good to great: is the "right" people relevant?

Returning to a discussion of the book Good to Great by Jim Collins (GTG) and the companion monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors (GTGSS). Previous posts on this here and here.

Chapter 3 of GTG presents a key finding of Collins’ study of companies that leapt from good to great. They subscribed to a “First Who…Then What” approach to their business. Their first order of business was to get “the right people on the bus (and teh wrong people off the bus)” and then figure out “where to drive it.” This is contrary to his expected finding (and probably ours as well) that the turn toward greatness began with “a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company, and then to get people committed and aligned behind that new direction.”

There was a rigorous discipline with this in hiring and evaluation processes. The “3 simple truths” behind this philosophy were:
1. “If you begin with ‘who,’ rather than ‘what,’ you can more easily adapt to a changing world.”
2. “If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away.”
3. “If you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

When we consider the relevance or not of this for the Church and for Kingdom ministry, the following comes to mind:

1. We might question if it is even relevant to use the category of right and wrong people for ministry/the Kingdom. Isn’t the message of the gospel that there’s not “right” people and “wrong” people b/c it’s about what God’s doing, and not us anyway?

2. On the other hand, we might suggest that the category of “right/wrong people” does still apply, but in an upside down kind of reordering. After all, Paul said that God was using the foolish of this world to shame the wise. And Jesus seemed to indicate that “right” and “wrong” person still applied, but held out that these designations were fluid, not static. Transformation is the name of the people game for Jesus. The “right” people are the ones who respond to the gospel with repentance and who seek to live a new life with God’s help. The “wrong” ones are those who are puffed up and proud with no need for the gospel (note the prayers of the Pharisee vs. the sinner to get the difference here!)

It seems to me that a faithful reading of the NT and really the bible as a whole points to the second point above. God often seeks out certain persons, implying that there were others that would not have suited his purposes quite as well. But persons are not pursued because who they are at present is particularly impressive. However, that unimpressiveness or ordinariness is precisely what God is looking for to be glorified.

At the same time as all of this theologizing, 2 more thoughts:
1. The language of right and wrong persons here seems tricky, no matter which way you go with it.
2. This does seem to apply to organizational work. Who has never looked at a situation and thought something along the lines of, “the right person would make all the difference.” If we nullify thinking that some people are right for a job or team and others are wrong for it, we invite the question of what that perspective says about the uniqueness of our gifts and graces. Are there not some places and positions that work better than others for us?


Published by Guy M Williams

Christian | Husband, Father | Pastor | 8th-Gen Texan | Texas A&M ‘96 | Asbury Seminary ‘01 | Enjoy family, reading, running, golf, college football

9 thoughts on “good to great: is the "right" people relevant?

  1. I understand the tempation to want certain people on the bus – and others off. But I also call it a temptation, not an inclination from God.

    Part of the problem of dealing with abstractions like “What” and “Who” is that we lose touch with reality. Aristotle’s understanding of form and substance existing in hierarchy is useful here. What is this thing? It’s a board. What’s it made of? Wood. How about this – what is this thing? It’s a fence. What’s it made of? It’s made of boards. The WHAT re-occurs on many levels.

    Surely any business knows something about its WHAT at the beginning – otherwise there is no bus for anyone to get on, and no thought that anyone might get on it. Collin’s abstraction has led him to forget the WHATNESS of the bus.

    Our bus – as the church – might be conceived of as the Great Commission. We have some idea what that includes. What elements it will include in any given setting, how we will fulfill it with any particular set of people, well, we have to wait and see which people God puts on the bus.

  2. I’m with you on calling it a temptation to want some people off the bus.

    How about this: If the bus is the Church, then all are invited to be on and no one is forced off. But what about the second level that Collins discusses about getting into the right seats? The Church may include all, but the Trustees committee, the Children’s ministry? Is there value in saying that some seats are the “right” ones for each of us and others are the “wrong” ones? Seems to me that we do this very thing all the time when we emphasize discovering one’s spiritual gifts.

    On the flip side, I have wondered how narrowly we construe a person’s contribution we when test and slot people through spiritual gift inventories. Discovering your spiritual gifts is great; being mechanically plugged in or slotted to one of 2-4 options based on my “gifting” may not be as much so.

    Thanks for the conversation, I’m truly verbally processing this stuff and doing my best to think through it from a variety of angles.

  3. The logic of spiritual gift inventories – that God makes us a particular way and then seeks to employ us in light of how we’re made – seems impeccable. That supposed logic, however, leaves out a couple of important details. First, we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. Sure, when faced with an inventory we can check off the things we’ve experienced in the past, or figure out which things sound appealing to us, but that may or may not (I think NOT is often more likely) tell us anything about our gifting. Second, when I look at scripture, I see God has a tendency to call people contrary to their perceived “gifts.”

    As a leader, I see there are many tasks that need to be done. Some I just have to do – even if I don’t feel gifted, even if I do them poorly. Likewise, I also need to find other people to do some of them. Sometimes I have the luxury of finding people who are plainly good at something and excited in the doing. Usually, not, however. Usually I have to settle for people who do what they do simply out of a sense of duty – or can I call it obedience? When I teach on spiritual gifts I always emphasize that awareness of spiritual gifts is no substitute (or excuse against) simple obedience.

  4. Guy,
    I’ve spent considerable time with ‘Good to Great’ over the last year and a half. I’ve read it twice (and sections more often, though not the Social Sectors monograph). The first time I read it in isolation, I found it in an airport bookstore, it looked interesting, so I read it. The second time through was just a couple of months ago in the context of a small group of pastors going through a process called a Leadership Incubator (ours was led by Bryan Sims from Spiritual Leadership INC. remember him?). All that to say, I had the same questions (for the most part) that you bring up here. I thought the book was/is very good for business leadership but wondered how to ‘tweak’ it for the church and if doing so would maintain the benefits. The second time through, in the community of other pastors, we spent a lot of time on the passages you are talking about in this post. Let me list what we came up with (to the best of my feeble memory):

    1. With the concept of the right and wrong people we decided that this applied only and directly to the formal leadership of the church; not to church membership, or attendance, or even involvement in ministry.

    2. The first and greatest quality of the ‘right’ person is mature discipleship (what Bryan called a ‘Chasing after Christ’ kind of person). The ‘right’ person is not identified by skills, or prestige in the community, or financial abilities, or even spiritual gifts, but first and foremost they are people chasing after Christ and His Kingdom.

    3. These kind of people are discerned and identified by the community of faith and not in the isolation of the Pastor’s study, or even the nominating committee (or whatever we call that committee now).

    4. And when these ‘Chasing after Christ’ kind of people are following Christ and leading the church the ‘building our kingdoms’ people; what Collins calls the ‘Wrong People,’ voluntarily get off the bus. And sometimes they experience the power of the Spirit at work around them and then become ‘Chasing after Christ’ people themselves.

    Sorry about the simplistic sound of this comment, but that’s the nature of blog comments. This comment really doesn’t do justice to the depth of discussion we had, but I hope it helps in your thinking.

    Rich Jones

  5. Thanks, Rich–helps a lot.

    I think you’re nailing the direction I’m moving. “Right person” absolutely does not apply to who gets to follow Jesus. But when we think about discerning church leadership, it can factor in. We just need to rigorously reflect on what “right” means in our context–which is what the GTG companies did, actually, thinking of his example about Nucor steel building plants in rural areas (we can teach farmers how to make steel, but we can’t teach farmer work-ethic to just anybody). #4 of your comments I think presses the issue well. There’s just nothing like some passionate, growing Christians in leadership in their church to press others on where they are in their faith. Some will be inspired and spurred on, others will be threatened and misunderstand. All will be pressed to make choices, which is a good thing.

  6. I’m a bi-product of G2G in action at work. My ex-bus driver wanted to move the old out and promote the young. I was to take the place of an elder…

    The ex-bus driver was so mean, cruel and heartless to the elder that I JUMPED off the bus mid-motion.

    The unethical treatment from my former bus driver has me thinking the whole concept of G2G has no room for forgiveness or compassion. Traits I like to think the Methodist church still abounds with or at least tries to attain.

    Sometimes business models are best left to businesses.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Library Lady. Hate to hear how that guy applied the concept. However one might apply the “first who” concept, I think meanness and cruelty would likely call into question whether he’s in “the right seat” on that bus…or if he should have a seat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: