Right Person, Wrong Seat

by | Jun 7, 2023

Our focus at The Shuler Group is about helping organizations achieve and sustain forward motion through their people, processes, and performance. As far as the people part, this involves ensuring an organization has the right people in the right seats.

Right people – these people whose goals, purpose, and values align with those of the organization’s. Fundamentally, they’ve bought in. They’ve drunk the Kool-aid (in a good way, not in a Jim Jones definition).

Right seat – these people have the skills and operate in their Zone of Genius when they are performing the duties of their assigned job.

When we consult with our clients around this concept, we always tell them to focus on the right person first. Why? Because you can have the most well-trained and experienced person in the universe working for you, but if he or she isn’t aligned with your organization’s values and mission, then at the very least, productivity and efficiency decrease. Worse than that, though, is that someone who is the wrong person can contribute to miscommunication and even a toxic culture.

That all being said, however, the right seat is important, too, and only in a very few cases, should it be the first thing to look at.

I’ve been reminded of this recently, somewhat the hard way, in two instances.

First, since we’re a small organization, Mark and I wear many hats. Our names crop up frequently on our organization chart. 🙂 Somebody has to do those roles, right? Well, but what if one or both of us is not well-suited for that role?

Once I took a hard look at what was getting done – and more importantly, what wasn’t – it came down to the fact that we might have the right people (we are committed to The Shuler Group!), but some of our seats were not the right ones. Once I moved us out of the wrong seats, our enthusiasm and positivity went way up, and our productivity increased.

My second example is we needed someone to take one of our process documents and make it easier to read, follow, and ultimately use. I interviewed several people, and of the two final candidates, I chose the one who was the right person, and I trusted that it was the right seat. Three months later, I still don’t have a usable, workable process document, and I’m frustrated.

Here’s the exception to always hire the right person first: if it’s a one-time project with a one-time contractor. The important thing is that the project gets done well, on time, and within budget. Yes, there was a possibility that there might have been more work for her (hence, by focusing on the right person first), but basically, this was a single project.

What can you take away from this?

First, if you’re hiring or outsourcing for a long-term position or project, absolutely focus on right person and then right seat. If it’s a short-term or one-time project, consider prioritizing the right seat. Next, evaluate regularly whether your right people are in the right seat.

If this is something we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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