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Filling the Bus For Your Good to Great Odyssey

Tom Lemanski

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It has been said that business leaders evolve into one of three categories: Inspired - Complacent - Desperate

In 2001, author Jim Collins provided the inspired with a business bible for pursuing greatness, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't. Those attempting to implement the Good to Great (G2G) concepts have experienced mixed results. Too often, these well intentioned initiatives fall to flavor of the month status and fade away. This is particularly true with do-it-yourself efforts.

As I find organizations who have struggled with implementing the Good to Great principals, a frequent stumbling block is the book's concept of first who, then what. Or, first get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive it.

"First who, then what" defined:

Before crafting your vision for greatness and determining your strategic direction, you should first recruit a great management team.

Why do Good to Great wannabes struggle with this principal?

  • This advise seems counter intuitive in our era of specialization. Why not match the people to the tasks at hand?
  • *The prospect of getting the wrong people off the bus is potentially painful and frequently procrastinated. When you're dealing with previously loyal people, it can be inconceivable for some to courageously say “I don't know where we're going, but you're not coming with. " But that's what these rare, level five leaders are able to do.

Regardless of your struggle with this Good To Great principal, there are nuggets worth exploring before throwing your inspired dreams for greatness out with the bathwater.

The eleven Good to Great companies challenged and modified the old adage that “People are our most important asset" to “The RIGHT people are our most important asset. " If we can accept this, two questions remain?

1. Why are the right people more important than the vision?

If people are boarding the bus based on its destination, changing that direction becomes more difficult. Conversely, if those on board are there because of their belief in those already there, inevitable change is easier achieved. “Great vision without great people is irrelevant. "

2. In absence of knowing your destination and the tactics , how do we identify the right people?

There are fundamental leadership attributes that are universal and can be identified and discovered in your hiring process and verified through assessments. Cultural match is another criteria. So while your vision may not be in place, you must define and prioritize your core values to properly define the right people for the seats on your bus.

Is “First Who, Then What" Non-negotiable?

Perhaps the first who, then what philosophy is not for everyone pursuing greatness. Just because Jim Collins discovered this with eleven great publicly traded companies, doesn't make it the prescribed path for your scenarios. Sometimes your passengers are predetermined. Then, the key is to discover and develop their capacities for greatness and get them in the right seats. The right seat, for some, may be at the back of the bus. That decision, effectively communicated, can serve to get them off voluntarily. In our process for benchmarking executive jobs for optimal fit, we work to first understand the key accountabilities then define the attributes needed to achieve. We then assess qualified internal and external candidates to the benchmark. If you have yet to craft your vision and supporting goals, assessing fit is more challenging as specific, predefined goals and strategies that would typically define a position's accountabilities are unknown. That said, we can still identify people with high performance potential. Considering the assessment tools and processes that we have, knowledge of the goals and accountabilities of a position in advance will support a more informed hiring decision.

Reconciling Your Good To Great, Chicken and Egg Debate

So this generates some new questions. Is it desirable to forego understanding accountabilities and goals for a position and simply pursue talent? If you are not a publicly traded company (as the G2G ones are) is it more or less difficult to clean house?

Which ever comes first in your pursuit of greatness: vision or people, there are two G2G concepts that you must embrace:

*"Great vision without great people is irrelevant. "

*"The RIGHT people are our most important asset. "

My advise for Good To Great wannabes is not to allow this chicken and egg debate to prevent you from building an uncompromising mindset and discipline for getting the right people on your bus and the wrong people off.

For those who are both inspired and open to new approaches for filling the seats on your bus more effectively, I'd be honored share my insight.

Tom Lemanski is the President and founder of Vista Development, a boutique strategic development firm serving metro Chicago, IL. Tom has served as business catalyst and executive coach in over thirty different product and service industries. Tom can be reached through any of the sites below or by phone: 847-726-7707


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