Don't be afraid to kick someone off the bus, especially if you're on a journey from good to great, says Sarah Spivey, managing director at Modulift.
I've been steered towards this blog by two thought leaders who've helped in different ways as I've approached recent challenges and opportunities. They will no doubt continue to be sources of inspiration as we enter H2 2018.
The first is Gary Mullins, of Action Coach, a company that helps entrepreneurs and owners overcome the obstacles in maintaining a company. I've only been working with Gary for a relatively short time but we're already seeing results.
I also want to reference Jim Collins, the author of "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't", who, albeit in a more remote sense, has also provided much food for thought in his writings.
Gary and Jim share a belief in the importance of people to a business's success. I like Jim's bus analogy, in which he says a company must first get the right people on the vehicle, then figure out where to go. "First who, then what," he adds. Further, he explains how it's advisable to try different people in various seats (roles) to see which suits them best. I guess he'd agree that it's dangerous to drive off and head to the destination whilst people are still moving around and grabbing handrails to stop themselves falling over.
I've painted a mental picture of the Modulift bus—it's yellow with blue trim. At first I had myself in the driver's seat and members of staff scattered around on the various seats. I imagined people moving from one place to the next, swapping with colleagues, or edging towards the front. I also pondered what other changes might occur before we'd be ready to drive away.
In reality, a company must manage its people whilst en route, but it's a useful exercise, and think about it more of what Jim calls the journey from good to great rather than from one day to the next. Of course, nobody can afford to literally pull their business to the side of the road and wait for it to be perfect before resuming trade.
Bums on seats
As I began to settle on a seating plan, with engineers here, salespeople there, and marketing passengers somewhere else, I realised that there were people missing. Where were our global distributors, for example?
Shame on me; we have a fabulous network of dealers who are very much part of our family. The model itself isn't unique, however, and I wonder how much closer other manufacturers or suppliers could look at their networks.
I repeated the task, taking a more holistic approach until the whole Modulift community was strapped in and ready to depart. The bus was bigger than my first attempt and most seats were now full. It was fun to sit certain dealers next to in-house staff and imagine the conversations that would take place as the journey continued. I left empty seats where a new passenger might be most welcome and sat certain members of staff together.
Harmony is very important on a long journey. If there are 100 people on a bus but one starts smoking, it spoils the ride for everyone. A cloud of toxic fog starts billowing into the space above people's heads, and it moves down the coach until everyone is coughing and spluttering. It's the same if someone is playing music too loudly, eating smelly food, or generally being unsociable. The atmosphere on Jim's or any company's bus can be spoilt just as easily. One bad dealer can ruin a reputation in a region and someone else who lacks consideration for colleagues or fellow passengers can negatively impact a trip.
The picture serves as a timely reminder of the importance of building a team with like-minded, driven people, with the same goals in mind. That's why it's worth imagining any business's leaders, staff, contractors, representatives, and everyone else sitting with each other on a long bus ride. If a CEO wouldn't put a certain individual anywhere near a bus with their team, might they be causing equal harm from afar? If a distributor would find it difficult to share common ground sat alongside the engineers or salespeople on the back seat, might there be a better option out there that would fit in as though they were part of the family?
Is revenue too often the only metric we use by which to measure a partner's value and suitability to work with us?
I'm not suggesting everyone at a company or its widespread community needs to have the same interests, hobbies, or political outlooks. It takes all sorts to make a world—and a business. Nor is it really important that colleagues or global representatives can get along over dinner, as long as enough common ground can be explored to be civil and strive to achieve the same goals. However, it's crucial that a business leader preserves a business's culture. And that's what makes recruitment, selection of partners, and timing of severance so important.
I've always felt that skills can be trained, within reason, but behaviours and attitudes, less so. To successfully make the transition from good to great, a company needs passionate, dedicated, team-driven people. A group is only ever as strong as its weakest link, and a bus full of passengers are only content if someone isn't lighting up a cigarette or tucking into a sausage and egg muffin. True, processes should be in place so fellow passengers can raise issues but the onus is on the bus driver to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules.
It means sometimes a difficult decision needs to be made and someone clearly intent on disrupting the journey must be removed. Businesspeople are understandably protective of turnover and to a company like ours, that's what distributors ultimately represent, but they're fellow passengers too and everyone must carefully consider who they share their journey with.