January 2006 – Vol. III, Issue 1
Feature Article: Get the Right People on the Bus!
One of the principles illustrated in the book Good to Great by Jim Collins is that in order to excel in business, it’s critical to get the right people on the bus. In his words, the executives who took their companies from good results to consistently great results over fifteen years or longer told him this: “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great” (41). What Collins and his colleagues found in their research was a bit unexpected. We often expect that a charismatic leader will establish and then communicate a vision and strategy for the future of the company. However, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant” (Collins 42).
When searching for the right people, you really want to be looking for individuals who not only can do the job, but also who will truly excel and blossom where they’re placed. A bunch of individuals who make up an organization, each doing a mediocre to satisfactory job in their respective positions, will not lead that organization to greatness.
Whether or not an individual will excel and create great results in their position is in large part determined by the following:
Natural Talents and Job Performance
As individuals, we are drawn to the things that we enjoy and that we’re good at, and because we practice them, we get better at them. Those things give us satisfaction and fulfill us. According to Marcus Buckingham, co-author of Now, Discover Your Strengths and author of The One Thing You Need to Know: …About Great Managing, Great Leading and Sustained Individual Success, these strengths are the areas where we have the greatest potential for growth and improvement. We may never get good at our weaknesses. His description of a strength is something that strengthens us. We get stronger, more committed, more excited, more energized, as we spend time and energy there. A weakness is something that weakens us: it bores, frustrates, and drains us.
According to Buckingham, the best managers focus primarily on finding and utilizing each employee’s highest and best contribution. They spend about 80% of their time and conversations with their people on strengths and how to best develop them and use them, and only 20% on managing their weaknesses. Many companies will say their greatest asset is their people. But in reality, society believes that the secret to success lies in fixing your flaws, and companies tend to follow that thinking by focusing on maintaining employees’ strengths and improving their weaknesses – at about the opposite ratio: 20% focused on strengths, 80% focused on weaknesses. In 2001, Marcus Buckingham and the Gallup International Research & Education Center surveyed companies in the U.S., UK, France, Canada, China and Japan. Just look at these results (the U.S. is only slightly more strengths-focused than the rest of the world, and for simplicity’s sake I’ve focused on those numbers):