I may add and delete certain parts of the story based on the situation but for the most part the key moments of my story remain the same. Your story should include your path to this point but it should also include your thoughts on your future.

I hear 10 to 15 personal stories a week and I am amazed at the journey of many of them to this point and how blessed I am to be able to get to know them.   What I have learned about myself and my life as I hear these stories creates unbelievable growth in my own story.   It is a simple but powerful approach to build deeper and more effective relationships in all areas of your life.

So next time you meet a new person take the first step in beginning a beautiful relationship by asking them to “Tell Me Your Story.”   Those Who Plan – PROFIT!


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You Can’t Hire It If You First Don’t See It!


I recently met with a business leader that I have known for 15 years and typically when I see him he has incredible energy and passion for his business.  But this time it was different. He looked tired and down.  I asked him how he was doing and he said that he was burned out and wasn’t fired up about his business anymore. He went on to explain there was one core issue that was causing all this frustration and it was dealing with people issues.  If you have managed people at any point in your career you probably have had those days yourself.

You can minimize your people challenges by creating a talent plan that is tied to your vision. Often companies will hire one position at a time.  They hire one employee here, and another person there. With a simple two or three year vision for your company, you can develop a talent plan that defines exactly what skill sets you need and the order in which you should hire them.  Here is how you minimize people issues and make talent a competitive advantage for your organization:

  • With your planning team, define a selected point in time that you want the vision defined for your organization and/or department. For example, it could be 12/31/2018 (three years).
  • The vision statement should include subjective and financial components (vision template at
  • Subjective components include how you want your culture described; what products/services you are going to offer to what target markets in what geographic areas by 12/31/18.
  • The financial components include some items such as total sales, gross margin % and gross margin % by target markets by 12/31/18. The total sales of the organization impacts the number of team members you may need.
  • Once you determine your vision, have your team define the functional organizational structure that needs to be in place by 12/31/18. Use just functions to build the structure and consider no names or current people in the organization. Finalize the organizational structure that needs to be in place by 12/31/18 to achieve your vision. Remember that each function does equal a person. In smaller companies, one person could have their name in more than one function.

Once the structure is completed, you can now determine who has the skill sets and experience for each function in the structure. Once you complete filling out the structure with current talent you likely have talent decisions to make. Having completed this process hundreds of times, there are always functions that are unfilled and people that do not exactly fit into functions. Your talent plan gets started where you see these unfilled functions. You can now clearly define the functions and necessary skill sets that are needed and prioritize them. Simply stated, you now have your talent plan for the next three years to achieve your vision.

Next, you can put development plans in place for all individuals, based on what is needed to fulfill their functions and achieve the vision.

The benefits to having a talent plan to achieve your vision are numerous.

  • You have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This minimizes the frustration and wasted time of constantly dealing with people issues.
  • You know what position to fill next as your financial performance allows for it.
  • If a position opens up for any reason, you already have a plan in place to fill it.
  • Skill set voids are highlighted, leading to action plans to fill those voids.
  • With a development plan in place for each employee, you increase the collective talent of your organization and as a result making it a competitive advantage.

Imagine having a three year talent plan for your company or department. A talent plan gives you the vision to proactively optimize and develop the talent in your organization.   It will reenergize you about your business or department.   It sets each team member up for success and helps you make the right hire each and every time.   You can’t hire it if you first can’t see it.   Remember: Those who plan, profit!

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