Crushing the Competition

Prize for the Winner

Whether your disposition tends toward competitiveness or no, as business organizations we need to outperform others in our industry. To not do so puts all stakeholders at risk–employees, investors, lenders, customers, vendors, etc. But, when a headline like the one above is read, it can cause some to bristle. Why is that? Probably because we have all seen the abusive pursuit of a goal cause collateral damage. And, yet, “crush” seems a little strong…

A conference of HR professionals that concluded in Raleigh today (#12hrmc) carried the above title. One of the speakers made the insightful comment that, while larger companies can boast greater revenues or number of employees, but  “no one can take away a competitive advantage of preferred culture.” This sentiment is great news for managers in organizations that are playing ‘catch up.’ If you find yourself in just such a situation, read on! There’s opportunity to be explored, but it may just require a reinvention of yourself and the structure around you. Innovation will be key to repositioning. Jacqueline Byrd (@creatrixinc) describes the type of innovation required as a combination of creativity and risk taking.

Byrd isolates four key components of creativity: ambiguity, independence, inner-directedness, and uniqueness. Ambiguity describes an employee’s ability to work without clear input. Independence is the competency wherein the individual can work in solitude and make progress. “Tuning in” to your inner voice to find calling is inner-directedness. Differentiation from one’s self and others defines uniqueness.

Risk-taking competencies include: authenticity, resilience, and self-acceptance. Authenticity equates to speaking what is top of mind, yet not necessarily harsh or brash. Believing everything will work out if we but persist is resilience. Those who can see shortcomings and lack of success as “learning” rather than “failure” are masters of self-acceptance.

Organizations that foster creativity and risk-taking, learn how to build innovation systems into their DNA, and celebrate both success and attempts that do not succeed are rare. They usually are very effective in:

  • attracting top talent
  • offering products and services with the “wow” factor, and
  • carving out a competitive advantage that can be sustained

If you work in a culture that resembles this pattern, chances are very good that you are crushing your competition–even if that is not your personality;)


The Internal Customer’s Perspective

This week, we are participating in the Capital Associated Industries’ HR Management Conference at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh, NC. The theme is “Crushing Your Competition With Culture & Talent.” Several speakers have spoken about the need to transform the culture within our organizations to become more engaging. Engagement “management” is a huge topic for HR professionals, as we live in a day and time wherein employees’ minds are engaged/distracted by so many other forces. One of the speakers in particular spoke about the metrics for fun companies versus boring places to work.

While “fun,” may be a stretch for your organization, certainly, we can agree that “boring” is to be avoided at all costs. In between the extremes is where most of us live and work. The ultimate challenge is to find a way to treat the workers within our companies as customers–in doing so, we care about the unique interactions we have with each and become intentional in such.

Engagement takes collaboration!

Marketers think about the messaging, form of delivery, and psychographics of customers all the time. As HR professionals, we are challenged to do the same–both in our direct interactions and in the environment we help foster. There are always a zillion things that fall to our charge that distract us from this type of intentional awareness of what we’re doing for establishing culture. Slowing down to think thoughts like those below–and encouraging others to do so–can inject care and engagement into work life.

  • how will she perceive this communication?
  • is email the best way to share this information?
  • am I the best person to bring this topic up?

Treating our supervisors, peers, and subordinates as target markets changes the dynamics of what we do dramatically. We develop strategies per “market segment,” tactics within each strategy, and “solutions” for problems we did not even know existed until we adopted this approach. Bon chance in making this concept work in your organization!

Innovation “Stickiness”

“To innovate or not to innovate” is not The Question. We live in a business world (and, increasingly, beyond business) wherein the drive to be competitive means irrelevance lingers for those who do not continuously improve their craft. The Question becomes, “What is your organization doing to make innovation ‘sticky’???”

Management gurus like Jim Andrew of the Boston Consulting Group articulate the value proposition for innovation very nicely. (see: Yet, what seems to be lacking in many of the discussions is how to keep positive change going, growing, and gaining acceptance. In an upcoming presentation to HR leaders at the CAI conference, “Crushing Your Competition With Your Culture & Talent,” ( we will be talking about the stickiness factor as it applies to innovation.

Silk fiber strength = stickiness!

Often, when we are trying to explain a nuance of a challenging problem, we turn to nature. The spider’s web is a great simile for innovation. How is it that a spider can weave an intricate web that catches others, but not itself, in its sticky strands? Scientists have studied these webs and found that the threads that are taut and strong are the stickiest, and the looser ones the pathway by which the spider traverses the web without becoming stuck. If the spider prey encounters, on the other hand, threads that are too sticky (strong), a struggle can break the strand and the prey is liberated. Yet, if the “glue” is only so sticky, a struggle may momentarily free the prey, only to become attached to additional strands that eventually fatigue the struggling prey before the battle is lost.

The concept of sufficient stickiness applies to organizations in this way: if we develop ideas with insufficient “strength,” they lack staying power because they don’t captivate; but ideas that are too strong/rigid break under the pressure of market forces. Balance is key! Whether you have actually read Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point or the brothers Heath’s Made to Stick, you have probably observed ideas that come and go versus those that have longer lives. It is incumbent upon us as managers, agents, and advocates of innovation to tell a story of uncommon sense that is founded in a value that can be demonstrated.

What? If our innovation does not lead to a competitive advantage that is unambiguous and precise, then there’s no point. Even if we have something of concrete value, there has to be a uniqueness that tackles an issue in a new way to capture the minds of your intended audience. Differentiated ideas/initiatives that are clearly articulated, finally, must be shared in such a way that the listener is drawn emotionally into the narrative and feels compelled to “get on board.” Resist becoming too enamored with one’s knowledge, however, as the inability to adapt/consider alternate viewpoints can be the hubris that breaks the strands of success!

Friday after work vs Monday at work

Have you ever been to a social event after work on Friday at 5 pm? Did you enjoy yourself as you mingled with peers, new contacts, and others? Something about the end of the work week causes us to slow down, breath a huge sigh of relief, and relax. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel this way more often?

On the other hand, when Monday rolls around and we find ourselves after a good weekend back at the “grindstone,” it is so easy to long for Friday afternoon at 5 o’clock again. Many work with associates who drive us batty, supervisors who don’t really know us (or care to!), and customers or vendors who challenge our patience. When you add to this work environment any concerns about the economy or potential change in the way the company is run, it can be unsettling and undesirable to even go to work.

How do we bridge the gap between that which is enjoyable and that which we do to earn a living? Entrepreneurship is an option for some; for most a different series of choices is the solution. Choose to work in a field that challenges you to draw on your gifts and talents. Choose to be happy and not allow others to bring you down. Choose to make your office a great place for you and others to work.

If you are a member of the management team, you can do something about the degree to which you and other employees are engaged. Some things to think about:

  • two-way feedback
  • building trust
  • clear-cut career development plans
  • definition of the employee role in company success
  • sharing of decision-making responsibility

May your work week more closely resemble the beginning of your weekend!

Your Firm’s Marketing is Unaccountable

Small firms (CPA, law, architects, engineers, etc.) often cannot afford full-time marketing staff. If there is full-time staff, budgets may limit the caliber of the person manning the position.  As a result of the lack of an executive, full-time presence, most firms subcontract with outside agencies for some or all of their marketing.

Unfortunately, the outsourcing of this key business function leads to marketing that is not accountable to the goals of the business. Many agencies are specialists in one area and weaker in others. Consequently, the marketing strategies that are often pursued are not integrated and, therefore, unable to achieve results that are superior and sustainable. In addition to the lack of breadth in approach, there is also likely a lack of measurement as to how successful the programs have been.

Marketing can be one area of the business for which metrics are hard to establish, monitor, and enforce. Internally, your leadership team needs to determine your goals before retaining an agency. Is reputation management your main concern, or is lead generation the focus, or are you trying to develop brand presence in a new niche? Starting with the end in mind will drive your goal setting. Break the goals down into intermediate measurements. For instance, if a firm is looking for more leads and you know how many leads are desired, then establishing a desired cost per lead generated seems like a reasonable measurement. An intermediate measurement may be determining how many leads are desired. Or, the size of the marketing budget. (As a general best practice, it is encouraged that you think in terms of 1-2% of revenues for marketing budget.)

After the metrics have been developed, then it is time to contract with an agency. Interview multiple ones–even if one of your partners has a relationship with a principal in one firm in town. During the interviews, challenge the agencies to provide you a proposal as to how they could meet your goals, including budget. Ask them if they would be willing to provide reports on progress against budget and step aside if they do not help you meet your goals.

Adding accountability into your marketing will yield appreciable benefits over time. The ability to anticipate the outcome of certain marketing actions becomes a competency that drives business performance. Sensitivity analysis can then be applied to determine how minor tweaks to the mix will affect the overall outcome(s). Get started today. Don’t wait until you are less busy. You will be glad you did!