It’s not about getting the right people on the bus

1024 576 David DeWolf

If you’ve read Good to Great, or talked to anyone who has, you probably remember that Jim Collins’ research and analysis showed that great companies know how to get the right people on the bus. What many people fail to remember is that great companies also get the wrong people off the bus and the people on the bus into the right seats.

I’ve learned the hard way that getting the right people on the bus is not necessarily the hard part. Getting the wrong people off the bus and the people in the right seats is a lot harder than it seems. Early on in a company’s history, it may be possible to ignore this part of the equation. If you’re filling the bus with the right people in an immature company, there’s likely no baggage and people are jumping from seat to seat. As you mature, it becomes more and more important to look in the rearview mirror and see how things are settling out.

Here are a few principles I’ve learned about rearranging your bus.

  • Just because someone was the right fit at the last stop doesn’t mean they are the right fit for the next step stop. Companies outgrow employees. Employees outgrow companies. It happens. Get over it.
  • Measure production versus aggravation. You can, and many times will need to, live with more aggravation from your highest performers, but it takes a huge amount of production to exceed issues that nag and distract the company. Don’t let the production vs. aggravation equation get out of balance – even for your top performers.
  • Make deliberate decisions. If you suspect that someone is no longer a fit, work to finalize a decision in a deliberate manner. Do not make knee-jerk reactions and do not let an issue linger. Be deliberate, decisive, and move on.
  • If you have any compassion at all, it will be insanely painful to ask someone to leave the bus, but, it will inevitably be better for both the organization and the individual. Individuals who are not aligned for success deserve an opportunity to find a fit. They will perform better, have a higher degree of job satisfaction, and are more likely to excel. Do both of you a favor and have the hard conversation.
  • Asking someone to change seats can be tricky. Before you do it, make sure that you’re not taking the easy road because you don’t want to have to ask them to get off. Do not ask someone to get out of a seat without assigning them which one to sit in. Develop a plan, define clear success criteria, and persevere. Ambiguity when moving seats is a disaster. The more time the employee is walking in the aisle, the higher the probability that you’ll need to swerve, they will fall over and someone will get hurt. It’s all fun and games until somebody pokes an eye.
  • If the seats don’t seem to add up, you may need to reupholster. Reorganization, especially against strategy shifts, can be very beneficial. If you’re struggling, take a step back and make sure your structure supports your strategy. You won’t have the right people in the right seats if you don’t have the right seats installed on the bus. Sometimes people need to leave the bus when their seat is removed.
Hiring is critical, but aligning employees for success is even more important.  What techniques have you seen managers use to align employees for success and ensure that the right people are on the bus? Do you have any thoughts about when and how to coach people on how to sit in seats they don’t currently belong in?