3 Reasons “Good” People Aren’t RIGHT for Your Organization

The most important question in business is and will forever be “WHO?”

Here’s why: The best idea, strategy, and plan on the planet doesn’t yield a thing without the right people in place to execute and make it happen. Although this sounds straightforward and logical, the process of identifying the right “seats” (roles) and then filling them with the right people remains a top challenge for entrepreneurs and leaders.

“Talent is the #1 priority for a CEO. You think it’s about vision and strategy, but you have to get the right people first.”

– Andrea Jung

I regularly witness executives defending and justifying “good” people in key roles while simultaneously tolerating results and/or behaviors they shouldn’t. These choices kill or slow growth, demotivate others, and create more work (and frustration) for leaders and staff alike. Even worse, these “good” people increase the operating risk of the business, further penalizing the entrepreneur / owner who can’t or won’t act to upgrade their team.

There are three reasons why “good” people aren’t right for your organization:

  • They aren’t a cultural fit,
  • They don’t possess the capability to be successful in their role, and/or
  • They don’t have the requisite expertise to achieve the outcomes demanded by their role.

Over my 20+ year coaching career, I’ve seen plenty of examples of leaders on both sides: those who make the right, hard moves, and those who settle for “good” people. The corresponding outcomes could not possibly be more stark and clear: The RIGHT people in the right roles are behind every single scale-up success story!

I’ve distilled the mindset of leaders who commit to having the RIGHT people on their team into three core beliefs. We’ll dive into them first and then outline some of the very real obstacles and solutions to getting and maintaining a team of the RIGHT people to help you scale.

Belief #1: Cultural Fit is Paramount

When I hear a leader describe someone on their team as “good,” they are usually characterizing that person’s performance in their role. Although performance is certainly important, cultural fit is a second, less appreciated dimension with the potential to either multiply or negate performance.

My use of the term culture here refers to the organization’s behavioral rules and norms. I call these Core Values. I’ve heard leaders call them Cultural Commitments and various other creative terms, but make no mistake: whatever you call them, they are the behavioral rules that define your culture.

Although performance is certainly important, cultural fit is a second, less appreciated dimension with the potential to either multiply or negate performance.

These rules capture critical non-performance-based expectations and are tailored to create the culture that you and your leadership team deem desirable for your firm. Behaviors captured by Core Values commonly include teamwork, punctuality, caring, continual improvement, personal growth, transparent communication, quality, speaking up, and the like. If you’ve ever had the experience of working next to someone who exhibits the opposite of any of these illustrative traits, you can begin to understand the damage a non-culture-fit person inflicts on the rest of the team!

Here’s how leaders with the belief that culture fit is paramount keep it that way:

Each calendar quarter, my coaching clients stratify their direct reports (typically managers) into A, B, or C classifications. Both performance and cultural fit are incorporated into this process. What’s more, the senior leaders conduct this exercise in front of their peers who are encouraged to provide additional feedback, debate, and context to one another along the way. This high accountability, high rigor environment eliminates favoritism and ensures that neither performance nor cultural fit are discounted.

These highly productive, bar-raising conversations keep the leadership team sharply focused on the RIGHT people standard of thinking that accounts for both performance and cultural fit.

How frequently and rigorously are you assessing the performance AND cultural fit of your employees?

Belief #2: Capability Far Outweighs Capacity

As I’ve written before, you would never expect a fish to climb a tree. To state the obvious, this is because it doesn’t have the capability.  Yet, in effect, many leaders hold an equally unreasonable expectation: they expect people without the right capability to succeed as they staff key organizational roles.

For example, think about:

  • The customer service representative promoted to run marketing because she was the most interested in the role,
  • The tenured, loyal employee asked to become operations manager because the founder felt like he was the fastest learner, and
  • The newly hired sales manager who never managed people before, but whose salary was affordable and seemed “ready for the next step” in their career.

Each of these relatively common scenarios reveals incremental thinking and relies upon a hope-based plan for success, neither of which accelerates growth, impact, and scale. The hallmark of this approach is to focus on capacity, that is, “I think they can do the job,” rather than capability which is more about “They’ve done this or are already doing this, so they will be successful.”

How are you weighting capacity in the form of prior experience as you evaluate otherwise “good” candidates to fill key roles?

Belief #3: Prior Relevant Expertise is Priceless

The way to become an $XX million dollar (fill in the numbers to match your aspirations) firm is to begin acting like an $XX million dollar firm today. Put another way, as uber-coach Marshall Goldsmith posited in his book with the same title: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

This principle holds true for just about any aspiration or endeavor.

For example, want to be a more effective communicator? Begin replicating the behaviors of effective communicators today. Although this seems straightforward, it can be difficult to downright impossible to “figure out” the right next moves to make if you’ve not actually had the experience of success—yet—yourself.

This is why leaders need to be mindful of assembling a team of people who have already proven their capability to operate at the level to which the organization aspires!

Consider the moves four of my coaching clients made over the past year:

  • A $200 million technology infrastructure firm hired a president who previously ran and sold a similar business after growing it from $1.4 billion to $2.2 billion in sales in less than 5 years.
  • A 300-employee not-for-profit hired a senior operations executive from a global apparel firm who was managing over 1,000 employees and $6 billion in revenue to help them scale their operations more smoothly and efficiently.
  • A $100 million specialty manufacturer hired a CFO who led a global firm’s growth to over $1 billion and then took it public to guide their capital plans, facilitate acquisitions, and help them scale to $500 million in the next 3 years.
  • A $150 million financial services firm hired a General Council who previously ran the legal team at a multi-billion-dollar firm to transform their risk management and legal capabilities as they continue to scale.

I encourage you to scale these numbers down to fit the reality of your firm, as the same principle applies at any stage of growth. For example, if you’re a $750,000 business today you should look for people with expertise running a $10 million operation to help you get there! While buying this level of expertise can be expensive, it’s actually more expensive to proceed without the right people and, in fact, there are countless win-win creative ways–including the use of fractional / consulting expertise–to enable next-level people to join your team.

Do the “good” people occupying key roles on your team possess the expertise to pull your organization forward, or are they trying to “figure it out” as they go? Where do you need to look outside to find the expertise you need to scale?

The Obstacle of Emotional Attachment

Emotional attachment is a massive obstacle that prevents otherwise capable leaders from accelerating their firm’s growth and success.

Consider these two realities:

  • Your emotional attachment to longstanding members of your team interferes with your ability to objectively evaluate their performance and fit.
  • A whopping 85 percent of the leadership teams I’ve coached had at least one member turnover within the first twelve months of my engagement because that the person wasn’t the right fit.

All of this notwithstanding, there is no end to the justifications you might try to make as to why every “good” member of your team is RIGHT for their role. Believe me, I’ve heard them all.

If you have a RIGHT people problem—and the odds are you do—you have to be honest with yourself and begin upgrading your team. The wrong people in the wrong seats can’t help you improve your organization’s accountability or performance.

Another way to look at this situation is to imagine you report to a board of directors consisting of the 5 most successful people in your industry. How would they assess your team’s performance? How would they assess yours? And what expertise would they suggest you acquire that is currently lacking in your firm?

The wrong people in the wrong seats can’t help you improve your organization’s accountability or performance.

If emotional attachment is still holding you back, consider that it’s quite possible to treat people with gratitude and dignity, yet be firm about the notion that the firm has outgrown their capabilities. Sometimes you can find an appropriate, alternative role for them; sometimes that’s just not possible. Either way, as a leader, you are accountable to the organization, to yourself, and to your team to provide every possible moral and ethical opportunity to achieve your objectives.

How are your emotions preventing you from replacing “good” people with the RIGHT people?

How to Get the RIGHT People on Your Team

Here are three game-changing moves that will help you get the RIGHT people on your team:

Overcome Your Fears

Whether you realize it or not, fear is a common obstacle that prevents leaders from making the right people moves as they strive to scale. This most commonly manifests as “bird in the hand thinking” related to the “good” people on your team: they may not be ideal, but you know and trust them, and they get the job done. On the other hand, you might wonder about how challenging it might be to find a replacement and whether you can afford the transition.

Here’s a free tool from my first book Activators that can help. Use it to think more logically through your situation and find a way to move forward through your fear.

Think About the 95%

I’ve observed countless leaders over many years focus relentlessly on the small percentage (say 5%) of people in their organizations that need to be “fixed.” Another name for this is the “C Player Trap.” It’s a trap because you’re expending massive time and energy on something relatively small while largely ignoring the impact on the rest of your firm! Now think about the other 95% of the people in your organization. What’s the impact of you tolerating ongoing issues with a few people on the rest of your firm?

When you begin focusing on the other 95% instead of the 5%, you’ll find it easier to make the hard, right moves to upgrade your team.

Clarify Your Priorities and Connect to Them Emotionally

How clearly can you see your ideal desired future state? And when you think about it, does it seem distant and abstract, or can you feel it viscerally and emotionally?

Unclear and non-emotionalized priorities make it challenging to justify a departure from your comfort zone to make hard, right people moves. Take the time to create a vivid vision of your desired future and make it so vivid that you can feel the emotion of getting there. Consider your priorities for the business, for your family, and for your ultimate legacy! Clear and emotionalized priorities make it easier for you to consider whether you truly have the right people on your team and—as needed—make changes to accelerate your journey.


“I’ve learned if you have the right people in the right places doing the right things, you can be successful at whatever you do.”

– Roger Staubach

Getting the RIGHT people in the right roles is a never-ending quest: You don’t just find the right players, check off the “I got them” box, and call it a day!

As we’ve explored, this process typically begins with the need to remove underperformers and other “good” employees who aren’t a fit or can’t get you where you need to go. The process evolves from there to become a more proactive and developmentally minded effort to add capability and experience to your team. 

Rest assured, when you make the required moves and truly experience the RIGHT person in a role, it will be a tipping point in your evolution as a leader and in the growth trajectory of your firm. From there, you’ll want more RIGHT people, faster.

Best of all, it’s never too late to get started!


Take Action to Learn, Grow, and Improve…

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