In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins creates a clear metaphor by comparing a business to a bus with the business leader as the bus driver. He emphasizes that it is crucial to continuously ask “First Who, Then What?”.
“You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.” Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision. In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”
Although it is important as your company grows to have a vision for your business and an idea of what the midterm destination looks like, having the right sort of people to help you get there is just as vital – especially in these current times where attracting the right people is becoming harder. To help you stay focused on the concept and implement the “First Who, Then What” strategy, Collins has developed a process that anyone can follow. Here is a summary of his steps:
1) Get the right people on the bus.
Leaders must be rigorous in their selection process when looking for new people to get on the bus. You may remember in the first article in this series, I listed “Hire Better” as the first area to work on. Invest substantial time in evaluating each candidate and make systematic use of at least three evaluation devices (e.g., interviews, references, background, testing, etc.).
If in doubt, do not bring the person causing that doubt on the bus. Let a seat go unfilled—taking on extra work as needed—until you have found the right person. Ensure your company does an exceptional job of retaining the right people on the bus to perpetuate your good hiring decisions for a very long time. It goes without saying that this can give you a significant advantage over rival organisations.
2) Get the right people, in the right seats.
Make it your priority that 100% of the key seats on the bus are filled with the right people. This doesn’t mean 100% of ALL seats have the right people, but 100% of the KEY seats. If you think there might be a “wrong who,” first give this person the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he or she may be in the wrong seat. Whenever possible, give a person the chance to prove himself or herself in a different seat, before drawing the conclusion that he or she isn’t the right person for the bus. In most independent building companies, that key seat is likely to be the foreman role – the position responsible for driving efficiency on-site and minimising errors.
3) Let the wrong people off the bus.
Once you know you need to make a personnel change, be rigorous in the decision, but not ruthless in the implementation. Instead, help people exit with dignity and grace so that, later, the vast majority of people who have left your bus have positive feelings about your organization. Autopsy your hiring mistakes, applying the lessons systematically when making future hiring decisions.
4) Put “who” before “what”.
When confronted with any problem or opportunity, shift the decision from a “what” question (“what should we do?”) into a “who” decision (“who would be the right person to take responsibility for this?”). Spend a significant portion of time on people decisions: get the right people on the bus, get the right people in the right seats, let the wrong people off the bus, develop people into bigger seats/roles, plan for succession, etc. Develop a disciplined, systematic process for getting the right people on the bus. Your goal should be that with each passing year, the percentage of people decisions that turn out good, versus bad, continues to rise.
In summary, once you fill your bus with the right people in the right seats, it becomes less a question of where you’re headed — and instead, how far you can go!
The Trades Coach
Phone: 09-912 1901 or 027 6886721