How to Survive Middle Management – Hiring the Right People

How to Survive Middle Management – Hiring Right People

Did you or one of your kids (or both) learn this song in preschool?

“The wheels on the bus go round and round.

Round and round.

Round and round.

The wheels on the bus go round and round;

all through the town!”

Every time I hear someone quote author Jim Collins’ “bus” analogy I can’t help but to hear that song in my head from my kid’s preschool days.

In case you are not familiar with the bus analogy Collins makes in his now classic book on organization leadership, “Good to Great”, let me recap it for you.

The title of chapter three is “First Who…Then What”. At the beginning of the chapter, Collins reveals that his research of great companies showed that the leaders first decided who should be on the bus and then where to take it. Collins initial assumption was the opposite. He thought the leaders decided the direction of their companies and then found the people to get the work accomplished.

Great leaders know that you need to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus to move the organization forward. So, you first decide “who”, then “what”.  When the right people are in place, you can keep them motivated. If you have the right direction for the bus, but the wrong people on it, you won’t accomplish anything great according to Collins’ research.

 Utility Belt Compartment #1 – The Right People

Jim Collins research focused on the Superman/woman of the organization. This person is in the c-suite at 40,000 feet and is able to use super powers to move the needle in the right direction.

As the middle manager, you have a cape, a mask and a utility belt. You were NOT given super powers. You have to depend on the contents of your utility belt and your cunning skill.

Even though the “Good to Great” bus analogy is aimed at upper management it MUST be applied throughout the organization. As the middle manager, the “what” is already decided by upper management, but not the “how”. Your job is to figure on how to accomplish the work.

Your bus has to contain the right people before you can decide the “how” to arrive at the “what”. Consequently, you will need to pull the bus over and invite the wrong people to leave the bus. If they won’t leave, you will need to escort them off.

Steps to Putting the Right People on the Bus

 1.    Spend time exploring right type of person for your direct report positions. Describe the person in detail based on talent, motivation, and skill. Don’t picture the person in your mind. Great things come in a variety of packages.

2.     If you have an HR person that screens candidates, spend time describing the right person(s) to them to aid in their screening process. Have them describe the person back to you as perceptions can surprise you.

3.     Interview the person and not the resume. I will take the right person for the position over the person with the marketable background (degrees, etc.) every time.

4.     Walk your top candidates around the work area and introduce them as someone interested in the position. Observe the candidate as they interact with people.

5.     Let your top candidate spend alone time with people you trust then check back on what they thought of the person. Is it a match?

6.     Use your gut. If you are settling, keep looking. If you found the right person, vette them out (background checks, etc.) and then hire them.

One of the best pieces of advice about hiring the right people I have been given along the way is this: Hire slowly and fire quickly. If you do that enough times you will tend to hire less people as you will fire fewer.

Jeff was a guy I went to high school with. When I was a middle manager he sat on the other side of my desk as a job candidate. I didn’t hire him. Despite a good education and a few “remember when” stories, he wasn’t the person for the job. His ticket did not get stamped.

“The driver on the bus says move on back.

Move on back.

Move on back.”

It is your bus, super hero. Only give seats to people who deserve to be seated.

Get the wrong people off the bus

Get the wrong people off the bus

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