Success Begins With The Right People In The Right Seats

By Rick Cottrell

In his bestselling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins detailed that those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus.

Collins added that great companies always think first about who rather than what. When facing chaos and uncertainty, and you cannot possibly predict what’s coming around the corner, your best “strategy” is to have a busload of people who can adapt to and perform brilliantly no matter what comes next. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.

Unfortunately many smaller companies aren’t getting this message.


Our firm has worked with and/or conducted research with a large number of small companies from a vast amount of industries during the past decade. Many of these companies do the exact opposite of the Collins’ mantra. They continue to put the wrong people in the wrong seats, impeding growth and profitability.

In the start-up phase many companies are understandably strapped both financially and operationally. The leadership owner(s) will tend to forgo typical hiring procedures and place friends and relatives, with little or no track record, in executive positions.

For example, a friend who took a few marketing courses in college may be tabbed to serve as Director of Marketing. A cousin who received a degree in accounting may be called upon as Chief Financial Officer (CFO). A nephew who seemingly has a gift of gab will be called upon to be the Director of Sales. While these examples seem extreme, if not laughable, they continue to happen more often than not.

Many of these small businesses have well defined targets and goals. Their objective is to scale from $0-$1 million in year one, $1-$3 million in year two, and $3-$5 million in year three. If the goal is to be a $5 million company in three years the question ownership should ask is do we have the right people in the right seats to get us there?

As the company moves out of the launch phase, ownership needs to reevaluate its executive team. Are sales on track? Is the person with the gift of gab actually closing deals or are they just good at talking about them? Does the director of marketing actually have a solid plan in place that takes full advantage of advertising, public relations and social media or are they relying on text books to learn as they go? Are financial projections and accounting procedures properly detailed and itemized or is the CFO taking an online course to try to figure it all out?

Ownership needs to take a deep dive within each key department. Those who are not a good long term fit as a division manager should be reassigned if possible or simply terminated. While some feathers may be ruffled as part of the process the long term growth and sustainability of the business should come first.

In order to fill those important positions left by the ill-equipped, candidates who have the right background and experience can be brought on board. However, to avoid additional hiring mistakes, leadership needs to define the type of person needed for each position. Exact tasks and responsibilities should be detailed. A sample best-candidate job history and educational background need to be created. Personality traits should also play a strong role in any job evaluation.

While the hiring process may seem challenging and time consuming, fortunately there are many tools available to help leadership through the hiring process. Many offer a deep diagnostic analysis to ensure the individual who is quiet and introverted does not end-up in sales or the highly extroverted and hyper-intense individual does not end up holding down a desk in administration.

One HR tool we have found to be most effective is the RP/RSsm personnel assessment platform. This platform is nearly 100% accurate in ensuring the right person is properly matched with the right job.

Ensuring the right people are in the right seats is the best way to create predictable growth and scalability, avoid stagnation, and generate more freedom for the owner.

About the author

Rick Cottrell, CEO of uses his significant entrepreneurial experience and extensive research about business to help entrepreneurial business owners and their leadership teams “supercharge” their businesses, helping them break through the ceiling and get to the next level. His accomplishments include: Developer of the original Ownership in 12 Entrepreneurial businesses and counting. One of the Top Authorities in Business Performance Modeling and Analytics. Highlighted in The Wall Street Journal, HBR and CEO for his work in the Customer Experience/CX space. He has spoken and presented, internationally, on numerous topics related to business acceleration and growth. Recently named One of the Top Business Advisors in St. Louis by Small Business Monthly. Experience in numerous industries including manufacturing, automotive, e-commerce, hospitality, aerospace, construction, logistics, retail, printing, financial services, and more. To learn how Rick and his team can help you grow your business contact at