Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Right People on the Bus?

Part 9 of a continuing series on CEOing

I intended to talk about the five keys to building a growing and sustainable company this month but instead, I want to focus on just one: the problem with buses and people.

I'm working with an amazing company and, as buttoned up as they appear from the outside (they are an undisputed industry leader in their field), they are fraught with chaos and dysfunction on the inside. This, in my experience, is quite normal. Why is that so? I believe a good part of it has to do with misplaced assumptions.

Misplaced Employee Assumptions
As employees, we expect that management knows what it is supposed to do. We assume they know more than we do about the primary ingredients of enterprise: people, process and technology and how they are supposed to work together. As employees we believe they have the answers to life's unanswered questions and that they have only our best interests in mind. As it so often turns out, they do not.

Misplaced Management Assumptions.
As leaders, well, we assume our people will know what to do when they land the job. After all, they wowed us during the hiring process and they've held other jobs, after all, some with bigger companies, and of course, in addition to their on the job experience, many of them also have impressive degrees. So why don't they seem to know how to do their jobs, run their departments or interface with customers without lots of supervision and hand holding?

In my experience, the average person in the workplace is really smart and capable, but knows little about growing themselves or the enterprise, and that extends to many in leadership positions as well. Couple that truth with recent research which indicates that up to 75% of us could be in the wrong jobs for our personality type (Source: BUPA, the UK's leading independent health care provider). It's no wonder most workplaces are dysfunctional: we don't know how to grow ourselves or our organizations and, even if we did, we probably have the wrong personality for our current role to do it.

Rather than fight it, I propose that we do something about it. So where to start? Well, awareness that something is not working the way we want it to is the first step. The second is the desire to change the situation, even if we don't know exactly how to do it in the moment.

So, where are we now, and, more importantly, where do we want to go?

Where are we are now? The bus as a metaphor.
Ever since Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' ground breaking book "Built to Last - Successful Habits of Visionary Companies", most CEOs have talked about getting "the right people" on the bus. And while I agree it's a GREAT idea, let's take a close look at the reality of what's really happening in the world.

First of all, we assume the bus has a driver who knows where he wants to go. In my experience when the driver doesn't already have a "route" to follow, he will be too busy focusing on the back of the bus quelling car sick passengers and dodging oncoming traffic to worry about creating a new Vision. In fact, 97% of our buses crash.

Next, the people who get on the bus are, by definition, passengers and we assume they want to go where the bus is going. Some leaders also expect the passengers to be able to drive the bus as well. But do they? Can they?

Most people get on the proverbial bus because it is going somewhere -- anywhere. And very few, no matter how well trained in engineering, accounting or product development, will every want to or be able to drive the bus. Think about this for a moment.

I want to make this very personal!

There you are looking for a job and you send your resume out to 50 different companies and then, if you're lucky, a few of your prospects call you. If you are like most people, you go with the one that makes you the best offer (sometimes it's the first bus to pull up). In other words, the job chooses you, you don't choose the job.

You may have cared less about where the bus was going than that it was going somewhere other than where you were - standing on the corner without a job. Look around you, how many people in your workplace would be there if they didn't need the money? Would you?

How many times have we heard Wall Street CEOs talk about "driving" profitability or "driving" results or "driving" people to some new level or another. No wonder so many CEOs feel exhausted. And believe me, no one likes being driven like so many cattle from place to place either. More CEOs than you would believe want to fire everyone and start over. And, by the way, employees unabashedly suggest the same for their CEOs.

So I am left with two questions: How do we fulfill the leader's Vision, if indeed he or she has one that is worth fulfilling; and how do we honor and transition the people currently on the bus in some compassionate way that just doesn't play musical seats. After all, this is not a new problem, it is the problem. We are all engaged in it. And, in my view, we must all work through it together.

So, that said, we need a bigger idea, one that will engage all of us currently on the bus to nowhere, to get off the bus. The bus is dead.

Where do we want to go? A new Paradigm Shift.

Imagine a time when every person entering the workplace has the ability to move themselves and their teams ahead without a lot of drama. Imagine a time when people have the right personality for the work they perform. Imagine a time when the majority of people are fully engaged in their work. When their work is an expression of who they really are.

Next month: Exploring a bigger idea.

Entrepreneur, speaker, author and CEO Guide, Tom Voccola is the CEO of CEO2, a Chief Executive Consulting Firm specializing in the rapid transformation of corporate and organizational cultures. Tom is the co-founder and past Chairman of the Los Angeles area CEO Round Table for the American Electronics Association, and the author of The Accidental CEO – A Leader’s Journey from Ego to Purpose. His life’s work is to inspire a new generation of leaders who transcend ego and its fear based agenda. His work gives executives immediate and authentic access to new levels of power, influence and freedom within their organizations.