One time while interviewing with an executive leader, I referenced meeting next with X leader on his team. The executive’s reply was, “Oh, good. He gets it.”
Later in a more casual setting, I asked this executive what he meant by, “X gets it.” Actually, I did see what he meant after meeting with this person. In fact, at the end of my meeting with him I even said, “I see why your boss says ‘you get it.'” But, I wanted to hear what the executive’s perspective was, and it was something like this:
- Understands what our organization needs to do (unsaid further meaning, “And I don’t have to explain it dot-to-dot to him.”)
- He gets stuff done.
- He communicates well and people like working with him.
- He’s really smart, strategic and anticipates (or something like that).
My personal observations were:
- This person’s job changes frequently and he adapts well.
- He clearly navigates sensitive, internal dynamics.
You might notice that nowhere in this conversation did his actual job come up, except in the context of “gets stuff done.” At this level, doing your job is table stakes and what makes a successful senior leader is all the other “stuff.”
Does this sound familiar? In talent planning, transformational change or any setting where I’ve discussed people with leaders, there is always this nagging question, “Do I have the right people on the bus?” And if there are those one or two right people, it’s hard to explain why.
My pragmatic, streamlining nature has often tried to impose a structure or process to figuring this out, given the lack of scalability with, “They get it.” Desirable as that may be, at times it’s not a necessarily welcome task to senior leaders with five minutes to spare on such things. However, process or not, 100% of time, leaders always have a sense.
I say, start there. Look at each person on your team. Do you have the right people on the bus — Yes? No? Sort of? And why? Golden nuggets of culture, expectations, vision and tactical realities of jobs come out in these conversations. Even with a tool or process, I have found this vague discussion to be so useful over the years because every situation, leader, team and company is truly different. While we may land in the same place with a process, the people involved felt the right things were discussed and thought through.
The other next reality to get the right people on the bus is unavoidable: You really do need a vision, to articulate where you’re going in the short-term (6-12 months), and longer term. This, and the resulting goal setting and communications to employees create the alignment needed to move forward. You can have a team full of “They Get Its,” but if they’re all inconsistent with their words and actions, then mostly chaos ensues.
Align on values, too. How you will do what you do (respectfully, ethically, process-oriented, creatively, etc) is that next layer of consistency and alignment that hits the gas pedal toward your future state.
With vision and expected behaviors in place, look at your current structure and see what areas will propel your progress, or impede it and develop a new organizational structure. Then, look at who you have now and what are the gaps. Consider your version of “They Get Its,” and make sure those right people on the bus serve your short-term and long-term direction. After all, who wants to change people out every 12-18 months when things change? That is a sure momentum killer for the employees tasked with executing.
It’s a delicate balance: try to change with the same people, you might move too slow, retain complacency and not meet your goals. Gut the current team and move too fast you risk shocking the employee base, losing trust and stunting momentum with confusion, complaints and attrition. Having the right people on the bus is usually a mix of:
- Current leaders — They provide a feeling of stability for the employee base, possess important institutional/historical knowledge to inform new ideas and can be an effective devil’s advocate for newbies.
- New leaders — They give the status quo the needed kick in the pants and infuse desired skills, ideas and progress.
- People who can adapt — Everyone on your team should be adaptable. “But that’s how we’ve always done it” has no place on your team, new or existing.
If you’re just looking to make incremental improvement, start with asking, “Do I have the right people on the bus?” Why, or why not? Describe your, “They Get Its.” Coach those that aren’t getting it and reward those do.
However, if you are working through a new strategy or bringing forth large change I highly recommend the following as well:
- Brainstorm and articulate a strong, aspirational vision, your purpose.
- Declare how you want people to manage — your expectations for values and behavior.
- Look at what will support or get in the way of your vision and take a stab at a new organizational structure.
- Look at who you have on the team now against your draft organizational structure and “They Get It” description to determine gaps and identify ways to mitigate, including coaching, finding new roles for people, new hires, adding to someone’s current role, eliminating roles, etc. I won’t lie, this is the hardest part. Good people are sometimes not a fit going forward and you have to make tough decisions.
- Make sure all the people on your team are adaptable for both the short and long-term direction.
Once these things are in place, you might find yourself surprised how much less time you spend on the day-to-day, versus more time spent reinforcing your direction and achieving the great things you set out to do.
“Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.” — James C. Collins