First Who, then How, then What

As I had shared with you earlier this month (here and here), I have been rereading Jim Collins’ Good to Great recently.

Perhaps the most often quoted part of his book has to do with his “First Who, then What” concept, more often quoted in regards to the explanation of why you should have the “right people on the bus,” and that “people are not your most important asset ” the right people are,” therefore, you need to get the wrong people off the bus too.

I do agree with him; and in managing with aloha we devote much effort to coaching managers on how they determine who the right people are, starting with recruiting on the basis of values, talents, and strengths.

However I’m a bit more deliberate in taking my time arriving at the What. I believe we need to devote a lot of our attention to the
. Once we have our right people on the bus, I believe it is ‘healthy exercise’ to talk about the
we are going to get along on our bus trip, i.e. how we engage with each other, how we work together, and even how we play together.

Even people who share the same values can annoy each other with their little idiosyncrasies. There is both an art and a science to the many dimensions of organizational operations ” what a playground.

Further, connecting this discussion to our current KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u warpath, it is in the
that Mediocrity finds its comfortable hiding place, with its partner in crime and fellow bottom-dweller named Complacency.

Dip into the archives for more examples of Working on the
The Real Rules of Engagement
Another Take on Meetings: The 5-Point Plan.

Working within your circle of influence.

Asking Great Questions; Art or Skill?
3 great questions you can use to Delegate Better.

Monday or Friday? Choose Wisely


  1. says

    Once you done the who, the what I think is more important. The how will take care of itself, IF (yes, big if) we have truly done the right thing to get the proper people on the bus. With the right people on the bus, defining the how can restrict them. I think it is better to tell them the what and let them figure out the how.

  2. says

    Steve, that just hasn’t been my own experience. I could make the same argument with The What – that when you have the right people on the bus, they are self-motivated enough to start working on The What pretty much immediately, for they’ve been recruited for something, and The What is not a total unknown.
    I agree with you on being careful not to make The How restrictive: I was moreso referring to behavior, and understanding things like Rules of Engagement in a company (i.e. on the bus) – the how people “play nicely” with each other.

  3. says

    I agree with you, Rosa – I have been involved in too many projects, companies, etc. where “The What” was really amazing, but it got totally screwed up by problems in “The How.” Lack of respect, lack of integrity, lack of cooperation, and lack of unified vision can pollute, degrade, and destory even the best “What.”
    As for the Who vs. How, I think Who is always the dominant constraint, but I still think you should begin with How. Why? Think about it this way:
    You can start with the Who, and hope you pick good ones so you wind up with a good How. That’s hit-or-miss.
    But, if you start with the How, you can then create criteria that will help you select a bunch of Who’s that are capable of working in accordance with your ideal How.
    This may sound a bit confusing described this way, but remember Covey’s advice:
    * Begin with the end in mind.
    Or – in this case – “Begin with the How in mind.”
    Mahalo for the provocation, as usual Rosa!