Maybe it was the few days I got to spend in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains last week with a number of truly talented students, faculty, and industry leaders representing the biomedical engineering field. The venue at Clemson University was amazing and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to describe many of the people I had a chance to interact with as brilliant.

Whatever the cause I found myself very thoughtful and contemplative as I flew west and receptive to new ideas and the interpretation of ideas I had previously.

I am a big fan of the site I feel like they provide a lot of value added content, but this week they were on fire. A couple of articles/posts particularly stood out for me.

All of us have heard the quote from Jim Collins about “getting the right people on the bus”. If you are a consultant, speaker or author in my field you have probably used it. A couple of the articles I got a chance to read put in a somewhat different perspective for me.

The first,, talks about why there really is no such thing as a “war for talent”. The author discussed three elements that critically impact everything- the team, the time, and the game.

His point about the “team” is that the play of individual players is affected significantly by the team they are playing on. They can play up or down based on the synergy of the team. I like to think of this as “fit” If they don’t fit their ability to excel is compromised or affected negatively. Conversely you see people’s contributions increase substantially when the fit is there. Witness the San Francisco Giants; they stepped up together and individually. A “superstar” may not be a superstar at every position nor on every team. The team is critical.

The “time” is also critical. He used the historical analogy of Winston Churchill during WWII. Churchill both prior to and after the war didn’t represent the right fit. Organizations evolve as well and the skills and how we deploy them need to evolve with what is happening in a particular time.

Examining the “game” is also critical. We have a love affair especially in this country with the concept of “best practices”. We don’t always look at the applicability of best practices from one industry to another. In fact we have well respected firms who enjoy a very lucrative business installing their “templates” in organizations across the world. If it doesn’t work you aren’t doing it “right”. My analogy for this is creating organizational culture. There is no one right culture; there is a right culture for a particular organization.

The other article,, was about the author learning to stop or at least reduce his “micro-management”. In this article he described how he was transitioning from the entrepreneurial stage to more of a defined business and hired someone to come in and help with an area that was outside of his personal expertise. He describes his struggle to let go and actually listen to the person he had hired.

How many of us have shared this experience? We hire someone either as an employee or as an outside “expert and then we “explain” or argue with them about every change they recommend based on “precedent” or “our culture”. If we were optimized why did we retain them? I think we do that collectively to our employees. We hire bright, capable people and then we “dumb them down” we teach them to conform.

When I look at these things in the broadest context I reinterpret Collins- the right people on the bus has to be evaluated in terms of the three elements I described above- the bus is moving. Chances are the right bus and the right person evolves as well. To me at least balancing these elements is the essence of true engagement. People who do this extraordinarily well are what Seth Godin calls Linchpins, a skill he tells us we should cultivate and nurture. They see the connections.

To me at least it gives me pause and says that maybe we need to redefine some things like loyalty, traditionally synonymous with tenure and instead look at contribution. That when we hire talent we should be sure that those considerations are in place and that we are open and willing to listen.

We are in an interesting time. Productivity, job satisfaction, and engagement are at historically low levels. The recent election says a lot of us want to return to the “good old days” – I think that particular bus left town a long time ago and trying to find it and re-board it is a big mistake….

What do you think….?


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