Good to Great #3 First Who, Then What

Posted: April 25, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Jim Collins does a great job of detailing the importance of this foundational organizational principle, First Who, Then What. He details the importance of having the right people on the bus and in the right seats on the bus. This principle seems so simple and straight forward when you encounter it on the pages of his book, but it is remarkable how few organizations seek to execute their businesses with this in mind.

While this concept is simple and easy to understand on the surface, executing it in your organization will not be easy. Making this concept become a reality in your organization takes hard work and discipline. Most organizations are full of people who either don’t belong in their current position or in the organization altogether. Changing this situation is often challenging difficult work with many unpleasant conversations along the way to correcting the issues that have been created over time by an undisciplined approach.

If you begin with “who” first rather than “what” you can more easily adapt to a changing world

  • If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate them largely goes away.
  • If you have the wrong people it doesn’t matter if you discover the right direction, you still won’t have a great company.
  • Great vision without great people is irrelevant.

It’s who you pay, not how you pay them.

  • No systematic pattern was found linking executive compensation to the process of going from good to great.
  • If you have the right executives on the bus, they will do everything in their power to build a great company, not because of what they will “get” for it, but because they simply cannot imagine settling for anything else.
  • Compensation should not be for getting the right behaviors from the wrong people, but to get the right people on the bus in the first place, and to keep them there.
  • Strategy should not aim to turn lazy people into hard workers, but to create the environment where hard workers can thrive, and lazy people would either jump or get thrown right off the bus.

People are not your most important asset-the right people are!

Be rigorous, not ruthless!

  • To be rigorous means consistently applying exacting standards at all times and at all levels, especially in upper management.
  • To be rigorous, not ruthless, means the best people need not worry about their positions and can concentrate fully on their work.
  • The only way to deliver to the people who are achieving is not to burden them with the people who are not achieving.
  • Comparison companies frequently followed the ‘genius with a thousand helpers’ model, which fails after they leave.

How to be rigorous

Practical discipline #1: when in doubt, don’t hire – keep looking! It is important to recognize that growth in great companies is based on the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.

Practical discipline #2: when you need to make a people change, ACT! The moment you feel you need to tightly manage someone,  you’ve made a hiring mistake.

  • Letting the wrong people hang around is unfair to all the right people.
  • Waiting too long before acting is unfair to the people who need to get off the bus – you are stealing time the could be spent finding a place where they could flourish.
  • Good to great companies did not churn more, they churned better.
  • Invest substantial effort in determining whether you have someone in the wrong seat before concluding you have the wrong person on the bus entirely.

Practical discipline #3: Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.

  • Choose executives that will argue and debate in pursuit of the best answers, yet who will unify fully behind a decision regardless of the parochial interest.
  • Whether someone is the right person has more to do with character traits and innate capabilities rather than with specific knowledge, background or skills.
  1. Do you have the right people on the bus and in the right seats?
  2. If not, what steps will you take to correct the situation?
  1. Alex Dail says:

    Your post gives more weight to my belief, which would make an interesting study sometime, that micromanagers are really poor at hiring.

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