About that bus

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Lately it seems that everyone is giving us some version
of Jim Collins’ advice to make sure we “get the right people on the bus” before
we start creating strategy. For example, Douglas R. Conant, President and CEO of
the Campbell Soup Company, says this in an HBR post titled: “Mining Your Company’s Talent.”

“Getting the right people on the bus, to use Jim Collins’ phrase, is the
single most important thing a manager can do.”

The advice is simple and straightforward. Reality is more complicated.

Most bosses don’t pick their teams. They are assigned to a team or a team is
assigned to them. So their first step is usually looking around the bus to see
who’s there.

Knowing who “the right people” are isn’t all that easy either. You often
can’t tell by looking and work histories and performance reviews are frequently

So you start driving the bus while you suss out who should stay and who
should be pitched through the window. That’s not easy either. There are policies
and procedures to be followed. Those days of just chucking the “unfit” out the
window are long gone.

Oh, yeah, some of those people on the bus won’t be “unfit.” They’ll turn out
to be OK, but not exactly what you want, leaving you with the options of helping
them improve, persuading them to take another bus, or just dealing with OK but
not great performance.

When you’ve got some seats to fill, you’ve got to find the “right people” to
sit in them. You know, of course, that recruiting is not an exact science and
that once you bring someone on board it will take a while before they can do the

Boss’s Bottom Line

This is the kind of guru advice where the principle (get the best people you
can) is good, but to use it you have to deal with reality that’s a lot messier
than it seems in the books.

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