Review: Move Your Bus by Ron Clark

I first heard about this book in a talk by a corporate leader, and made a note to add it to my reading list. My Kindle has been the cause of impulse-buying in books, and this book too, sat on my unread pile for months. I finally got around to reading it over the Christmas Holidays, and have since been kicking myself for not doing so sooner!

I can confidently state that Move your Bus is the best management book that I have read in 2015.

Ron Clark is a US-based educator who runs the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. From what I gather, his eponymous school uses innovative methods, reportedly improving education outcomes among students. Clark’s three previous books are on education theory, and this has been his first book on corporate performance. One would expect that an educator would have little to say in matters of managing a company, but Clark is also a high-performance entrepreneur, operating an enterprise that fulfils a critical social need.

The basis of this book is a Flintsones’ style bus, with the floor ripped out. The driver of the bus provides direction with the steering wheel, but it is the passengers who provide the power for mobility in the same manner that Fred Flintstone drives his car. Clark applies this analogy to teams.

Clark describes the passengers on the bus as Runners, Joggers, Walkers, and Riders. The Runners, he states, are the overachievers – individuals who put their professional performance above everything else in life. There are then the Joggers, who perform well, but are not as driven as the Runners, characterised by patches of brilliant performance. The Walkers, according to Clark, are those who just “go with the flow”, doing the bare minimum to stay productive. Clark defines one more class of employee – the Rider, who invests no effort, yet finds fault with people around and is generally “dead weight”; slowing the team down.

In this slim volume that can be read in a single afternoon, Clark paints insightful images of these types and highlights how the first three fit into the team’s dynamic. He also discusses strategies to best utilize them and drive them to peak performance. Clark has an easy, conversational style that makes this book an easy read. Though loaded with anecdotes from Clark’s own life and career, the book does not sound preachy or pedantic.

One major shortcoming of this book is the way in which Clark deals with the Riders – the underperformers on his bus. His language seems to suggest that organizations summarily fire such employees, as any effort invested in them is a waste. This, I believe, is a very simplistic view of a complex issue. Professional underperformance may have various causes – right from willful inertia, which of course warrants Clark’s choice of action, to pathologies such as clinical depression and social disorders. There is a dilemma here – should a company invest in attempting to ‘fix’ an underperforming employee in what could be a poor business decision, or should there be an ethically difficult “culling”?

Over all, Move Your Bus is a great resource for people managers, regardless of their career stage. Clark practices what he preaches in education – this easy-to-read book is rich in information and insight, and will leave you thinking for weeks afterwards.