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The Right People on the Bus

The Right People on the Bus

September 27, 2017

It is often said that people are your greatest asset, but Jim Collins said it much better in his national bestseller Good to Great when he wrote, “People are not your most important asset.  The right people are.”[i] Collins used the analogy of the company being like a bus and spoke a lot about getting the right people on the bus (the company) and that once you get the right people on the right seats (the right positions) of the bus, you can drive the bus anywhere. The reality is we will often spend more time with our colleagues than with our family members, so getting the right people on the team is of paramount importance to building a successful company and one that people want to be a part of.


Increasingly over the past number of years I have realized that attitude is everything when it comes to getting and retaining the right people. There’s a common saying that we should hire for attitude and train for skill, and I believe this is more relevant than ever as the pace of change in business continues to move at an alarming rate. Employees who are positive, love life, and are engaged in the vision of the company will adapt quicker to change and are more willing to follow leaders who take them down new and uncharted territories. Of course, there are certain hard skills that are required for any job and some more so than others—I would most certainly fail if I was hired to be the head programmer of a software development company. However, a highly skilled and experienced member of your team with a negative attitude will be a cancer in your organization and will ultimately fail themselves. Someone who has less experience and fewer hard skills but a positive and infectious attitude will always outlast the more skilled employee and will be much more beneficial to the overall culture of your company.


Jack Welch outlines five qualities in his book Winning that we need to look for in people to create a winning team. These five qualities are: positive energy, the ability to energize others, the courage to make tough yes/no decisions, the ability to execute, and passion.


When you read through the above list it seems so simple, and yet so many of us hire people with only some or none of these qualities. Then, when we realize we’ve made a mistake, we lack the courage to move those people out of the organization for their own well-being and the good of the company. One of the first questions I ask my HR manager after an interview is, “did they have good energy”? Who doesn’t want someone on their team who comes into work each day with a smile on their face and the attitude that he/she can take on whatever comes their way?


Those who have energy are also infectious to those around them; if they are excited about life, both at home and at work, it will energize those around them to be the same way. You can see how a few of the right people with positive attitudes can have a huge impact—I’ve seen whole departments completely turn around by getting the right people in the right seats on the bus, and it’s one of the most rewarding things to witness as a leader.


One of the more difficult soft skills to hire for is what Jack Welch calls “edge.” We must find people that have the courage to make tough yes/no decisions. Anyone can analyze a situation from every angle, but great people have the ability to cut through the murkiness and make the call. Many difficult calls must be made with little information and will require that gut decision. As leaders, we need to encourage our team members to make decisions, knowing that sometimes they will make the wrong one. It is important that we impart to our team members that they won’t “get shot” for making the wrong decision as long as they learn and grow from it.


The next key quality is the ability to execute. We may be able to find someone who has the energy, excels at energizing others, and has the courage to make tough decisions, but if they cannot execute, nothing will get done. Successful teams are full of people who can see the end goal and map out a plan to reach the goal, no matter what comes their way. Having goal-driven people on your team is absolutely imperative to delivering results year after year. One of my favorite business books on the subject of execution is Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan—it is definitely a business book you want on your to-be-read list.


The last quality is the notion of passion. Successful teams are full of people who absolutely love their work. They enjoy coming to work each day and ultimately feel like they’ve never worked a day in their life. The right people aren’t just passionate about work, however; they are normally passionate about all of life. They have a vigor for life, whether that be in their hobbies, their family life, their churches, sports clubs, etc., and they live fulfilled, purposeful lives.


If you find people with these qualities, do everything you can to retain them, take care of them, grow them, and reward them for successes; by doing so, you will create a team with A players who will be a pleasure to work with and will consistently deliver results for your company. I’d like to leave you with this closing quote from Jim Collins in his book Good to Great:


For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. But if we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect – people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us – then we will almost certainly have a great life, no matter where the bus goes. The people [we] interviewed from the good-to-great companies clearly loved what they did, largely because they loved who they did it with.[ii]


Wilf Blog Signature


[i] Jim Collins, Good to Great (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 13.

[ii] Collins, Good to Great, 62.


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