Are the Right People in the Right Seats? Now’s the Time to Find Out.

The Right People in the Right Seats

Consultants often use the “seats on the bus” metaphor in evaluating personnel situations, the general question being: “Are the right people in the right seats on your organizational bus?” It’s pretty obvious that having people in positions where they’re unlikely to succeed will hamper organization growth.

What might be less obvious is this: right now is an excellent time to make those assessments and any corresponding changes that might result. The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many businesses operate, so even if you felt you had the right people in the right places last year, that may no longer be the case.

If your organizational roles and responsibilities have changed as a result of the work-from-home (WFH) environment, don’t assume that they’ll return to the way they were any time soon. Major organizations including Google have made plans to remain virtual until at least mid-2021, and a survey by the freelancing site Upwork estimates that as much as 20 percent of the workforce will remain remote even after the pandemic. Yet many businesses seem to be in a holding pattern waiting for a return to normal.

The appropriate advice here will vary widely by industry, but here’s a general look at current considerations and opportunities for addressing your own human capital situation:

Start with the seats, not the people.

This is the time for a thorough and objective look at your organization’s structure, setting aside for the moment the question of personnel. What has changed recently, whether as a result of the pandemic or not? What is your organizational chart going to look like in 2021 and beyond?

It’s important to separate the people from the positions here. Every organization has team members who are considered indispensable, but if they’re serving a function that’s no longer called for, it’s not helping. For the moment, think of it this way: if you were launching a new company today, what would that company’s org chart look like? And how closely does that match your current structure?

Help from outside the organization is often called for here. Leaders are often too close to the situation to view it objectively, and may need some guidance to see the forest and not just the trees. Where are you likely to need additional personnel? Where are you probably going to have to scale back? What does the future hold? A qualified consultant will bring a broader and more informed worldview to these decisions.

Who can we move?

If there are disparities between your current structure and your future needs, it’s time to circle back to that first question: are the right people in the right seats right now? Even the highest-performing teams are probably not doing the same things to the same degree that they were at this time last year. Who has been overloaded with new responsibilities this year? Conversely, who might have a little too much time on their hands? And how can you bridge those gaps?

There’s one important caveat here, and that is a reminder that these are exceptionally difficult times for many of your team members. Many organizations find themselves adjusting their performance expectations for workers who have school-age children learning from home, or who find themselves responsible for the care of an older relative because of the infection danger at elder care facilities. Before you pile new or shifted responsibilities onto a team member, make an effort to fully understand their situation.

More seats?

Like just about everything else, the process of vetting, interviewing and hiring has been complicated by the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. While employment rates have been improving steadily since the initial shock of COVID-19, nationwide unemployment still stood at 8.4 percent in August, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That means there are some good people out there and available for hire, and it’s still a buyer’s market.

Recent graduates have found 2020 to be exceptionally difficult, with 13.3 percent unemployed as of June (source: If your new outlook calls for additional entry-level help, the timing is good.

There remains a great deal of uncertainty as to what the future holds, and the picture varies significantly from industry to industry and even from company to company. Even the BLS admits that their long-range labor predictions, while positive, do not factor in the effects of the pandemic.

The truth is, however, that there’s never true certainty in business planning, only best practices. Organizations that make the effort now for an objective examination of their current and future needs will be in a far better position overall as we come of out this unprecedented year.

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