Obtaining Organizational And People Capability

How to get the “right people in the right seats on the bus”

How many times have you heard, or even said, “People are our most important asset” Well, that is not quite correct. The RIGHT people are your most important asset. Good to Great author Jim Collins strongly feels that a company must get the right people on the bus (your organization) and the wrong people off the bus. In fact, he makes it clear that the “who” i.e., the right people in the right positions, comes before the “what” the strategies for successfully becoming a great company. In other words, it is imperative to achieve people capability before any significant, long-term organizational accomplishment can occur. The key question is: How does a company get the right people in the right seats?

Each company faces four different scenarios, usually in some combination:

  • The right people are in the right positions.
  • People are close to being right but require development.
  • The right people are in the wrong positions.
  • You have the wrong people.

The best way to have the right people is to be diligent during the recruiting and hiring process. First, it is important to have the key requirements clear in mind. Interestingly, for leadership positions, particular technical skills are usually far less important than innate capabilities and character. Individuals can learn job-specific knowledge, but leadership skills are difficult to acquire, especially later in life. Depending on the desired company culture and vision, typical core qualities include integrity, passion for excellence, teamwork, determination to succeed and the ability to motivate company associates to achieve results. Using position assessment tools, a good interview process, independent personality profiling and rigorous reference checking will substantially improve the chances of getting the right person. Collins makes the compelling point that patience is critical. Find interim ways to keep things afloat rather than hire the wrong person.

Creating “Win-Win”
Consider the situation where the problem is with an existing employee. The individual is just not performing well and has not for some time. Before you hastily dismiss the individual, ask yourself two questions: With some coaching and support, could this person be a real asset in this position? If not, could he or she be a strong contributor in another position? The powerful concept of “situational leadership” authored by Ken Blanchard, often can help associates who are struggling to achieve a high level of performance. If the appropriate style of leadership is used in various work situations, marginally performing associates often can be helped to be “the right people” in their current jobs, assuming that they possess the basic aptitude. Quite often, however, the person just isn’t right for the job but is a good fit for another position. A common situation is where a salesperson, service technician or installer was promoted to be a supervisor or department manager as a reward for doing a good job. However, the required competencies for a supervisor or manager are usually quite different than for sales, technical or production positions. In the new position, the individual may perform poorly, despite considerable developmental and coaching efforts. When this happens, the important thing is to act and to act quickly. Otherwise, this type of situation can drag on for years and cause significant morale and financial damage. Companies that go from good to great don’t shy away from moving people to the right seat. The company will be more successful, you will be happier and, in the long run, so will the associate!

Wrong Person, No Seat

In the case where there is no right seat on the bus, action must be taken. There may be a reluctance to admit a mistake was made or the fear of potential unpleasantness if action is taken. However, failure to act drains management’s energy, frustrates other associates in the company and steals valuable alternate career-building time from the poor performer. How do you know that the person is on the wrong bus? Here are some checklist items to consider:

  • Would I hire this individual again, knowing what I know now?
  • Do I find myself giving this associate one “chance” after another?
  • Would the organization breathe a collective sigh of relief if this associate left or was let go?
  • Do I invest excessive time and energy dealing with this associate or the side effects?
  • Are little systems built around this associate to compensate for shortcomings?
  • Is it necessary to add people or restructure the organization to get the job done with this particular associate?
Really, just one checkmark should require a serious reassessment. If there are multiple checkmarks, the person is probably on the wrong bus, especially if other seats have been tried without success


Performance Excellence Through People

Once a company has most of the right people in the right seats, there are ways to maximize the performance of the workforce. There are many competing theories and considerable disagreement on what works and what does not. Your model may include:

  • Key performance indicators

  • Rewards and recognition

  • Effective and consistent performance appraisals

  • Clear expectations, regular coaching and ongoing feedback

  • The desire to use discretionary or extra effort. This involves leadership’s understanding and application of motivational theory and practices.

Remember, the right people in the right seats are a company’s most important assets. To achieve this, get the right people on the bus through good recruiting and hiring processes, move people to the right seat when appropriate, use situational leadership to develop associates with good potential, get the wrong people off the bus and utilize the PEP Model to enhance people’s performance.


Gases and Welding Distributors Association
109a_nadergary Meet the Author
Gary Nader is principal consultant at Total Quality Associates, located in Wilbraham, Massachusetts.