More Than Just the Right Person in the Right Seat (aka Why You Are Only Getting a 40% On This Test)

In the realm of corporate recruitment, the axiom of securing the “right person for the right seat on the bus” has gained considerable traction for its apparent simplicity and directness. However, my experience has led me to believe that this mantra, while useful, is incomplete. It addresses merely two elements of a multifaceted equation, and these elements are arguably the ones that demand the least introspection and self-awareness from the hiring entity.

Dependence on these two factors alone offers, at best, a 40% likelihood of a successful hire. To enhance the odds, I advocate for a more nuanced strategy that includes five critical components: the right bus, the right person, the right seat, the right time, and the right cost.

Let us first examine the two concrete elements: the right bus (the company) and the right person. I wish to preface this with my conviction that the relationship between an employer and an employee is inherently reciprocal. A successful match between these two is imperative. The world has a scarcity of neither bad companies nor bad individuals, but rather an abundance of poor pairings, despite each party’s individual merits. This concept mirrors a personal belief of mine: I often remark, half in jest but wholly in earnest, that while I am a good husband to Courtney, I would be a disastrous match for the other 3.96 billion women on the planet. Although the odds are more favorable in professional contexts, the underlying principle remains valid.

My somewhat contentious view is that companies should assume the role of the accountable party, as per the RACI model. With their collective experience in recruitment and selection, organizations should leverage this expertise to ensure a genuine match, rather than simply determining if the candidate is suitable. I have interviewed hundreds of people. Thus, shouldn’t I be using my experience to make sure it’s a match not merely if the person is right?

1. Right Bus (Right Company):

The metaphor of the ‘right bus’ encapsulates the essence of the company in the hiring equation. It’s not just a backdrop against which individuals perform their roles; it’s an active, dynamic entity whose values, culture, and vision must align with those of the prospective employee. The ‘bus’ must be going in a direction that the individual is eager to travel.

A company’s mission, its core values, and its culture are not mere words on a website; they are the lived experience of every employee. They dictate the way decisions are made, how teams collaborate, and what behaviors are rewarded. Culture is merely what one does every day and how people feel about it. It also requires a company to be brutally honest about its culture.

Yet, when these elements resonate with an individual, it creates a powerful synergy. The individual is more likely to be engaged, productive, and loyal, which in turn drives the person’s success that drives company’s success.

The right company is one that not only seeks to fill a position but is also committed to finding a candidate who will thrive within its unique ecosystem. It understands that employees are not cogs in a machine but human beings seeking fulfillment and purpose in their work. It understands that a person’s time is more valuable than the company’s treasure. This means providing opportunities for growth, recognizing achievements, and fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Reflecting on my tenure at Clayco, I can attest to the profound impact that a company’s culture has on individual satisfaction and performance. The alignment with Clayco’s core values was not just about agreeing with a set of principles; it was about feeling an intrinsic part of something larger than myself. It was about being on a bus that was traveling towards a destination I believed in and wanted to reach.

For some, the environment at Clayco might have seemed demanding, but it was a place where challenges were embraced as opportunities for growth and excellence. The ‘right bus’ is one that not only takes you to your destination but also makes the journey enriching and worthwhile. It’s about finding a company where the environment challenges you to be your best while supporting your journey every step of the way.

In this light, the ‘right bus’ is not a static condition but a dynamic fit that evolves as both the individual and the company grow and change. It’s about a shared journey towards a common horizon, with the company providing the vehicle for the individual’s aspirations and ambitions, and the individual contributing their unique talents and energies to the company’s goals. This mutual journey is the essence of a successful employer-employee relationship.

2. Right Person:

“People are hired for what they know and fired for who they are.” This adage was imparted to me by a mentor over a decade ago, on a day when I had to dismiss a team member from Contegix. The individual was exceptional, and the decision weighed heavily on me.

The fault was mine, and I recognized it profoundly. We had encountered similar situations before. We would interview candidates who were technically adept and largely aligned with our mission and values. However, we failed to accurately assess how the candidate’s personal style would mesh with our operational structure. As CEO, I failed to build the systems and processes that ensured we did this.

Our engineers worked in shifts. The beauty is that when the shift was over, an engineer was done. No PagerDuty. No calls to ask questions. This system also helped us attract talent. We had people who worked third shift because they wanted to take their kids to school and be there when they got home. We had teammates who wanted second shift so they could go out after work (10 pm or later) and sleep in. 

The system that relied on punctuality and seamless handovers. The individual in question struggled with timely arrivals, despite our attempts to accommodate various schedules. His technical acumen was impressive, but his personal habits were incompatible with our structure. This oversight was mine to own.

Certainly, skills and qualifications are essential, but the integrity, work ethic, and alignment with the company’s core values are equally critical. It’s about the comprehensive fit of the individual, including both professional capabilities and personal characteristics. We determined “what they knew,” but we did not determine “who they are.”

(For reference, this is why we adopted and I continue to use Culture Index.)

3. Right Seat:

The concept of the “right seat” extends far beyond the mere job title or the list of responsibilities outlined in a job description. It is about the congruence between the individual’s innate strengths, their deepest passions, and the core responsibilities of the role they are to fill. The “seat” must be such that it allows the individual not just to perform their duties, but to excel and to grow both professionally and personally.

When we speak of strengths, we refer to the unique combination of skills and talents that an individual brings to the table. These are the attributes that enable them to tackle challenges with proficiency and confidence. It’s crucial that the role not only requires these strengths but also values them, providing a platform where these abilities can be honed and appreciated.

Passions are equally important. They are the driving force that motivates an individual to engage with their work beyond the surface level. When a role aligns with what an individual is passionate about, it ceases to be just a job. It becomes a calling, something that ignites enthusiasm and commitment. This alignment ensures that the individual remains motivated and is more likely to contribute innovative ideas and solutions, driven by their intrinsic interests.

Moreover, the right seat should also align with the individual’s career aspirations. It should be a stepping stone that helps them progress towards their long-term goals. Whether it’s a leadership role that offers opportunities for strategic decision-making or a technical position that allows for deep specialization, the role should help pave the path for the individual’s future endeavors.

In addition, the right seat should offer the right kind of challenges — ones that are stimulating and growth-inducing, yet not so overwhelming that they lead to burnout. It’s about finding that sweet spot where the individual is pushed to stretch their capabilities but still within the realm of achievable success.

Lastly, the right seat should come with the right kind of recognition and rewards. This includes not just the financial compensation but also the acknowledgment of achievements and contributions. Recognition is a powerful motivator and when individuals feel valued, their engagement and productivity tend to increase.

In essence, the right seat is where an individual’s unique strengths, passions, career aspirations, and the right level of challenge come together in harmony. It’s a place where they can contribute meaningfully, feel valued, and are able to embark on a trajectory of continuous growth and fulfillment. This alignment is critical not just for the satisfaction and retention of the employee, but for the overall success and dynamism of the organization.

4. Right Time:

Timing in the hiring process is a critical yet often overlooked element. It’s about the synchronicity between the company’s stage of growth and the individual’s career phase. The right time for a person to join a company is when the trajectory of the company’s development and the individual’s career path are aligned, allowing for a mutually beneficial relationship.

For instance, a VP at a startup is typically involved in a wide array of tasks, from strategic planning to hands-on execution, often with a smaller team and fewer resources. This role requires a versatile individual who thrives in a dynamic, sometimes ambiguous environment and is looking to make a direct impact. Conversely, a VP at a larger, established company might oversee a more specialized area, with a focus on refinement and efficiency, supported by a larger team and more resources. This position is suited for someone looking to focus deeply on strategic growth within a stable structure.

The right time for an individual to take on a role is when they are ready to embrace the specific challenges and opportunities that the company’s current stage presents. For someone who enjoys building systems from the ground up and has a high tolerance for risk, joining a startup might be timely. For others seeking to apply their skills to optimize and scale existing processes within a more predictable environment, a mature company might be the right timing.

Moreover, timing can also refer to the personal circumstances of the individual. A role that requires extensive travel or long hours might be suitable for someone at a stage in their life where they can accommodate such demands. In contrast, someone who is looking to balance work with significant personal or family commitments might find a better fit with a role that offers greater flexibility or predictability.

The right time also considers the readiness of the company to integrate and support a new role. A company must have the appropriate infrastructure and resources to not only onboard a new employee but to ensure their continued development and integration into the company culture.

In essence, the right time is a confluence of professional and personal readiness, both from the company’s and the individual’s perspective. It’s when the needs and opportunities of the company align with the skills, experience, and personal life of the individual, setting the stage for a successful and rewarding partnership.

5. Right Cost:

The dimension of cost in the hiring equation is multifaceted and extends beyond the surface-level interpretation of salary or compensation. It encompasses a broader spectrum of investments and returns for both the company and the individual.

For the company, cost includes the tangible financial package offered to the individual, which must be competitive to attract the right talent. However, it also involves the resources devoted to the development, support, and integration of the individual into the company. This includes training, mentoring, and the time of other employees involved in the onboarding process. Furthermore, there’s an opportunity cost associated with the time taken to find the right candidate and the potential cost of a vacancy in the meantime.

From the individual’s perspective, cost is not solely about the salary received. It’s about the investment of their time, the effort they put into their work, and the potential sacrifices they may make in their personal life. This could include longer hours, travel time, and the impact on work-life balance. It’s also about the opportunity costs of the individual, such as the potential for other job offers or career paths not taken.

The right cost is achieved when there’s a balance between these investments and the anticipated returns. For the company, the return is in the value the individual brings through their performance, innovation, and contribution to the company culture. For the individual, the return is not just the financial remuneration, but also professional growth, job satisfaction, and the alignment of the role with their broader career and life goals.

Achieving this balance is crucial. If the costs are too high on either side, the relationship may become unsustainable. For the company, overinvestment without adequate return can lead to financial strain and reduced morale among other employees. For the individual, if the personal cost is too great, it can lead to burnout, dissatisfaction, and ultimately, turnover.

Therefore, when considering the right cost, it’s essential to take a holistic view of what the company and individual are investing and what they hope to gain. The right cost is when both parties feel that their investment is justified by the value of what they receive in return, creating a sustainable and mutually beneficial arrangement.

The conventional hiring paradigm, which focuses narrowly on the right person and the right seat, is restrictive. For both companies and individuals to truly thrive in the recruitment process, a broader perspective that accounts for the right bus, person, seat, time, and cost is essential. It is only by considering all these aspects that we can significantly improve our chances of establishing a successful and enduring professional relationship… and stop wasting the precious resource of time for all.

Finally, I would appreciate any thoughts and comments on how this could be improved (or even wrong).

One thought on “More Than Just the Right Person in the Right Seat (aka Why You Are Only Getting a 40% On This Test)

  1. Spot on, Matt, especially recognizing the full cost commitment required for success. Several lessons here that I wish I would have learned earlier in my personal leadership journey, and a great reminder of where responsibility lies for ensuring mutual success.

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