Do You Have The Right People On The Bus?

The ultimate goal of any company should be to get the right people into the organization and to find the right positions for them based on their skills.  

Columns From: 11/13/2008 Modern Machine Shop,

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Wayne Chaneski

Wayne Chaneski

I consider Jim Collins’ “Good To Great” as a must-read business book. One of the points that Mr. Collins makes that really resonates with me is to “get the right people on the bus.” For those who have not read this book, this quotation refers to getting the right people into the organization and finding the right positions for them based on their skills.

Sometimes, this requires hiring these “right people” without knowing initially where they will fit into the organization, but having the confidence that you will find the right place for them. It may even mean you change your organization’s structure, possibly even creating new positions for these people. The fundamental belief is that a successful business must address the “who” before the “what,” or as Mr. Collins writes, “First get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to drive the bus.”

We have all met people whom we would love to have in our organizations, but we just do not have an open position at that time. We are limited by preconceived notions about our organizational structure and, as a result, these people never take a seat on our bus. Organizations need to think differently when they find that right person. Perhaps there is an opportunity to change the structure of the organization to put that person’s talents to use. When evaluating your existing organization structure, ask yourself the following:

• When was the last time the current organization structure was challenged and forced to justify its continued existence?

• What benefits does the current organization structure bring, and would there be greater benefits if it changed?

• Is the current organization structure sufficiently customer focused?

• Does the current organization structure really allow for employee growth through exposure to all aspects of the business, or does it foster limited functional expertise?

If we don’t periodically ask these types of questions, then some of the right people may slip away and we continue with business as usual.

Of course, central to the idea of getting the right people on the bus is the need to get the wrong people off the bus. We may find ourselves accommodating a marginal employee’s ineffectiveness by reassigning work to others, or even putting off some important tasks. We need to ask ourselves if retaining the wrong person is actually doing a disservice to the company (and other employees). Likewise, consider whether the company is doing a disservice to the wrong person by allowing performance problems to go on without being properly addressed. Perhaps the wrong person in your organization could become the right person in a different environment, with different challenges. Consider the following questions in deciding whether you have a wrong person in your organization.

• Would I hire that person today? An answer of “no” or even “not sure” indicates there is a problem, and that person probably should not be on the bus.

• If that person said he or she was leaving, how would I feel? If the answer is “good” or “relieved,” then that is definitely the wrong person for your organization.

• Do I spend a lot of my time addressing problems with that person, and could that time be better spent working with other employees who can produce more? An answer in the affirmative is surely a call for action.

Organizations fortunate enough to have the right people on the bus do not have to worry about managing or motivating those people, as they are truly self-motivated. This means that managers don’t have to constantly find ways to motivate, and they can focus on other aspects of the business. The right people can even help manage the business if given the opportunity to do so. Quite simply, the right people are a pleasure to work with and will make significant contributions to the organization.

Of course, getting the right people on the bus is not always easy. The search may be long and time consuming. It may also require instituting temporary measures that may create short term inconveniences. Yet the benefits of having the right people will outweigh the costs. Good people create good companies, whereas we cannot say the opposite is always true. 

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