Stop trying to get the right people on the bus, get the right bus first!

“Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Jim Collins, author of Good to Great – Why some companies make the leap and others don’t

I used to be as passionate as Jim Collins about this concept of getting the right people on the bus. Not anymore. The starting point of growing your business isn’t the where or the who. The starting point for changing the trajectory of your business is to get clear on the why. What’s the purpose you’re trying to achieve?

Define your buying criteria

When you set about to buy a new car, the choices can be overwhelming. Domestic or export? Sedan, SUV or sexy convertible? Black or white? Luxury or practical? At the end of the day, to make the best choice you have to go back to why you want a car in the first place. Is it to transport your family and all the extracurricular activity paraphernalia? Is it a second car simply for enjoyment when travelling across our great country?

The same is true of our business. In my corporate life, when I set out to create a high performing business unit, the first order of the day was to define why the unit existed in the first place.  Was the purpose we were serving today really the purpose that would provide the required business growth? In other words, what’s the bus I’ve got right now and what’s the better bus that will deliver better results?

Buy or Fix

One of the dilemmas of buying a new car is whether you actually need to buy the new car. One voice inside your head insists that your existing car is serving your purpose. A second voice reminds you that the interior is beat up, parts are failing and the external scratches and dents give the impression you’re not that good a driver. That first voice returns with the ROI argument for occasional maintenance of the old versus a big investment in the new.

This is the same dilemma business leaders have when it comes to business growth. Do I fix by growing my business from within, perhaps expanding into a new geographic market? Or, do I make a larger investment and buy a new line of business? In either case, the decision should not be dependent on what people are in the current organization.

Find the right upgrade

Standing still rarely creates growth in our businesses. In this day of disruption, standing still actually means falling back. The purpose that served us in the past is becoming less relevant.

Look at carpet company Interface. Back in 1994 they were an average US carpet company. Doing well, making $1B a year. Then CEO Ray Anderson decided to change the bus. Interface found a bigger purpose, a purpose of being an environmentally sustainable company. He could no longer live with producing carpets from petrochemicals that would last 10 years and then spend up to 20,000 years in landfill sites.

They started with simple steps. Factory plant managers began reusing carpet trimmings instead of discarding them into waste bins. The result? They stopped sending 3 million pounds of carpet scrap to landfills per factory per year. What about leasing a carpet for 10 years? Instead of the carpet being tossed aside, it comes back to the company where they are disassembled and repurposed into new products. Today they’re the largest carpet manufacturer in the world.

Buy now

Having the right people in your organization is key to success – there’s no argument there. But people don’t hop on just any bus. They have their own purpose and they want to be on that special bus that serves the same purpose. When that bus comes by, they can’t wait to get on.

Want to grow your business? Don’t fall into the trap of looking at process improvement, or a structural re-organization. Don’t even attempt to address your culture yet and getting the right people on the bus. Stop. Instead, let’s chat about purpose and what bright, shiny, inspiring bus you should be driving tomorrow!

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