Hop off the bus, Gus.

I really didn’t intend to write a series on management skills and popular songs but, after yesterday’s reference to “Love the One You’re With by Crosby, Stills & Nash, here we are today with staffing issues again and Paul Simon’s classic “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”*

The impetus for the journey from one song to the next came from some thoughtful reactions to yesterday’s post that I received in the form of blog comments and some sidebar e-mail conversations. The folks who wrote to me pointed out that sometimes there simply is a mismatch between the employee and the needs of the law firm and, in these instances, you really have to part company with that employee for the firm’s sake and theirs. They are right about this. However, before things get to this state it’s important to be sure that you’ve really taken the measure of the person in question.
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins makes an interesting observation about the importance of staffing:

We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats — and then they figured out where to drive it. The old adage “People are your most important asset” turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.

Why this focus on people? According to Collins,

First, if you begin with “who,” rather than “what,” you can more easily adapt to a changing world. …Second, if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. …Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.

Interestingly, in separating the right folks from the ones that don’t measure up, his research indicated that skills were not necessarily the deciding factor:

…the good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience. Not that specific knowledge or skills are unimportant, but they viewed these traits as more teachable (or at least learnable), whereas they believed dimensions like character, work ethic, basic intelligence, dedication to fulfilling commitments, and values are more ingrained.

So coming full circle to yesterday’s discussion, spend the time you need to be sure that you understand the employee in question — their character, values, motivations, knowledge and skills — and then see if they meet the demands of being a part of an A+ team, regardless of the tasks to be tackled. If they have the necessary fundamentals, invest in them. This may mean moving them around the bus a little until you have them in the right seat. If they don’t have those fundamentals, get them off the bus.
*For those of you who are really paying attention, let me apologize for misquoting Paul Simon in my title. The actual lyrics of the refrain are as follows:

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

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