Who’s On Your Bus?

posted by Administrator on 01/23/2023 in Blog Posts  | Tagged , , , , , , ,
By Tom Cramer


We all have a variety of opinions about the thousands of business books that are available, many promising to answer all your questions. While we know that few of them deliver on that promise, there are some gems every business owner and manager should take time to read and contemplate.

Jim Collins is an author who has cracked the code in speaking about several practical business issues and how to help be better operators. His first book was Built to Last and speaks to key elements for long-term success.

A later book, Good to Great, is more than two decades old, but it has some timely insights for today’s labor market. Collins introduces basic questions we all need to address: Who is on our team and how are we using them? He asks these through use of a metaphorical bus that is being filled for an indefinite journey.

Why Strategy Starts with People

It is common to focus on the concepts of strategy and positioning and branding, and those are all key issues. However, Collins takes a somewhat counter-intuitive position in Good to Great. He contends it is more important to first fill a bus with the right people sitting in the right seats before even deciding the ultimate destination of the bus.

His view is that the most successful companies focus first on the team, and tailor the trip to the capabilities and strengths of that team. He also makes a strong case for making sure the wrong people are not on that bus.

Of course, there is a need to have a general idea of where you want to take that bus to attract the strongest passenger list. However, he explains it is that strength of those who are sitting in the right seats that should drive the choice of the path and the ultimate destination.

There are many cogent insights used by Collins to support his position. The first of these is that in today’s ever-changing business landscape it is more difficult than ever to implement even a five-year plan without allowing for significant pivots and changes in “where” you are going. The result of this reality is that people who get on the bus for a specific destination may feel frustrated or deceived if they find the bus heading in a different direction.

The second point, especially important today, is that if you have the right people on the bus and they are sitting in the right seat, they get on because of who they are working with, not because of any specific plan. Thus, they respond differently to challenges, have a different perspective on compensation and incentives, and realize teamwork is more important than individual success.

In addition to two significant benefits, he points to a third advantage that comes from getting the wrong people off the bus. Without the right people, you can get to the desired destination and still not have a great company that will achieve greatness.

Filling Your Bus

Even if you don’t feel you have the time to read this useful book, you can reflect on several action items that it discusses.

First, if you feel you have some great team members, ask yourself if you have them sitting in the “right seat”. It is easy to take talented and committed people and use them in less-than-optimal roles. Take time to reflect on why you consider an individual one of your top performers. Are they simply good at their assigned role or are they showing traits that would allow them to contribute even more in a different or enhanced assignment?

Look at each key position and ask yourself if the person sitting in that seat is merely doing an acceptable job or are they over delivering on your expectations.

Lastly, identify those people who are adequate in their position but merely adequate. Is it time to get them in another seat or, perhaps, developing a plan to get them off the bus entirely?

Your team members know who is carrying the weight. It is important for them to feel you and your top management have the same insights.

We’ll take time in the future to look at a few more business classics that provide essential insights into your challenges and opportunities as a business owner and manager.