Monday, September 12, 2011

Running Faster to Stay in Place

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that! " says the Red Queen to Alice in Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.Management is great at running at the same pace, and not getting anywhere. Radical leadership is figuring out how to run at twice the pace in order to get ahead. In business, it's not about harder nor smarter--contrary to many business books. It's about doing it differently.

In one industry, and it's true for all (or almost all if you want me to be accurate), we used to say that we have a product advantage for about two months. It wouldn't take long for the competition to get one of our products, dissect it, analyze it and duplicate the advantage in their own product. Same for service offers.

In order to stay ahead, you had to be able to innovate twice as fast or twice as far. Even then it wouldn't take long for the others to catch up. Being first to that spot isn't enough to ensure long-term success. Look at IBM laptops, Circuit City USA electronic goods, Motorola cell phones, Sony mp3 players, Segways, etc. (Okay, Motorola phones are still around but no longer dominant in the market.)

It's not about technology, delivery, service, price or quality. It's not about the kinds of people you hire, whether they're smart, dynamic, talented, working in their strengths or not, millenial, baby-boomed, diverse, religious or green. It's not about the benefits or the flexibility or if there's free lemonade in the fridge. All companies can hire the same kinds of people and create similar work spaces and benefit packages. It's about leadership.

It's about the culture (values and behavior), the extent of collaboration and systems thinking that creates momentum, alignment and engagement within your company. In several polls, it's been shown that fewer than 1 in 4 people really care about what you're trying to do in your company, division or department. If you can double this level of engagement and alignment, you've got a competitive advantage that's hard for others to duplicate.

If you've got the right leadership, the rest will follow. Your people and the markets will respond. You'll figure out the peripheral, changeable aspects of external (customer) satisfaction and internal (employee) satisfaction. You'll create a sense of ownership on their part.

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