Right Person, Right Seat, Right Time

First get the right people on the bus… before you figure out where to drive it.”

Jim Collins. Good To Great (HarperCollins, New York, 2001)

“It’s always a question of readiness.”

Dave Poe, my dad

“Meet ’em where they are at.”

Suzsan Z. Finerty , somewhere in Madison, WI. Circa December 2013

Published in the early 2000s, Jim Collins’s Good To Great studied publicly traded companies that delivered consistent peer-beating results over time. Among many insights, Collins suggested that getting the right people in place was more urgent than getting a perfect strategic plan squared away.

The book used the metaphor of getting the right people in the right seat on the bus.

What I’ve seen over the years is that not all organizations or people are ready for change at the same time. Timing — despite the quote from Jim Collins’s book — matters.

My advice to a younger me is to pay attention to an organization’s readiness to leverage what you bring to the table. A certain mindful hyper-awareness of the current state is called for.

I remember as a young father the exasperation that my toddler child wasn’t hitting a developmental milestone on my own particular time frame. My father’s advice was dead nuts correct: “It’s always a question of readiness.” In other words, if the child isn’t ready to hit the milestone… they won’t. Instead of shaking my fist at the heavens, the better approach might be to have a certain grace around a person’s (or institution’s) readiness for change. Instead of asking what’s wrong with the person/institution who’s not quite ready for change… maybe the better question is what can I do right now to help that person/institution be ready for change?

In 2013, I attended a multi-day seminar at University of Wisconsin, Madison. The seminar dove into the subtle art of Influence Without Authority. The facilitator, Susan Z. Finerty, had one of those insights that explained over a decade of sub-optimal projects, lost sales, and frustration. “Meet ’em where they’re at.”

The stone cold reality of most people, institutions, companies, and institutions is that they may not be ready to bring on rock star talent before coming up with an iron-clad strategic plan. Instead of shoving Collins’s book at them, maybe the better approach is to assess their readiness for change. If they can use what you can offer, that’s a great synergy. If they can’t… maybe a certain patience is called for.

Maybe it’s time for a conversation instead of a rant.