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Dealing with the “wrong people” on the bus

It’s about getting the right people on board and then letting them do what they are good at.

I absolutely loved hearing this from a potential client. That philosophy is how he keeps learning, gets the right people “on the bus,” and helps his startup company to innovate. While this is not always the case, it is always exciting to hear.

Unfortunately, more likely is that you may have some of the wrong people on the bus. Especially with companies scaling through rapid growth, it’s hard to make sure you are always hiring great talent. With larger companies or ones that scale quickly, dealing with some of the wrong people on the bus takes two different approaches.

Some companies feel more comfortable trying to hold onto their rising stars and minimizing the amount of people that are actively disengaged. With only 32% of employees or actively engaged, the majority are disengaged (52%) or actively disengaged (18%) at work according to the 2015 Gallup poll. To not address the middle of the boat, rather than just the leaders or the disengaged is to not look at the full scope of employee engagement at a company.

Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.

— Gallup

I really enjoyed the article from Harvard Business Review which addressed the middle of the pack employees. To deal with the middle can help businesses to fully address employee engagement and drive additional efficiencies. The primary lessons from the article include showing the consequences of mediocrity, use concrete measures as influence, establishing peer accountability, and speaking up.

The article reminded me a lot of The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack which talks about creating employee buy-in through transparency and a greater understanding of a business’s goals. With some large companies sprawling across countries and teams split across time zones, it is even more imperative that people understand how success is measured and in what ways they can help drive a company to success. By developing a better understanding of where a company is trying to go, managers and businesses can foster a deeper relationship with a more engaged workforce.

Dealing with the “mediocre middle” requires one basic prerequisite, otherwise attempts to recreate a transparent, accountable, engaged atmosphere will fail. That prerequistite is trust.


Businesses are made of people, not numbers. To treat someone like a number means they are already more likely to be disengaged. Just like customers enjoy personalization and a better customer experience, so do employees who spend even more time with a given company.

Trust is more than getting someone to show up 9 to 5. Trust is built on helping someone grow, fostering better understandings of the “why” in business and not just the “how,” and entrusting people with the responsibility to succeed. By taking away their knowledge, support, and independence, companies are effectively removing the impetus for people to succeed.

Trust involves being able to rely on your colleagues in order to establish accountability at a horizontal level. It means that even if management is unable or unwilling to help, someone else will be able to act as a means of support. Without support for initiatives or new ideas, companies may fail to innovate or will lose those who do.

Trust between managers and employees means that managers allow employees to grow, learn, and fail. Without trust, employees never receive the self confidence to move forward or are subjected to micromanaging rather than mentoring.

Trust means that management and all layers of the company can be transparent with one another. Fiefdoms, egos, and power moves should be left at the door – a transparent company is one where people know what they are working toward and how they are being measured. Measurements won’t be subjective either, they will be concrete like debt ratios. By minimizing subjectivity and upping transparency, companies can allow employees to take a more active role in the work. 

Trust also means that employees are not afraid to speak up. Whether it’s saying “No” to a request or being able to give their two cents, employees who don’t speak up can’t contribute to a company moving forward. Ideas from the top or bottom can change the course or a company. Just look at the Post It.

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