Years ago I reached a point in my business’ journey where I was questioning the quality of some of the people who were working for me. Late one evening I got home from the office, sat at my desk and mulled over the following: How could I go about getting better at selecting people who really care about the work that they do, versus the one’s who come to the office every day and just do their job in order to earn a salary, with no real care and concern about my business’ mission and the people it serves?
For a fleeting moment I considered that maybe I needed to grow up and accept that not everyone would care about what we as a business do. But, wouldn’t it be a nicer place to work at every day if the people around me were all passionate about the work that we do? How do we as a business better select for this quality and find these passionate people?
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that by far the majority of people in my business do really care about the work that we do as an organisation, but the perfectionist in me is perturbed by the handful of people over the years that haven’t really cared at all.
I went to my mentor with this problem and he gave me a wonderful metaphor to frame the problem. When you want to get to a destination (your vision) that’s far away, you choose your car (organisation) as the means to get there.
Your car is made up of four elements: The engine, the chassis, the fuel additives and the trailer (fuel, by the way, is your customer).
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- The engine represents the people in your organisation that contribute to the organisation moving forward. They build, participate, and initiate.
- The chassis represents the people that are bound to the mission and are there to protect, collaborate, and support. They might not build, but they are important for the organisation to reach its objectives.
- The fuel additives represent those people that start off great when hired, they normally bring in ideas and impetus which drive the organisation forward momentarily, but then they lose momentum quickly and are unable to convert in order to become part of the engine.
- And finally, you have those represented by the trailer. These people are there for the ride until they are able to find something better, and will unhitch at the very first bump (some of the worst are those who can’t find another job and are quite comfortable staying in their current role).
Trailer people destroy value in an organisation. They have a corrosive effect on the culture of the organisation. They are political, unproductive and stand in the way of any form of progress.
These people complain a lot as a diversionary tactic to hide their incompetence or low level of productivity. They are infectious and are ironically hard to remove from the organisation they complain about.
The trailer to engine ratio
These trailers exist in every organisation, the only difference being the sizes of the trailers. Before my mentor invests in any business, he first tries to ascertain the size of the trailer that is hitched to it and is dragging it down, relative to the size of the engine that is driving the business forward.
Your role as entrepreneur is to make sure your trailer to engine ratio is as low as possible. You do this through inspirational leadership, a clear vision (and the ability to communicate that vision), the ability to have tough conversations, zero tolerance for office politics, and the creation of a culture that does not tolerate trailers.
Since my trailer discussion with my mentor, the culture in my organisation has improved tremendously. I spent a year removing the trailers and making sure everyone knew that trailer people had no home in our company. The important point to remember is that you must remain vigilant about your trailer/engine ratio. Things can change very quickly in a growing organisation, so persist in your efforts to exit or convert trailers, and never stop building your engine — the driving force of positive growth.