Leading During Reinvention

At some point in your business life, as the business’s leader, you stop staring at your competitor and realize it is only the value of your organization’s ideas and their execution that really matters.

By Dean Horowitz, Publisher | November 30, 2001


Dean Horowitz, Publisher

At some point in your business life, as the business’s leader, you stop staring at your competitor and realize it is only the value of your organization’s ideas and their execution that really matters. It is not about your competitor, it is about your ability to establish a rewarding, sustainable business.

If you watch your competitor too closely, you will get incrementally better but will remain only another offering or choice or flavor of the same thing.

By changing your focus to your client base and your ability to deliver more than clients expect, you are empowered to launch great fresh products and leapfrog the current market offerings. To move effectively in this direction, research must be used to substantiate regular customer contact and no longer substitute for it. Along this course, something big changes in your organization’s leadership needs: everything.

Being a leader in a one-on-one competition is easier. Simple thought process: We are great and they stink. Winning is achieved by killing off the competition and gaining market dominance. It is the historic story of good and evil, and everyone wants to be on the side of good. People will follow you when they believe the value of their work in this environment is greater than they can achieve by themselves. Winning against evil is a historic motivator, a team sport. But what I am talking about is the shift to internal competition, winning through organizational growth and excellence. This is hard because it is relentless.

When the behaviors your company exhibits are analyzed, with the focus on continual improvement, you create a self-critiquing environment that is never satisfied. It seeks out the flaws, questions all aspects and tries to suggest ways for improvement. Eventually this new behavior, designed to make your company great, begins to eat away at the very reason you thought you enjoyed what you do for a living. Everything becomes critical, and nothing is deemed a win.

You see, because you gave up on the idea of no longer measuring yourself against your competitor, you have eliminated your sales and market- share growth as an opportunity to celebrate.

You are looking for flaws in everything you do, so you no longer celebrate improvement because you think you still stink, at least against your new, thoughtful standards.

Because you have new goals, measuring your improvement against the past is meaningless.

Basically you now have a group of people who started out wanting to be part of a great organization only to beat themselves and each other to death in the process.

This brings us back to the new kind of leadership. It is your role to soften the edges, enabling a questioning environment to occur - "If we can’t defend it, we must change it" - but at the same time holding on to a clear outside enemy as a measuring stick. It doesn’t have to be "the competition" but instead last year’s customer satisfaction scores. Two-point gains can mean celebration because they demonstrate a move toward a "rewarding, sustainable company." They also mean higher-margin revenue because you are selling customers better, fresher products instead of another product in the market.

The past few years were about seizing opportunities during a great economic boom. Innovation and "out of the box" and "first to market" were elements in everyone’s daily language. Now we are looking at our core businesses, and the focus is on strengthening them during uncertain times.

This is the time for real leadership and direction. Purely competitive wins are for wimps. Now it is about turning your products into ones customers must have and can’t get anywhere else. And only your organization will deliver them.


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