Why Build a Good Company When You Can Build a Great One?


How many times have you heard the saying, “You have to get the best people involved to build a successful business?”

There’s a lot of truth to it, but Dr. James Collins’ book “Good to Great – Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others don’t” and his recent monograph “Good to Great and the Social Sectors” explains that there is more.

To cut quickly to a main point, Dr. Collins and his researchers explain that you first have to get the wrong people out of the business (or off the bus in his terms.) The wrong people destroy the initiative and motivation of the good people that are in place. Time and time again when a poor performer is let go, the remainder of the organization makes statements like, “What took them so long?” “Now that he or she is out of the way, we can get going.”

After you get the wrong ones off then you can start getting the right ones on. And this is when good things start to happen. The wrong people need to be motivated. The right ones don’t need to be motivated, they come ready to do the best they can. The wrong ones are constantly looking at what’s in it for them. The right ones choose you before you choose them. If they get on board it’s because they know they will be appreciated and will be handsomely rewarded for what they do.

But getting the wrong people off the bus and the right ones on the bus are only steps one and two – step three is the biggie. In order to move the organization ahead, to its fullest potential, you have to get the right people on the bus IN THE RIGHT SEATS!

That’s right. A good person in the wrong job does not perform outstanding work. He or she will perform good work, but not the work that will take the organization to greatness.

That’s the story behind the story of Dr. James eleven great businesses. The CEOs all realized that if they were going to spend the time and energy to build a good organization that produced good results, why not build a great organization that produced great results MONOGRAFIAS PRONTAS?

As I thought about the bus and the right person in the right seat analogy I concluded that he had given us a great symbol for the business organization.

Let me explain. I was blessed with a number of opportunities in business. First was my experience at five different Johnson and Johnson divisions and the eight management positions I held. Next was the twenty or so businesses I started from patents, ideas, or other peoples’ problems and last was the ten workouts I did for lenders and owners. In every case I took over a problem or an opportunity that had not yet been developed.

I became the driver of a bus that wasn’t going anywhere.

Here’s how I think Dr James’s bus analogy worked for me. The opportunity (or problem) is the bus. Sometimes it’s in parts and you have to put it together, sometimes it’s all together, but some of the parts are broken or worn out. Your job as the manager is to get the bus ready to motor on down the road.

Now I know much has been written about having a business plan before you do anything, getting a vision, spotting the problem to be solved or the niche to be served, but maybe that’s not really correct. Maybe you should first focus on who is on board.

Start by getting the wrong people off and then getting the right people on. Then let the right people all participate in deciding what’s wrong and what’s right. This gets them in the right seats. The changes they produce might even include picking a new direction for the bus to travel (a totally different product, or a new market to sell to, or a new process, or an entirely different way to sell.)

If you read Dr. James book, (and the monograph if you are interested in non-profits) and I hope you will, that’s exactly what you will see. Eleven great companies who started with a top manager committed to making the enterprise great and who made every decision based on what the management team knew was right – regardless of cost or consequences – took the companies to performance levels which far exceeded the best performers of the publicly traded corporations for at least fifteen straight years!.

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