Ask the OD Partners: How Do We Get the Right People on the Right Seats

Reflections and thoughts by Dr. Lily Cheng
Founder and Chief Catalyst

In the last issue of Real News, I leveraged on the metaphor of the bus that Jim Collins' used to describe an organisation in his book Good to Great, to discuss how we get the right people on the bus. Now what? Are they on the right seats?

Let me ask you this: Do you think you have 100% of the KEY seats on the bus filled with the RIGHT PEOPLE?  Were not talking about 100% of ALL seats, but 100% of the KEY seats.

Here are four principles of getting the right people on the right seats:

1. Strengths are Key.

It’s very important to understand every individual’s strengths before you assign your right people to their right seats.  We often mix up strengths and competencies.  Our strengths are not simply the things we’re good at, but things we do that make us feel strong. What makes a person the right one is having them know the activities at work that make them strong.  

One way to identify our strengths is through the Clifton StrengthsFinder, a Web-based assessment of normal personality from the perspective of Positive Psychology. A research initiative of Gallup, Clifton StrengthsFinder clusters our strengths into four distinct domains: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. When categorised in this way, individuals and teams can see a bigger picture in using their varied strengths to accomplish their goals.

Another method of identifying our strengths, as adapted from a sharing by Marcus Buckingham, author of The Truth About You, is by carrying a notepad with you for a week and listing down all the activities that make you feel strong once you’ve engaged in them. These activities could be anything from closing a deal to tidying your desk. Go back to the list you’ve created at the end of the week to review where your strengths lie.

2. Competence is Essential.  

Your employees must have the essential working competencies as fleshed out in the job specification (the requirements needed in a job or function) and job description (the list of responsibilities or duties the job holder has to carry out daily).  

3. Results are Telling.

When you have the right person on the right seat, it brings in positive outcomes, be it in revenue, performance required, or clients being happy.  

4. No perfect seat.  

We need to be mindful that in every right seat there is no perfection, and a right-person and right-seat match may change over time.

Therefore, I’d like to share about possible situations in which we may need to review our people and seats:

1. Organisation Restructuring

Due to dynamic external changes, we may need to rearrange the seats in our bus so that we remain relevant and sustainable. We need to be mindful that just because a right person was on the right seat on the previous stop on the journey, it doesn’t mean things will remain that way. It is a fact that organisations can outgrow employees and vice versa. It happens.  

2. Work Production vs. Work Aggravation

Our top performers can get to a place where their work production turns into work aggravation. This happens when they are exasperated, which may cause them to become the wrong people on their seats.

Before we allow this to happen, it is very crucial that we take pulse checks regularly with our top performers to find out if there are decisions you have made that have exasperated them.

3. Right Person Becoming the Wrong Person on the Seat

Sometimes competencies become obsolete, or strengths become replaced by other process improvements or technology.

If you suspect that someone is no longer a fit, work to finalise a decision in a deliberate manner, and do not let the person linger on in the right seat.  We need to be deliberate, decisive, and move on.

4. Asking Your Right People to Change to Other Right Seats

Changing seats can be tricky. Before you do it, ensure that this change isn’t being initiated because you’re taking the easy way out when the real course of action should actually be asking them to get off the bus. 

You need to be clear if that is the right seat for the person to fill. Develop a plan and define clear success factors and criteria before changing their seats. 

Ambiguity when moving seats is a disaster.  Just like when on board a bus, the longer an employee spends “walking along the aisle,” the higher the probability they’ll fall over when the bus swerves, and someone is likely to get hurt.

5. Reorganisation of Roles, Tasks, or Processes

Due to a change in strategy, you may find that the seats don’t seem right somehow. When this happens, you may need to reupholster your seats, ensuring that your structure supports your strategy.

During this process, step back and be willing to let the right people off the bus because they no longer can be right with the reupholstery or because their seats have been removed due to reorganisation.

In closing, we need to exercise compassion (collective pain) in situations whether the person is no longer right, the right seats are removed, the person has outgrown the seat, or the seat has outgrown the person. 

Individuals who are not aligned for success within your organisation deserve an opportunity to find the right fit elsewhere. They will perform better, have a higher degree of job satisfaction, and are more likely to excel. Do both you and them a favour and have the hard conversation if you need to.

Need help getting the right people on the right seats? Drop us an email at to explore how PACE’s OD solutions can help your organisation advance on its journey!

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