Getting the right people on the bus: The guide to make it happen

You’ve heard the saying before. “You need the right people in the right spots on the bus.” Jim Collins made it famous in Good to Great. But imagine your company really is a bus. You can’t drive down the road and stop at convenient, planned stops. You can’t get all the right people on the bus in a couple stops. You can’t get all the wrong people off the bus at the same time. You don’t even know the exact number of seats you need.

Getting the right people in the right spots on the bus is easier said than done.

In hiring and promoting people, we get it right about a third of the time. A third of the time it’s just OK. A third of the time it’s terrible. There’s no other area in business where we would tolerate only hitting the target a third of the time. However, no one argues, “It takes the right person to get the job done.”

To get the right people in the right spots, you need to break it down. It takes the right people AND the right spots.

RIGHT PEOPLE ON THE BUS

There’s two ways to think about right people. The advice is simple, but the application is hard.

Getting the right people on the bus.

Here’s how to measure if you have the right people.

If you have the right people, they need the right skill and attitude.

On the horizontal axis is skill. On the vertical axis is attitude.

HIGH Skill and HIGH Attitude: Lots of experience. Proven ability to perform at a high, high level. They’ve got a great attitude. People in the company love them. Customers love them. For these people, it’s onward and upward.

LOW Skill and LOW Attitude: These people don’t have the skill. They don’t have the ability. Or maybe they were able dress up their resume. Or they know how to interview well. They also don’t have a great attitude. They feel entitled. They aren’t fun to be around. These people have got to go.

LOW Skill and HIGH Attitude: This one is more difficult. They don’t have the skill. But they have an incredible attitude. People love to be around them. They are always looking to improve the company, but struggle executing.

These people deserve a second chance. You need clarity about their gifts and talents to see how they fit. The goal is to get them back up in the high skill and high attitude quadrant.

Sometimes this person can’t rise to the occasion. Hopefully, you poured into your employees and developed trust. If so, you can help them see that an opportunity outside the organization will be better for them.

HIGH Skill and LOW Attitude: A top performer in their area of responsibility. Maybe they’re excellent at sales. Maybe they have incredible insight about developing product. They’re able to see around corners. They understand the hearts and minds of customers and clients.

However, they might think, “If it’s going to get done right, it’s going to be up to me. My way is the best way.” Or they’re always difficult. They’re not great listeners. They can take down an organization. They know it and they misbehave.

This is tough. This is where leadership is lonely. You have to make the tough call on “Brilliant Jerks.” You have to show the Jerks exactly how to improve their attitude. You need to give clarity and a timeframe that you expect the change.

It’s hard to have these conversations. It is especially tough if you haven’t spent time building the relationship. You need to build bridges that can handle the weight of the truth.

Brilliant Jerks need to go. I’ve seen them take down entire organizations. I’ve seen publicly traded companies with executive-level brilliant jerks. The board replaced the entire executive team. This person was providing incredible skill, but their attitude was hurting the team.

I’ve seen the opposite, too. I’ve seen when Brilliant Jerks leave and the company takes off. Other employees step up. The dynamic of a Brilliant Jerk can compress the rest of the organization.


A QUICK EXERCISE
Think about your key people. Go through the key people on your team. Ask yourself, “If I knew what I know today and this person walked through the door, would I hire them? Yes or no?”

This question is a forcing function to create objectivity. It helps you think clearly. If the answer is no, you know what you need to do. If the answer is “I don’t know,” write down the date and check back after six months. At this point, you need to answer yes or no.


This information is also in: how to write a performance review.

A lot of people talk about the right people. Not many dive deep into the right spots. Right spots is all about organizational structure. It’s not sexy. Organizational structures are often an afterthought. Or a snapshot of what it looks like today.

RIGHT SPOTS ON THE BUS

We get focused on right people and we assume they will fall in the right spots. It’s counterintuitive. If you aren’t clear about the structure, it’s impossible to have the right people in the right spots.

We undervalue the importance of designing and developing org structures. Don’t focus on the structure for today. What are the next 1, 2 or 3 org structures needed to grow?

Everyone says they have an org structure. They can usually print it out and give it to me. However, when I roll the game film, the behavior is different. This is what the organizational structure really looks like:

to get the right people in the right spots - you need the right spots

A lot of people are focused on the right people – but few focus on how to get the right spots.

We call this a rake organization because it performs like a rake. In a rake organization, the leader is either technically oriented or really good at sales. They have an incredible technical ability or can sell, sell, sell.

The leader is typically not great at being an effective manager. Managers are people that get results through people. Managers are the conduit. They select people with development potential. They put in systems and processes. They understand the technical requirements of executing on the vision and the strategy.

What happens to the leader in a rake organization?

This structure forces the leader to become a manager. It makes them play to their weaknesses. Often, this happens in the fastest point of growth. The tell-tell sign is when I hear, “Kirk, I feel like I’m working in the business, I no longer have time to work on the business.”

To try and solve the problem, they plug somebody else right below them.

how to make sure the right people in the right spots won't work

The idea is that this new person will start running the organization. This causes even more confusion. Employees aren’t quite sure what this person’s responsibility is. This unintentionally moves the rake somewhere else in the organization.

To get the right spots, you need the right org structure. There’s not one size fits all. But you need to define the structure. Once you define the structure, you need to get absolute role clarity. (Read how to get absolute role clarity here.)

Ask questions like: What are the musts of this position versus the wants? If this person is wildly successful one year from now, what does that look like? What about 90 days from now, what will they have accomplished? The key is to define roles without a person in mind. Once you’ve designed the org structure, don’t be tempted to put names in the boxes. Design the structure for what it needs to be, not the people in the current roles.

This is hard. I do this all the time with clients. People want to sneak someone’s name in the boxes. Then they start defining the role to fit the person. If you do that, you’re not going to end up with the right person in the right role.

You need to get clarity about what you need. Only then, should you start thinking about the right person.

If you look at your job descriptions today, are they out of date? Are they up to date for your next level of growth? If they’re not up to date, it’s going to be hard to get the right people into the right spots.

You’ve got to get the right people. You have to think about that matrix. Skill versus will. If they walk into the door today, would I hire them?

Then the other part is the right spots. What does that look like? Do you understand how to design your organizational structure for now as well as the next few steps? Do you have absolute role clarity so when it comes time to fill in those boxes, you are clear about what you need?

Getting the right people in the right spots is a lot more difficult than it sounds. However, if you follow the steps above, you can get the right people, in the right spots doing the right thing.

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