#115 The Story Part 9: The Competition Won't Follow

(In parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight of this story, business owner Ted is trying to figure out how to run a business that’s heads above the crowd. Today he's debating whether his competition will copy his move to alignment, connection, & growth. If not, he might have found the secret to sustainable competitive advantage.)

Ted had tried for years to distance TeddcoCorp from the competition. New strategies. More efficient processes. Wallet-straining investments in technology. But relative to his foes, who were busy doing approximately the same stuff, the net gain had been zero.

Those days were about to end. This Align, Connect, Grow stuff was different. Ted was confident this new path would be a winner on a couple fronts.

First, he was convinced this was going to be a big winner in terms of quality of life - his own included. He was genuinely excited by the idea of helping his workmates grow and connect.

Second, he believed this approach would strengthen his bottom line. While he’d already decided to go down this path even if it was a net negative financially, this confidence that it would also pay dividends was icing on the cake. And the confidence came from the fact that he didn’t believe his copycat-prone competitors would have the guts, even once they saw TeddcoCorp kicking butt, to go on this ride.

There were three reasons Ted felt this way.

NO FOLLOWERS #1: Hard To Measure

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. Management guru Peter Drucker had coined this phrase, and Ted had shared it many times with his troops.

But there was a downside to this way of thinking. It tended to shift peoples attention away from “soft stuff" - behavioral stuff . This happened because no matter how hard you try with fancy polling apps and feedback systems, this soft stuff was hard to put a number on. It's darn-neared impossible to measure whether Joe in accounting feels like he's growing. And whether he feels like Kathy in marketing is connected and has his back.

Bottom line, you don’t get to know if your alignment is running at a 4 out of 10 or a 6 out of 10.

NO FOLLOWERS #2: Hard To Justify $$

This one is a tag-team partner to number one. If you can’t measure it, then you can’t do a payback analysis, or an ROI, or justify the expense in a budget proposal.

Ted was staring at this one himself. His “proof” that this path was worth the investment was “squishy” at best - his own experiences and his observations of people doing consistently better work because they felt aligned and connected with their teams. Ted knew this stuff mattered, but he'd never be able to prove that Alignment, Connection and Growth improved profits by X%.

 SCARY CLOWN

SCARY CLOWN

NO FOLLOWERS #3: This Stuff Is Scary

This one was the big kahuna. Focusing on alignment meant being more transparent. Letting down your guard. And from everything Ted had read, he, as the business owner, had to go first. Lead the charge. Admit that he wasn’t the all knowing business owner. That he had doubts about his ability to run this place. That there were days when he didn’t want to get out of his car and face this music.

TIME TO TAKE THE PLUNGE

These were three significant barriers to entry that would keep Ted’s competitors away. That was the bright side of this decision.

On the less bright side, it was unnerving to think about opening up to his employees. What if he OVER-did it? No one likes an OVER-sharer. That would be just as ineffective as not sharing at all.

So Ted was by no means fully confident in this Align, Connect, Grow path. But it was, by a country mile, the best thing he’d found to confront the stress and uncertainty that had consumed him. The gnawing reality that he was growing to hate the business he’d poured his life into and that he used to love.

And now he saw a chance to get that love back. To keep building TeddcoCorp and to, at the very same time, build the people that made the place special. He dreamed of eventually evolving into the role of chairman of the board. Staying out of day-to-day operations, but pouring himself into strategic and cultural issues that would make TeddcoCorp a special place for generations to come.

***

That’s enough Ted - for now. He’s explored his options for running a better business and landed in a place that’s all about Alignment, Connection, and Growth. Maybe someday we’ll circle back and see how he’s doing. But for now I’m heading back to writing about whatever fights its way to the top in a given week.

#114 The Story Part 8: Competitive Advantage

(In parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven of this story, business owner Ted is trying to figure out how to run a business that’s heads above the crowd. Last time he committed to running his business based on alignment, connection, and growth. Today he's wondering if he might have found the secret to competitive advantage.)

Ted now had a model that made sense to him. Get aligned around a core target(s) like mission, vision, values, why, Maps, or whatever you choose. Then get busy creating trusting connections which lead to sustained growth.

He liked it, and this big picture thinking also led him to a realization of how much his work life had changed over the years.

In the early days of the business every move had felt like it was make or break.

Signing his life away to get the money needed to open the doors
Getting the initial product offering defined, priced…
Landing the first customer.

His life savings had been on the line every single day - he ran on adrenaline, risk, fear.

It’d been frightening and exciting at the same time.

Things were different now. Ted and his family had a nice financial cushion - no more stress over providing food and shelter if things slowed down. On top of that, TeddcoCorp had a stable customer base and processes that generally worked.

So Ted was no longer having make or break experiences. His business was now a mosaic of 1,000’s of relatively tiny moments - decisions, interactions, inspirations, creative flashes.

Which shade of blue in the new logo?
Which process do we streamline next?
How do we price the Johnson proposal?
Should the new desks be of the stand up variety?
What do we buy Bill for his ten year anniversary with the company?
Should Helen’s title be Director or Vice-President?
Which of the nearly identical customer relationship management systems should we install?
Should we raise the development budget by 5% so they can try their new idea?
Should we expand into Columbus or Indianapolis next?
How can we make sure our employees know each others names?
How do we define business casual?
How do we make sure employees ideas and concerns are heard?
Are the summer interns being leveraged properly?
How can we find new employees?
Should we make company outings mandatory?

Each one was relatively small. But if the team was aligned and connected and handled these seemingly mundane moments well, TeddcoCorp would be oozing personal and professional growth.

wolfnatt_s_growth_spurt_by_jose_ramiro-dcard43.jpg

These tiny growth spurts would accumulate to define their culture, their reputation, the definition of the entire business.

This was quite a mind-shift for Ted. Over the years he’d defaulted to thinking of his business as a blender filled with process, technology and strategy - all swirling unpredictably around employees, customers and partners.

His new view saw TeddcoCorp as a mass of humanity that yearned for growth and connection. And while strategy, technology, and process were still critically important, Ted now saw them from this different perspective.

If you’re an aligned, connected growth machine…

…competitors can copy your strategy, but they can’t implement and maintain it like you can.

…competitors can copy your processes, but they can’t implement and maintain them like you can.

…competitors can copy your technology investments, but they can’t implement and maintain them like you can.

Strategy, process, and technology weren’t magic, they were commodities. The magic was the alignment, connection, and growth that you wrapped around these commodities. That's what would set TeddcoCorp apart. That’s what would make them a real bitch to compete with.

SUSTAINABLE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

Business school types like to fantasize about things like differentiation and sustainable competitive advantage - putting a defensible distance between you and your competitors. But Ted had always been a skeptic - EVERYTHING was so easy to copy these days that it just didn’t seem possible.

But now he had a different thought.

Maybe sustainable competitive advantage wasn’t about finding something that COULDN’T be copied. Maybe it was about finding things that worked and that WOULDN’T be copied.

Yes, everyone COULD copy TeddcoCorp’s focus on Alignment, Connection, and Growth, but WOULD they?

Ted’s answer was no - they wouldn’t. Even if they saw TeddcoCorp thriving, he was convinced they wouldn’t follow suit.

We’ll talk about why Ted felt this way - next time…