Who Before What - Jim Collins

     Often these past couple of years organizational leaders have said to me "I believe in Jim Collins and getting the right people on the bus."  In most cases these individuals are highly respected and very successful.  A number of them not coincidentally, moved back into the private sector after serving in the military. For those who haven't read Good to Great, Collins himself has a great synopsis at his website, but I'd encourage you to read the book.

     While the myths of what drives change that Collins' research busts (platforms, bonuses, programs, fear, mergers and acquisitions, technology and revolution), the importance of putting people first doesn't stop when we get the right individuals on the bus.  Assuming from the analogy that we're the driver implies constantly scanning the road ahead, steering the organization, and controlling the speed. Consider though, if you remember your last bus ride, drivers also have at least one mirror that looks not behind vehicle, but at those in the seats.

     There have been too many instances where organizational leaders have followed their Collins quote with "Once I've got them in place, all I care about is that they hit the goals we've set.  If they don't, then it's time to get someone else in the seat." I've actually heard executives say "and I don't care how they get there." These conversations often come about because in doing organizational culture analysis and listening to employees at every level, obstacles and inconsistency in what happens below the executive team is what's causing inconsistent performance, or expensive employee turnover.  Particularly in the value zone between the customer and that entry level of employment which customer service representatives tend to be.

     I've seen managers arbitrarily change rules for their teams in efforts to achieve cost savings.  In the worst cases, we uncovered a standard manager practice that had been going on for years of removing time from employee hours at the end of every week, particularly if it involved overtime so costs fit budget projections or better.  In that specific case, the manager is still there and had more employees moved from another department into his, even after organizational leadership was aware of the illegal practice.  After all he achieved the financial goals of the organization and that's all that matters.  Do the weekly reports hit the monthly objectives so the quarterly financials hit or pass expectations? 

     Collins never intended his analogy to mean that leaders don't pay attention to what those on the bus are doing, particularly if it violates basic moral principles, let alone the mission, vision and values of the organization.  A lot of data can be gleaned from looking at spreadsheets and the vast array of formulas that exist to which help us determine profitability and performance levels. If you've never been to the website Value Based Management, you'll find pretty much every statistical analysis created explained (and a great deal more). After years of TQM, Six Sigma and Lean, we pretty much know how to get blood from a turnip every possible way to achieve efficiencies and quality controls. Spreadsheets can never be the only measure though, if we're not taking care of the who does the work. I'm not in anyway advocating we don't try to be efficient and offer high quality in both our products and services.  Only that such number crunching is only half the job.

    At all hierarchical levels in the organization it is the daily behavior of leadership which develops trust that builds consistent good performance and allows the breakthrough to great.  Great leaders not only have an articulated vision that even the lowest levels of the firm can understand and believe in, they demonstrate how to behave, the values by which we'll achieve organizational objectives, along the way.  There's far too much research in what's really common sense.  If we want our followers to treat customers exceptionally, then we have to treat employees at all levels with the same measure of respect, integrity and service we expect them to show the clients.  It's never just a matter of who's on the bus if they're cutting holes or leaving graffiti on the seat backs out of sight.

    Looked in all of your rear-view mirrors lately?

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