Collins' bus metaphor: greatest of all time?
As Lisa mentioned this week in her post about personnel decisions, several responses to this month's CEO to CEO question in Associations Now focused on personnel decisions. In the same issue, similar comments came up twice in the "Where Are They Now?" feature that I compiled. One interviewee mentioned the value of having a staffer eager to learn new media skills, and another mentioned the value of having board members who are comfortable with taking risks. In both cases, Jim Collins' "Get the right people on the bus" metaphor from Good to Great was used (though, I admit, one of them was my own writing in a transition sentence).
This got the bus metaphor on my mind, and I realized I see it referenced quite often. This month's magazine is no fluke. A quick search yielded all of these other instances of "right people on the bus" appearing in ASAE publications: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. In almost all of them, Collins is cited as the source, and in the two cases when Scott Briscoe mentioned it here on Acronym, he said it had "become a cliché" in one and apologized for bringing it up in another. (Again, this is just ASAE; Google "collins 'right people on the bus'" and you get 385,000 hits.)
Good to Great happens to be the first business leadership book I ever read, when a college instructor assigned it to me in an independent study. Even then, the bus metaphor struck me as the most clear and unmistakable message in the book. In my early years of working in the real world, I've heard it come up time and time again, as illustrated above, and it's certainly held true in my own work experience.
So, I've decided to make a proclamation, even though I have no authority whatsoever other than that I'm a blogger and, you know, this is what bloggers do:
I nominate Jim Collins' "Get the right people on the bus" metaphor as the greatest organizational-management maxim of all time.
And here's why:
- It's easy to understand. There's no fancy diagram of a bus in Chapter 3 of Good to Great, because it isn't necessary. The concept of a bus with seats is universal. A kindergartner gets it.
- Everyone works with people, so everyone can relate. With the exception of people who run one-person businesses, everyone means everyone. Whatever level you're at in an organization, you know what it's like to work with great people and what's like to work with duds.
- For us in associations, the above point is two-fold. Not only do we work with people, but people are a product we sell when we praise the value of community, networking, and collaboration. We have to get the right people on our staffs, on our boards, at our meetings, and in our memberships.
I don't have much experience with of a lot of other classic business-leadership thought leaders like Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, or Gary Hamel, so feel free to tell me I'm wrong. I'm interested to hear your choices for best business maxim, or at least your personal favorites.
(And with all of that said, you should also go back and offer your opinion on Lisa's post, too. She poses a great question: Are bad personnel decisions really the worst business decisions you can make, or do they just feel that way?)