Get the right people on the bus

"Being heartily sick of that sort of so-called advice with nothing behind it is what I’d caution anyone to watch out for"

Neil Davidson | CEO | HeyHuman

How would you explain what “get the right people on the bus” means?


I’m answering this through gritted teeth, so let’s get this first question out of the way! To me it means that one of the key things about successful businesses is bringing together the right people for individual roles. It also recognises that there’s also a collective mix of people that needs to be thought about that goes beyond individual roles, creating a healthy mix of shared views but also meaningful difference too. It’s also sometimes used to make the point about valuing attitude over ability, that you can teach skills and develop people, so you need to value their attitude more when hiring.

What do you think about this ‘advice’?


It’s not meaningful advice really, and I’d chuck it in the bin with sayings like “cash is king” and “your greatest assets come up and down the lift every day”. These are the sorts of sound bites that senior people and NEDs (the bad ones) say to others to show that they know what they are talking about, or as a word of warning. Being heartily sick of that sort of so-called advice with nothing behind it is what I’d caution anyone to watch out for. It doesn’t actually transfer any knowledge and it doesn’t show you a way through. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve consciously developed my own learning outside of an agency and outside of the industry. There’s so much insight and learning to be found that’s based on something, and I definitely don’t mean some of the more questionable management books or podcasts out there either!

Would you give this advice to other people?


No. I’d try and understand someone’s particular situation and give them advice based on that, with insight and approaches developed with real foundations behind them, either meaningful experience, good advice I’ve been given or learnings and approaches I’ve found in my studies and applied successfully before.

If not, what alternative advice would you give to agency leaders?


Where do you start? There is no one piece of advice I’d give to agency leaders that I believe applies to every leader in every situation, apart from managing your role and workload in ways that preserve a life outside of the agency, and your own health. There is unlimited knowledge needed to be a great agency leader, beyond what is possible for one person to learn and stay on top of, including leadership and people, finance, marketing, innovation and change management, strategy and organisational understanding. You can’t do it all, so you need to have a balanced team, and lean on experts at the right times too. Seek advice, have good people around you, and listen to people.

Who do you think should own the vision in an agency?


It depends.

It feels like the expected answer is ‘everyone’, but I’m not sure it is possible. I’ve worked in some great agencies in my career that were at the top of their game and clear about their vision.

I understood their vision, to a certain degree, but I definitely didn’t own it. Visions can be bottom-up or top-down, to use old school language, and there are some organisations that would probably say that it’s organic. That’s all fine if it works for everyone, but my biggest plea would be to not confuse vision with strategy. It’s one of the worst things happening in agency leadership (my view, for what it’s worth).

Neil Davidson's favourite interview question


Quite simply ‘why are you looking for a new role?’

Understandably, there are a lot of people running away from old roles, but you also need to hear that they are running towards the role you have more than they are running away. Otherwise in a few months’ time it probably won’t work out, because they have been so focused on what they are leaving, not their next role.

Neil Davidson's full bio

Neil is CEO of HeyHuman, a global creative agency bringing behavioural approaches to working with clients. Neil has previously led agencies in the UK and Europe in MD and Partner roles. He also speaks regularly on thought leadership through conferences and podcasts.

Humble promo of Neil Davidson and HeyHuman


It's a challenging leap for an agency to be perceived as a consultancy. Many agencies get stuck just being a the 'supplier' who does 'what we need them to do'. HeyHuman however have positioned themself in a great spot, ensuring that everything they do prioritises the people who use the products and services of their clients. Neil Davidson is a great leader at the helm of this exceptional business transformation agency and I'm definitely really excited to see what the future holds for him and his team!

Daniel (Polymensa founder)

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