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It’s been said that bosses are stressed, not by the people they fire, but by the people they don’t. And while we may not be able to attribute that quote to any one executive, author Jim Collins believes it is a motto by which to run a successful company. His latest book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t (Harper Business, $27.50), is an examination of the successful business practices of 11 publicly traded companies in corporate America based on 15 years of sustained great results, after a history of average or worse results. He found that all the executives at great companies held fast to one main tenet: People are not your best asset. The right people are. It’s what Collins describes as a “first who…then what” attitude.
“Most managers are concerned with where they should drive the bus,” explains Collins. “Successful executives we studied were more concerned with who’s on the bus. They understood — even if they weren’t sure about the direction in which to take the company in the midst of industry or economic changes — that if they got the right people on board (and all the wrong people off) they’d be able to get to some place great.”
Sounds like a logical, simple equation, right? Great people equals great company. Not so fast. The problem is that most managers aren’t able to implement this principle — -mainly because people, in general, are programmed to think about the importance of goals and plans, not people.
“We live in a what culture, not a who culture,” offers Collins. “We ask our children what they are going to be when they grow up, instead of who they might become. Business schools focus on paradigms and formulas. We’re bucking a cultural trend considering who before what.”
It’s worth reconsidering, though. For the sake of developing a great business and a great work environment.
In their quest for great individuals, executives at great companies paid close attention to character traits–even more so than previous titles, degrees and affiliations. They looked for employees who were committed and disciplined with strong work ethics. “We often don’t consider the up-front cost of choosing the wrong people, the long-term consequences of people you have to tightly manage,” Collins tells us. The wrong people drain important resources–including the right people. Collins writes about three principles of rigorous thought and action for getting and securing the right employees.
When in doubt, don’t hire — keep looking. Oftentimes employers are anxious to fill positions, settling for someone who may not quite fit the qualifications for the company or the department. “We need to get someone in here,” is the thinking. It may seem easier just to place a body in a seat to do the work, but if it’s the wrong person, it’s never worth the strain on the company. On this point, for great companies, there is no compromise — keep looking.
When you know you need to make a people change, act. The right people understand their roles and responsibilities
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