Getting the Right People in the Right Seats…By Figuring Out Where the Seats Are

Making the most of my most important resource  


Before I was CEO of Javelina, I thought that the most important thing to my professional success was my ability to produce results. Producing results was what I would spend every working minute doing, thinking it would get me to where I wanted to go. And it did.

And so when I became CEO, I kept doing what I had always done – working like a dog and churning out results. In my first few weeks on the job, I wrote myself a job description, churned out a strategic plan for my work as CEO, started revising Javelina’s purpose, mission, and values (more on that in a few weeks), as well as doing the usual client work and day-to-day tasks of running the business. I was patting myself on the back, very proud of being more productive than ever. Little did I know that while I have been producing a lot of outcomes, I was missing one very important priority.

You may remember from my first blog post in the “So you’re CEO…Now What?” series where I asked the members of the Javelina team what they would do if they had just been made CEO. I received tremendous ideas and acted on every single one. One idea was to sit down with every team member and check in with them on how they were doing, and where they saw their role in the company. I thought this was a great first step, and scheduled a one-on-one meeting with every team member right away.

The concept made perfect sense to me. In the days and weeks that followed my CEO announcement, I received pieces of advice over and over from established leaders, one that read: “Make sure you have the right people in the right seats.”

It’s a common business turn of phrase, hailing from Jim Collins’ seminal book Good to Great. The concept is simple: to succeed, you must get the right people on the bus, and make sure they are doing the right job for them. Put another away, make sure they are in the right seats on the bus.

Admittedly, every time someone would advise me to get the right people in the right seats, I would mentally check the box. “I’m good on that front”, I would think to myself. “We have great people. And they’re all in the right seats.” I was excited to have the one-on-ones and learn how right I was.  

In reality, guess what I discovered? Right people, maybe. But not necessarily the right seats.

In fact, what I uncovered in asking the staff about their view of their jobs and their roles in the company is that they didn’t really know what the seats were. Across the board, the team was confused about performance expectations, or what the opportunities for growth were. No one was sure what their job description was, or if they even had one.

Not only was this feedback an almighty blow to my ego, it also opened my eyes that my tried and trusted talent – concentrating on getting my stuff done and not worrying about everyone else – was not going to get the job done in this new role. In this new role, my most important skill was not an ability to produce results, but the ability to enable others to achieve great results. And I had absolutely no idea how to do that.

Luckily, my old friend Google helped me out.  And Google told me was that it would help for everyone to have a very clear idea of three things:

1. What the expectations were for their role, and what success looked like
2. Where they fit in the overall organization, and how they related to other team members
3. What the opportunities for growth and development were

So, I started with #1. It seemed to make sense to start with job descriptions. Most people didn’t have a job description, and if they did, it was the outdated version. I resisted the urge to write a long list of bullet points that described the daily duties of each job. As I discovered when writing my own job description earlier this year, responsibilities are more important to articulate than duties, and I wanted to honor that for everyone else’s job description too.

I wanted each job description to:

  • Summarize each person’s responsibilities
  • Show the main projects they were responsible for
  • Demonstrate what success looked like
  • Be short and sweet – no more than a page long, and the shorter the better 

So, I set to work with every team member. Together, we identified what their core responsibilities were and what major projects they want to achieve over the next 18 months. This clarification would then help improve their role and the company’s overall performance. At the end of the meeting, each person helped create a one-page format that summarized their role.

Moving onto #2 in the list, it made sense to put together an organizational chart for Javelina – something we’d never had before. Today’s organizational chart demonstrates who is doing what, who reports to whom, job titles and salary ranges. It clears up many questions people had but didn’t feel like they could ask. And most importantly, it shows how every team member relates to each other. What are the key departments at Javelina? Who does what on the team? If you’re stuck on something, who can you go to for help?

To answer #3, we ended up developing a second organizational chart. The second chart shows the team we envision having in 3-5 years. The aspirational organizational chart, as I call it, shows a much larger and more tiered structure than is true today. It shows us having a whole tier of Officers (Chief Operations Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, etc.) that we don’t need today. It also includes an entire marketing team and other departments that aren’t required by 2017. But it shows where we’re going. It serves not only as a road map for me (as we grow, who should the next hire be?) but also as a guideline for the team. If they want to grow at our organization, what are the options? If they want to be the Chief Operations Officer one day, what is the path to get there? This chart helps address those questions.

The last thing we developed was a formalized process for receiving feedback on your job performance. This was created to help everyone know what success looks like, We wrote and shared the form used to evaluate performance so everyone knows where the goal posts were. And we determined when you will receive feedback from your direct manager (weekly), when official performance reviews will be done (quarterly), and when pay reviews occur (annually).

Each staff person was intricately involved in the development of their own job description. One by one, I sat down with each person to go over the two organizational charts to answer questions and concerns. We capped this process off with a full staff meeting, where each person presented their own job description. Then as a group, we talked about Javelina’s structure and feedback process. Most importantly, we talked about what we all do in relation to each other, and how we’re defining success at our company.

This whole process from beginning to end took 6 months. It was hours of time I could have spent producing documents, ticking things off my to do list, or going to networking events. But I knew it was the single most important thing I could do with my time because my new most important skill is the ability to enable others to achieve great results. And the right people can’t possibly be in the right seats if you don’t know where the seats are.

It doesn’t end here. This stuff is never one and done. We must continue to talk about our structure, our individual and collective responsibilities, and what success looks like for each person. In fact, as CEO I must be constantly aware of what my people know and what they need. It’s not something I can ignore, outsource or delegate.

That led me to the realization that being CEO meant I had to restructure how I spent my time. More on that next blog post 🙂

Do you have any tips on making sure you have the right people in the right seats? Tweet me @catherinealonz0 and let me know!

Javelina Blog Author Ariel Reyes
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Javelina Blog Author

Catherine Alonzo, CEO & Founding Partner

Catherine Alonzo is the CEO and founding partner of Javelina, a company that brings brand experience to life for non-profits, businesses, campaigns and individuals. Having played a pivotal role in growing Javelina into a leading branding and marketing firm, Catherine specializes in effective messaging, brand development and business strategic planning.


Email Javelina Blog Author Catherine AlonzoFollow Catherine Alonzo on TwitterFollow Catherine Alonzo on Instagram



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