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Who Is Driving the Bus?

The most important thing you will do as a manager is “Driving the Bus”, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.

I recommend using the following bus-related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the bus going?
  2. Who should be on the bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

Related Article: From Doing to Managing to Leading

Hiring is the perfect time for a reality check on Where the Bus is Going. Hiring is an opportunity for rebirth – out with the old and in with the new, or in with more new because we need additional resources. A little blue sky thinking before you get into the recruiting process could lead to the kind of radical change that makes a big difference, or lead to a subtle change in an existing dynamic that creates a much more harmonized team. You are not Carnac and cannot see into the future to evaluate how a new hire will impact the business, but before your start, you can ask yourself:

How can a new hire change our business for the better?

Asking this question gives you permission to dream big.

So once you’ve thought about the impact hiring has on your project team, now it’s time to think about Who Should Be on the Bus, which covers both existing staff and new hires.

Not many project managers are fortunate enough to be able to form their team from scratch. In those cases, you can skip right to hiring after you decide Where the Bus is Going. On the other hand, most of us inherit a team when we become a project manager and then are expected to add and subtract members from that team as the company goals and team performance change to ensure the best possible results.

So before you start hiring, take a look at your existing team and decide who should NOT be on the bus.

There are many reasons for showing someone the door, including obvious ones like poor performance (even after coaching) and destructive or criminal behaviour. Not as obvious, but just as important, is when the company goals, focus or business model changes and team member’s motivation, skills and attitude do not change with the times.

I was lucky enough to work at a company for 11 years that grew very quickly and at every stage long term, high performing team members found their way out of the company because the fit between their skills and the kind of company they wanted to work for changed as the company became larger. I made it through several changes in service and product focus, an acquisition by a larger, public company and finally a venture-supported return to a private company before the fit wasn’t right for me.

I wasn’t asked to leave, but the role the new organization had for me was not a good fit. And that’s how it will work with your team – you won’t be able to find a fit for a good person, and hopefully, they will recognize that they can find what they are looking for somewhere else. If they hang in there, then you either:

  • Live with it and let them limp along riding on the glory of their former self while in a lesser role, or you
  • Invest in re-training to help that person find the new motivation that will help them become truly engaged at work, or
  • You have to cut them loose. Respectfully, honourably and honestly while recognizing that firing someone is an extremely personal act

Deciding who’s on your bus not only means asking some people to step off, but also involves inviting new people to jump on.

What an exciting time! Bringing new people into an organization or onto a small team can send a shock of energy through the building. Look what just happened with the Toronto Blue Jays. Against 10 years of history, they made significant trades for better players to help them win in 2015 and the jolt was felt right through the organization. Their Monday game after the big trade was sold out, with an electric atmosphere at the ballpark which carried on through the end of the season and into the playoffs. Contrast that to the year before, when the Jays were in it and did not make a move. The fans howled, the media questioned and the players grumbled – and then started losing and missed the playoffs.

What the lesson for a PM – don’t miss the playoffs! When you have a chance to strengthen your team through the hiring process, spend time on it and get it right. But where do you start? Certainly not with a help wanted ad or a hiring ad on Monster. Yes, you will post the ad internally and send it out online as part of the hiring process but your best prospects will not likely come from a stack of resumes. They will come from your own personal list of superstars you want to hire, who do the same job with better results, better attitude and a new outlook at their existing company.

Do you keep a list of superstars?

If you don’t, I would suggest that you start. Start with your competitors locally, then nationally and find the person that kicks your butt at every pitch or who designs a product two upgrades more advanced than yours, year in and year out. In baseball, one phrase you hear a lot is “Glad he’s on our side” – because you’d rather not face them with the game on the line. Hire that person.

I would also suggest that you don’t limit your superstar list to your own industry. Good sales people, CSR’s, coders and project managers work right down the street from you. Identify the best companies around from their local press, awards for results, venture capital funding announcements, workplace awards, and target the people you need who have proven results.

There is no better way for you to shine as a project manager than to hire a superstar – both in the short term jolt the company gets when the hire is announced but also when the results start improving as a result of that hire.

Next month’s article will focus on the last two Bus questions:

3. Where should they sit
4. Who else can drive

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