Monday, January 3, 2011

Competitive Advantage - Part #1

As we enter this New Year at work, strategic choices are plentiful, and overcoming operational difficulties is mission critical. Having a clear competitive advantage is also more important than ever.

For many companies this winter, the economy’s pendulum swinging between a few good months and numerous poor months is very frustrating. At times, executives feel dammed if they do something and dammed if they do not. The result of such economic uncertainty is more meetings. The book, Death by Meeting: a Leadership Fable . . .About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2004), by Patrick Lencioni could become a best seller again in the next six weeks given how many groups are gathering to figure out the future.

As one who sat through many such meetings in December of 2010, I love listening to the language used as the different strategic choices are explored. I can guarantee you that someone is going to voice the idea during an upcoming meeting that “our people are our competitive advantage.” Then, the more educated leaders and managers in the room will add that “having the right people is our competitive advantage.” And finally, some one, with almost gospel level reverence, will state that “having the right people on the right seats on the bus” is the most critical thing to do in the first quarter of 2011. While I whole heartedly agree with this idea from Jim Collin’s research in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't, HarperBusiness, 2001, few people realize that having the right people in 2011 also means keeping the right people.

In theory, we always hire the best candidate and then we do our best to orient them to their new job and the company as a whole. CEOs regularly lead classes to assure that new hires know the the company’s history, mission and core values. Alignment and perspective are critical first steps to the on-boarding process.

But at some point, the early romance of recruitment and the honeymoon of orientation stops and the actual work starts. Then, the e-mails flood their in-box, the paper work stacks up like planes circling Chicago before a winter storm, and meetings fill their calendar. Numb from hours of worthless meetings and overwhelmed by problems that have no quick or simple solution, these new and old “right people” turn to the one person who can make or break their day, namely their supervisor. And if this individual wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, has a bad hair day, misses their morning cup of coffee, and is generally irritable over factors they have no control over, e.g a pendulum swinging economy, this critical interaction can end up being a disaster just when it needs to be most helpful.

During the last 90 days, I have listened to more and more of these key or “right” people share how deeply frustrated they are with their supervisor and thus their company. They want to do good and they want to solve problems. They want to be successful and they also want the company to be successful. But when they report to and interact on a daily basis with some one who is not clear about their expectations, can not communicate and solve problems in a healthy manner, and does not role model the organization’s mission, vision or core values that were talked about during orientation, then these “right people” go back to their desk, dust off their resumes, and seek new opportunities for more productive work and life experiences.

I am convinced from what I have seen and heard in the last 90 days that more and more companies are suffering from a loss of competitive advantage due to poor supervision, management, and leadership than from economic factors over which they have no control. I am also convinced that many companies do have appropriate strategy and sound operational systems in place, but what they lack is the realization that having the right people on the right seats on the bus is only as good as having the right relationships between those people on the bus.

This week and this winter, spend more time making sure you do not loose your competitive advantage by loosing your best people. We can not afford to have them leave due to poor leadership, management or supervision. Things are hard enough as they are without adding this element into the mix.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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