Following a presentation about a week ago, we had a detailed discussion about ‘getting the right butts into the right seats of the bus’.
I had presented this slide…
And, the following slide...
This was an effort to take Jim Collins’ bus analogy one step further. This is essential because, beyond theory, the advice provided by business educators and motivational speakers doesn’t go far enough to help business leaders and managers resolve the people problems that are common in real-life business situations.
While creating the presentation, I spent a lot of time thinking about ‘How?’ … how do we get the right people on the bus?
Carrying on with the bus analogy, I concluded the best first step is – Look at your existing people, your existing bus, and the seats on the bus…including the seat’s fabric, nuts & bolts, etc. And, specifically, look at each person’s talents & strengths and how those talents & strengths [or lack of them] present themselves when that person does a task.
Understand the linkage between the person’s talents & strengths and the tasks you are asking the person to perform. That is the main point.
To pave the path for good-to-great performance at work, a leader or manager must understand 2 things:
1. The details of the Person:
Talents: does the person possess the talent to do the task?
Knowledge: does the person possess the knowledge [often, specialized knowledge] to do the task?
Skill: has the person practised and performed the task enough to possess the skill to perform it well?
- For Simple tasks skill will be developed with less practise
- For Complicated and Complex tasks it may take years to master the skills
2. The details of the Task:
- Is it a routine task or a not-routine task?
- Is there a system/process for doing the task?
- Is that system/process in writing?
- Has that system been well communicated to all involved and affected?
If the leader or manager does not understand both those things then the leader is taking a chance – taking a risk – when people are assigned to perform tasks.
To make this point more graphically - It is risky to assume bright people can perform simple tasks.
Another graphic point – When a task is not performed well there are only a few reasons why it is not performed well.
Seeking Simple, let’s create a short list of the reasons why a task is not performed well:
- The task is impossible, so nobody could do it
- The task is possible but not clearly defined/described, so people may do the wrong thing
- The task is possible but the person doesn’t understand it: the person isn’t capable of understanding the way the task was defined/described; the person, for one reason or another, didn’t listen…the communication failed
- The task is possible & the person understands it but lacks the talent to perform it
- The task is possible & the person understands it but lacks the knowledge to perform it
- The task is possible & the person understands it but lacks the skill [practise/experience] to perform it
- The task is possible & the person is capable of doing it but chooses not to do it: the person chooses to spend the time doing something else; multi-tasking - the person does something deemed more important and runs out of time; the person doesn't like the task; the person is prone to procrastinate; the person doesn’t like the boss or the company - sabotage
Yes – even the short list contains many possibilities. That’s the challenge of managing and leading people. Many things can go wrong according to Murphy they do go wrong.
So - leaders and managers need systems/processes for sorting through the possibilities to determine why things went wrong.
Back to the buses…the leader needs to understand how to fit people into seats…get the right people on the bus and get the wrong people off the bus.
What does that mean?
Specifically, what do the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ mean?
That question yields troubling answers.
- There are no ‘right’ people.
- There are lots of ‘wrong’ people.
Let’s keep on using the bus analogy but let’s replace the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.
Leaders need to make sure the people on the bus fit well in their seats. That’s what it is really all about.
It is not about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’…it is about differences. Square pegs are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ they just don’t fit well into round holes.
- It is easier to adjust seats than it is to change people.
- It is easier to adjust seats than it is to remove & replace people.
- You cannot adjust a seat to fit a person without first measuring the person.
The first step then is – measuring the person.
How do we go about measuring the person?
We must do this in small steps….one step at a time.
We must consider each of these steps in an as-objective-as-possible manner.
We must review 3 facets of each small step:
- The Task [thought and action steps/pieces]
- The Person’s Strengths [Innate Talent + Specialized Knowledge + Practised Skill] doing the Task.
- The Person’s Frame of Mind [good mood, bad mood, emotions, feelings - does the person enjoy the Task?]
If the person accurately understands the task, has the strength required to perform the task, and has a positive attitude about doing the task then the task will be done right.
If any of these 3 pieces are missing then there is a high likelihood the task will not be performed well.
The keys to helping people succeed at work tasks are (1) assuming as little as possible and (2) helping as much as possible when people illustrate they are struggling to get over a hurdle. To help a person get over a hurdle the leader needs to be able to accurately identify the hurdle. Does the hurdle rest in the person or in the task?
It is easier to remove the hurdles in tasks. So, leaders should remove as many of those hurdles as possible…establishing clear processes and testing those processes with many people to prove the task is doable.
...making sure the task is not going to be the hurdle