Life. Business. Ministry. None of these are stagnant. They are always moving.
Your organization right now is moving in one of two directions: it is either climbing toward the mountain top, or sliding down the cliff. You are either taking new ground, or you are losing ground. And no matter how grand your vision, the reality is that the people you employ decide the direction. I work with CEOs who understand this reality and want to stack the deck in their favor with every people decision they make.
Jim Collins says it best in his book Good to Great. He writes, “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.”
The Right People on the Bus
Whenever I meet with a CEO for the first time I ask two questions. First, “What are your two-year goals for the company?” If they are serious about taking new ground I ask the second question. “Do you have the people in place to get you there?” I have yet to hear one CEO answer “yes” to the second question.
They know they need to get more of the right people on the bus. But they’ve got scars from poor people decisions in the past. Far too often they took a chance on someone, poured into them, and empowered them only to discover after all that investment that the new employee was a total bust. The cost of that mistake can cripple a company.
When I train new clients I tell them to take 10 minutes to calculate the full cost to the company of one mid-level bad hire. When they factor in opportunity loss, time loss, momentum loss, customer loss, reputation damage, in addition to all the other costs of turnover, the answers are staggering. It is not uncommon for leaders to give me an answer measured in millions, not thousands, of dollars.
If your organization is going to take new ground you have to be strategic about getting the right people on the bus. I have found Christian leaders tend to believe the best about people and become overly optimistic in hiring. After all, aren’t all things possible with God? So they hire people who don’t possess the talent needed, believing they can coach them into success. Listen, I’m a 55-year-old, 5’10” white guy who can’t jump. I don’t care how much I train and pray I am not getting drafted by an NBA team, ever. I have hired sales people who seem to equate inputting data into the CRM system with landing the space shuttle. If you hire them into positions that require high attention to detail they will fail. I don’t care how much you train them.
Conversely, every leader I work with has a story about one or two game changers they added to their team who completely changed the trajectory of the organization. They know if they could just find a few more of those game changers their bottom line would look completely different. Do you have a clear strategy for hunting, spotting, and acquiring those game changers? If not, you have a wish list and not a recruiting strategy.
The Wrong People off the Bus
To every Christian leader who believes it is somehow unbiblical to fire someone, be released now of that guilt. Paul fired Mark. Jesus literally made a whip and drove some people out of the temple, or “off the bus.” There may be a spot for everyone in the workplace, but that does not mean there is a spot for them on your bus. The longer you keep the wrong people on the bus, the more you hurt everyone else on the bus, including the wrong people.
I once brought a leader from my previous organization with me to the new organization I was working in. He was a trusted friend, a good man, a brother in the Lord, and a solid worker. He was the right man for the position. But over a few years the organization quadrupled in size, and it became apparent to everyone my friend was struggling to keep up. He simply didn’t have the vision or leadership capacity for where the organization had grown to. I held onto him for another year. That year was miserable for everyone, including my friend. He knew he was over his head, but he didn’t know what to do about it. Letting him go was one of my most difficult leadership decisions. It was also one of my best. We hired the right person for the position and that department took off. And my old friend is now flourishing in another organization.
Your organization has limited resources. Every wrong person on the bus is consuming valuable resources that can no longer be deployed in taking new ground. If you’re a leader you know who those people are in your organization. What is keeping you from setting them free to go pursue a seat on someone else’s bus? How much is your delay in firing hurting the rest of the organization? If you don’t know the answer, I suggest you take a few minutes to calculate the cost.
The Right People in the Right Seats
Tom Brady is a great quarterback. Gronk is a great tight end. If you switched their positions they would both fail miserably. It’s not enough to have the right talent on the bus. If you don’t leverage that talent correctly, they’re getting off at the next stop.
As Christians we should be the first to embrace this truth because it is exactly how God built the church. He gave different gifts and talents to different people, exactly how He saw fit. We don’t all have the same gifts and talents. The foot and the eye are not interchangeable. Each member of the body best contributes to the whole as they use their unique gifts and talents. In fact, the Bible says each one of us is a masterpiece of God’s workmanship, designed to do the good works He prepared for us. In other words, we have a God-given shape that makes us particularly good for a certain seat on the bus. Christian leaders, when we put employees in the wrong seat on the bus it not only hurts the organization, it dishonors their God-given design.
I have never analyzed a company and concluded every employee is on the right seat on the bus. There is always at least one Tom Brady playing tight end. To take new ground, every people decision needs to be strategic, and every employee needs to be in the right seat on the bus. Christian leaders, we honor people as we respect their God-given design. I know it’s hard to reorganize. Some people are comfortable in the wrong seat. They’re afraid of moving. You may have to escort them to another seat.
One of my clients is a manufacturing company with four branches in Texas. Their Austin branch had not been profitable in a decade. Within one hour of analyzing their team it was apparent they had two guys in the wrong seats on the bus. The GM was a defense-minded ops guy who had no idea how to grow a business. Two levels down in the organization they had a young man designed to be a growth-oriented leader. We recommended they switch seats on the bus. They did. Within one year that branch became profitable. That’s the power of putting the right people in the right seats on the bus.
Where to Go from Here
If you want to continue to drive your organization forward I suggest these steps to take.
First, commit to making all future people decisions as strategic and informed as possible. Unless you are a sole proprietor, you are in the middle of people decisions right now. Those are the most important decisions you are making for your organization.
Second, create a specific “go forward” plan. Every employee needs to be assessed to see if they are the right person in the right seat. Organizational talent gaps need to be identified. Organizational structure needs to be critically examined to see if you are properly leveraging the talent you have. A specific people plan needs to be created that gets the bus running at optimal efficiency.
Third, work the plan. People decisions are fluid. It’s not one and done. Turnover happens. Changes occur. The people needs of your business adjust from year to year. You need to continually be working a strategic people plan that stacks the deck in your favor with every future people decision you make.
Finally, get help. Every leader should have a trusted advisor for people decisions. You are an expert at running your business. Find a trusted advisor who is an expert at getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. I am one of those people. If you need help, I am here to serve you.