Catalytic Management Consulting
Accelerating Growth, Driving Performance

We’re All Bozos on This Bus

The above title is taken from the Firesign Theater comedy album of the same name. It’s another way of saying that success is achieved when you have the “right people on the bus.” Why does this fundamental business truth elude so many managers—at all levels?

Every day companies turn to outside consulting firms to help them solve a problem that inside experts have been unable to resolve or that keeps recurring despite focused attention. In too many instances, the root cause is traced to a “people problem.” However, the original request to the consulting firm comes as a request to help the company improve revenue generation, fix a broken process that no one follows, repair customer satisfaction or change company culture.

To achieve such goals, companies are willing to jettison products, markets, and business units. Companies might even acquire new products or new organizations. But when the solution is discarding non-performing staff and acquiring the right staff, managers break into a cold sweat and start the list of excuses for not taking action.

Suck it up ladies and gentleman. To achieve real change, you may have to make personnel changes. As Nike says, “just do it!” (legally and ethically, of course)! Those people problems are two-fold: non-performing employees and the manager who refuses to show some backbone and do what they are paid for.

Get the right people on the bus! Before you call a consultant, take a leadership immune system booster pill and get ready to fire your bozos and hire superstars. Here’s a list of 10 things you should do:

  • Justify your move on paper before you go to HR. Typically, HR departments are not risk takers.
  • Don’t let inexperienced, timid, or traumatized HR professionals create unnecessary road blocks. Following the law and being humane do not translate into inaction.
  • Focus your search on finding the right person, not merely the right skills. Find the person whose attitude, ethics, approach and philosophy match your mission and values. The intangibles are what make the person right. It is far more difficult, if not impossible, to get someone to change their beliefs. Skills, on the other hand, can be taught and nurtured given the right foundation.
  • Build an interview strategy that is based on “behavioral questioning” and includes interviews with colleagues and peers. Most people are pretty good at interviewing and can impress us on one or even two interviews. But faking it through a series of interviews is tough. Peer input is critical to maintaining effective teams. Collaborative decision making also shares the responsibility.
  • Use one of the many personality and/or competency tests that will give you a deeper picture than your impressions. Personality tests and competency tests are not the same thing. One tests for the right attitude, ethics, etc.; the other tests job related skills or ability to be trained.
  • Plan for success. Create a mentoring/coaching plan for the new employee that transfers knowledge and skills but that also monitors his or her behavior, attitude and drive.
  • Define your exit strategy. Cop shows have taught me to prepare for the worse. How long will you give the new person to prove their personality is a match? That their skills are strong enough? Hint: six months is too long! Start with clear, measurable, realistic goals and then hold the new employee accountable. Fix hiring mistakes quickly—the cost of not doing so is too high in revenue lost, customer satisfaction and morale.
  • Absolutely, positively document the new employee’s weaknesses in reviews, letters, and verbal communication. Don’t let the “well he or she’s new” syndrome prevent you from documenting the good, the bad, and the ugly. HR will demand it later.
  • Start searching for the right replacement before you fire! You should always be selling your company as a great place to work and interviewing good candidates regardless of the number of official job openings.
  • Reward your performers—keep them happy and clone them!

The next time you have a business problem, start the evaluation by asking how people positively or negatively affect the issue. Would getting the right people on the bus solve the problem?

If the answer is yes, then ask why haven’t we replaced the person before? What do we need to do as a company to empower our managers to take action? Having bozos on the bus is funny at Firesign Theater, but it’s hardly humorous for a company that wants to thrive.


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