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Getting People Right

Warren Buffett said, “We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don't have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you're going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”


Essentially Buffet is saying something we have likely learned to our sorrow: Intelligence and initiative are important, but integrity is what matters most. Integrity is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” This definition helps but doesn’t hit what Buffet is saying. He is saying that he wants employees he can trust to get things done.


You know how people frequently say, “There are two kinds of people in the world…” and then they add their experience? From my experience of several decades leading organizations I will say, “There are two kinds of people in the world: There are people who know how to show up on time, meet deadlines, and complete the tasks they say they'll complete, and then there are people who know how to make excuses and avoid taking responsibility.” That’s saying that some have the integrity for the job and some do not. The ones with integrity are the ones you want.


“The right people in the right seats on the bus.” This is the metaphor from Jim Collins’ best-seller Good to Great. In that 2001 book, Collins identifies what leaders need to do to see their teams and organizations excel. He says leaders who are able to transform their organizations begin not by setting a direction, but by getting the right people on the bus – and the wrong people off the bus. He says great leaders understand three simple truths:

  • If you begin with “who,” 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 and manage people largely goes away because they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and be part of creating something great.

  • If you have the wrong people it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company.

Assembling your team is the first crucial point. Then comes vision. The leader must develop a vision, the direction of the bus. The leader must work on removing obstacles to high performance. Maybe people are not exactly in the right seats and need to be assigned to a different, more appropriate role. As the team is assembled, the leaders help people with diverse talents and interests to build trust in each other.


As Collins and his research team studied the data from many organizations it became clear to them that who was on the bus was the first stage of transformation and came before where the bus was going. If you already have a team, you will have to execute great strategy and leadership skills for this to be possible. Do you have the right people on the bus? In addition to embracing the corporate vision, the management team should be able to create a great working culture and shape the attitude of the whole organization. They must also be committed to helping you drive the bus to success.


As is always true, this is easier in theory than putting it into practice. Getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats may require personnel changes at a very senior level. Because of your loyalties, it might be difficult to perform this critical assessment of whether you have the right team in place. Here are five indicators gleaned from Collins that will help you assess whether members of your management team should be replaced or simply vetted.


Common Goals – First of all, your whole management team has to be committed to the team objectives. Do they share the same values as you? Simply talk to them and hear them out. You can discover their dedication and productivity. Do they go the extra mile to ensure achieving the common goals of the business? If all the people in your management team do, that is a great starting point to grow your organization.


Work Ethic – If your management team has a poor work ethic, it will definitely show up in the level of productivity. Assess how they treat and work with each other and the employees they supervise. See how they interact with your customers. This will tell you a lot about their work ethic. If you are in the process of hiring a team, you must do your due diligence and fully investigate references and track records. If you skip this investigation, more often than not you will regret it. Doing this will help you build a great team leading to growth.


Great Strategy – How strong and suitable is the current strategy? Are there areas for concern? Sometimes problems can arise when “star employees” rise through the ranks and join the management team. They often enjoy and are much more effective at getting the job done rather than creating or following an overarching strategy for everyone. You will need to evaluate the team collectively and each individual objectively, without the coloring of emotion..


Implementation Skills – If your management team does very well at implementation for your company and also for the company’s clients, this indicates members of the team are right to help you grow the company. You may have a brilliant strategy but if it is poorly executed it will still lead to failure. If it becomes necessary, hire a new team that can implement great ideas on time. Nothing will make up for this lack.


Building Strong Teams – Steve Jobs said, “A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.” They will increase your tribe of qualified, experienced, and dedicated employees. The productivity levels should also be high. However, if your management team has a track record of building weak teams below them, they are unlikely to be the right team to help you grow.


Of course there will be other things to consider as you go, but these five indicators should tell you whether you have the “right people on the bus.” Are you the right leader to lead the transformation? If not, are you willing to change your leadership style to achieve the growth you need and are targeting?

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