Compete to be the best? Not so fast!

Are you competing to be the best company in whatever vertical market you are operating in? The best software company; the best manufacturer or distributor? How about the best CPA, Legal, or Consulting firm? With 13,000 new companies starting up each week, how can you say you are the best? 

Rather than thinking of your product or service as the ‘best’, consider how it is uncommonly or uniquely different from your competitors.  Strategy is all about being different.  In his classic book 'Competitive Advantage', author Michael Porter defines strategy as the “creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities (from competitors)”.  If we cannot clearly define how our offering is unique or uncommon, then, as a leadership team, we need to discover, understand and articulate what makes our offering uncommonly different from our competitors.

So, what can we do about it? Here's what I think:

  • Understand your core competencies.  Develop competencies that your competition will be hard-pressed to duplicate.

  • Define your core customer, your WHO.  Think of your core customer as a real person who exists and is working in a company already in your database, and with whom you find it a pleasure to do business and who buys at a profitable level.

  • Discover your 'Uncommon Offering.' Determine WHAT you are providing for your ideal 'WHO'.  (Hint…  it satisfies both transactional and emotional needs).

  • Define your 'Imaginative Acts', your STRATEGIC DIFFERENTIATORS, things you are doing that are not being done well or at all by your competitors.

  • Discover your X Factor, your Secret Sauce, the big differentiating secret that only you and your team know about and leverage it to greater levels of profit and increased enterprise value. 

Below you'll find a series of resources if you want to dive deeper into understanding the problem. 

ARTICLE: Core Competencies, Bain & Company. [12 min read]

Defines Core Competency as follows:  A Core Competency is a deep proficiency that enables a company to deliver unique value to customers.   Such a Core Competence…

1). Creates sustainable competitive advantage for a company
2). Helps it branch into a wide variety of related markets

The litmus test for a Core Competency? … It’s hard for competitors to copy or procure.

Understanding Core Competencies allows companies to invest in the strengths that differentiate them, set strategies that unify their entire organization, and leverage their strengths to profitable advantage.
VIDEO: Core Customer Component of The 3HAG Way. 3HAG pt. 4 - Core Customer: who will buy at a profit  [3.12 min watch]   

As a practicing 3HAG WAY coach, I strongly support author and coach Shannon Susko's approach to defining Core Customer, which is a critical component in her 3HAG Way Strategic Execution System.  Susko's Core Customer exercise is derived both from her own experience as a CEO, and also adapted from 'The Inside Advantage', by Bob Bloom, referenced below.

BOOK: Inside Advantage, by Robert Bloom. 

Southwest Airlines was launched in 1970 in Bob Bloom's conference room in Dallas, Tx. Working with some of the world's most famous brands, such as L'ORÉAL, Perrier, BMW, Southwest Airlines, and Nestlé, Bloom developed an effective guide to help you discover your Core Customer, (WHO), then your Uncommon Offering (WHAT), then your Imaginative Acts, (STRATEGIC DIFFERENTIATORS) and finally your 'Inside Advantage’. Pulling it all together in ‘Inside Advantage’, the author demonstrates HOW to sell your WHAT to your WHO, at very high levels of profit. 

Excerpt: “I believe that a flourishing business should double in size every 5 years.  It's an ambitious goal, but at the same time a reasonable measure of an aggressively managed firm firing on all cylinders, on track to reach its full potential.”

Self-inquiry questions to consider:  

  1. Do you know how your product or service is differentiated in your market space? 

  2. Do you know your core customer down to the individual who is buying at a profit?

  3. What uncommon and imaginative acts you are offering to your core customers that differentiate you from your competition?

And finally, I'll leave you with a quote:

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a new tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking." - R. Buckminster Fuller; Designer, Inventor, Futurist.

A Passion for the Purpose: Leadership in the ‘Open Organization’

A Passion for the Purpose: Leadership in the ‘Open Organization’

Evidence is emerging which indicates a command and control (top down) philosophy of leadership generally doesn’t work in business settings today.  Instead, leaders today need to be open to new structures, processes, and styles that are open and inclusive, and that allow all employees the opportunity to build wealth and have a say in how the company operates.  

Open Book Management: The Early Days of Springfield Remanufacturing

Open Book Management: The Early Days of Springfield Remanufacturing

The Great Game of Business is a company whose origins were from the Springfield Re-manufacturing Corp. (SRC).  For those who do not know about Jack Stack and Springfield Re-manufacturing, I will be writing more about this great story of American Manufacturing ingenuity in additional articles.    

Suffice it to say, Jack Stack and his SRC Holdings, a collection of dozens of industrial Midwest manufacturing companies, are successful due to his unique, simple, and potent method of management.  Key learnings from the SRC story are all rolled up into an Open Book Management (OBM) concept Jack refers to as the Great Game of Business (Great Game). The Great Game is a management system to consider adopting to make your company thrive for decades to come.

Results-Based Leadership & Open Book Management

Results-Based Leadership & Open Book Management

Leadership is about so much more than results. An effective leader can get great results and build a culture of trust, respect, with care for the human element. When leaders really listen to their team members, being receptive when they present their problems, they build trust and respect, and the member will want to do great things because he/she feels connected and valued. If the team does not trust and respect the leader due to that leader creating a culture of fear and intimidation, the leader is ineffective and needs to change, or be changed.

Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership

Leadership is lacking in our country, in all areas of business, government, in the church, and in the home.  One does not need to dig very deep to find failure in leadership in almost every sector of our society. The long term effects of this lack of leadership are devastating.

How can we raise strong authentic leaders in our companies, among the ranks of our management, on our leadership teams, and on our boards?

How To Build A Culture of Trust In Your Business

How To Build A Culture of Trust In Your Business

Strategy, Structure, and Culture... Get one wrong and you have a very small chance for success, get two wrong and you’re out the race before it even starts, get all three right, and you’re likely to be incredibly successful. Starting with Culture, first ask: “Do you have a Culture of Trust in your organization?”  If not, you are missing a crucial link to the ongoing success and value of your company.

Business Acceleration by Design

Business Acceleration by Design

How do we increase the rate of business acceleration? Does it happen randomly by chance? Is it situational and opportunistic? Or, does it happen by design?

Processes in your business are dynamic, not static. The key is to identify and understand those processes that will take you to a higher level, even catapulting you into hyper speed, to a 10X or greater rate of growth. Identifying, isolating, and focusing on the primary drivers and strategic differentiators comprise the key to designing an accelerated growth strategy enabling dramatic growth … Buckle up and read on …

Leading High Performance Cohesive Teams

Leading High Performance Cohesive Teams

 A characteristic commonly seen in high-performance teams is cohesiveness, a measure of the attraction of the group to its members (and the resistance to leaving it).  How do you get people to work together, to collaborate, to manage tension without emotion, especially in a virtual environment?  

The War for Talent

The War for Talent

With the rise in U.S. GDP from 1.8% in 2017 to 4.1% in 2019, our economy is accelerating at massive speed, essentially doubling. To keep up with the growth, you will need to hire in every department to continue to deliver on your customer requirements. If you’re having a problem finding skilled 'A' level talent, it’s because we are in a battle, a war for talent, the likes of which hasn’t happened to this extreme in recent history. This war on talent is driven by several key factors:

When Processing Feedback, Apply the 'Rule of 1%'

Are you getting feedback on a regular basis as a leader?  If you are a CEO, is your senior leadership team comfortable giving you feedback?  Are you getting feedback from your board?  How are you handling it?

What does it feel like when you get negative feedback?  For me, sometimes I can get defensive.  It can depend on the subject, and on my own emotional state and level of stress at the time, but more often than not my tendency is to be defensive.

Customer Experience Defines Your Brand

Good leaders understand that an inspirational Vision, supported by enduring Core Values, with Goals that are in alignment with the current mission are all critical factors in a successful organization. They understand why they do what they do, and are clear about their purpose.

The Value of Respect

Barron’s recently published results from its annual survey of institutional investors about their views of the world’s top 100 companies, based on market cap as of May 12, 2014. This cross section of U.S. money managers ranked companies on the basis of 1. Strong management, 2. Ethical business practices, 3. Sound business strategy, 4. Competitive edge, and 5. Product Innovation. Barron’s has been conducting this survey since 2005, and uses a numerical scale relating to four statements of Highly Respect , Respect, Respect Somewhat, and Don’t respect.

Radical Empowerment…Exponential Growth

Kip Tindell, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store has a system of onboarding that is revolutionary.

Tindell is author of Uncontainable, How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives. Training is a large part of The Container Store’s onboarding process, where new employees receive nearly 300 hours of education and training, compared to a retail industry average of 8 hours. As a result of the investment, The Container Store has a following of devoted customers who love to shop there, and who tell others of their experience.

Great Workplace Cultures. A Professional Services Sector Study

This month Fortune Magazine featured two articles on culture trends in the professional services sector.  In the first, '20 Companies with Great Workplace Culture', authors Ed Frauenheim and Kim Peters describe characteristics of a great place to work within the sector.  The second, which lists the 20 Companies, is based on a survey of 255,200 employees, and is titled 'Best Workplaces in Consulting & Professional Services.' by Christopher Tkaczyk.

Leading Your On-Boarding Process

Are your on-boarding processes functioning well?  Are they used strategically to introduce new employees to the systems and mechanisms used in your organization designed to accomplish the goals and deliver a remarkable customer experience?  Are you as a CEO involved in the process?  If not, you need to be.

Open Book Management. Transparency that Works

The Great Game of Business is a company whose origins were from the Springfield Re-manufacturing Corp, (SRC).  For those who do not know about Jack Stack and Springfield Re-manufacturing, I will be writing more about this great story of American Manufacturing ingenuity in future posts.  Suffice it to say, Jack Stack and his smokestack industrial Midwest manufacturing companies are the real deal.  Key learning from the SRC story are all rolled up into an Open Book Management Concept they call the Great Game of Business, and it is an awesome system to utilize if you want your company to succeed and thrive for decades to come.

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

What is your company’s culture?  How would you describe it?  Are you able to say that everyone in your company understands what you mean by culture?  Are they completely aligned with it?  Do you communicate it during your recruiting, interviewing, hiring, on-boarding and training of all employees?

A Tale of Three Cultures

A definition of culture that I like is from Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, Built to Last, and numerous other books and articles … Culture is a combination of core values, core purpose, combined with the BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is a very aggressive stretch goal set for a long timeframe.  Another is what people are saying about their company to others, including customers.  Culture is either intentional by active design and promotion, alive in the organization and cause for continued operations, or it is unintentional and largely ignored by passive default.

Most companies have two cultures.  The first is the one reflected by your view of the world as a CEO.  It is written on your website, and discussed in your annual retreat.  It is a corporate worldview that may be shared by your Senior Leadership Team.  However you have a big problem if that view of culture is not shared by the majority of employees in your company, who are actively supporting Culture #2.

Culture #1.

  • Developed at the annual strategy retreat by the senior team a number of years ago.
  • Mission, Vision, and Core Values written on a sign on the conference room wall.
  • Posted on the website, and sometimes on the back of business cards.
  • Descriptive words are similar to Integrity, Quality, Innovation, Responsive, Customer Focused.
  • Listed on certain company documents, like an employment intake form, to be signed after reading indicating the new employee has read and understands the mission and vision statements, and agrees with the core values shown on the conference room wall.
  • Not frequently communicated, or clearly understood or remembered by anyone in the company
  • A somewhat cloudy vision of culture the leader believes exists in the company.
  • Something that is separate from day to day operations.
  • Not used as a strategic differentiator, recruiting tool, or weapon with which to dominate markets.

Culture #2

  • Informal, default, risk averse, and protective of the status quo.
  • Alive in the organization at levels below the senior team.
  • Unwritten, but clearly understood by all employees, at levels below the senior team.
  • Accepting of triangulation, where it’s ok for folks to talk about others when they are not present.
  • Completely different than the words used by the leaders to describe it.
  • Protective of the group, who desires a paycheck for time spent working each day.
  • Promotes job security, and a strategy that says ‘Don’t rock the boat’.
  • Confused by efforts of leadership to enforce Culture #1, which few if any understand.

Culture #3

  • Could be a blend between #1 and #2
  • Could be something entirely new and different, but clearly understood, adopted, and promoted by all employees.
  • Should be used as a competitive advantage in recruiting talent and acquiring customers.

With culture #1, you will have difficulty scaling your business, and will be stuck and frustrated each day working ‘in’ the business instead of ‘on’ it.  And employees will not have the same view of culture that you as the leader and your Senior Team have if you do not consistently and frequently communicate the core values and core purpose, and BHAG of your company to others.

  • If your company’s culture looks like culture #1, then you are not consistently and frequently communicating the purpose and core values, and your goals.  The generic words you have written on the conference room wall have no viability and are basically useless.  In fact, having two cultures takes a lot of energy to manage, drains the organization of creativity and innovation, and creates tension.  It definitely hurts your credibility as a CEO.

If this resonates with you, it is a problem… your problem.  You created it, and you need to fix it.  Your big job is to create a new culture, one we’ll call Culture #3.  Culture #3 could be a bridge between what you would like to have as a culture, your ideal state, and what actually exists within your firm.

My guess is that if you don't do something about it, your company will be challenged to be relevant going forward.

I would like to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to connect and we can discuss how to create a high performing culture you would be proud of.