The Essence of Competitive Advantage

When you're new in a job it's important to, as quickly as possible, grasp what makes the business successful.

Sometimes the answer is obvious:  "we've got the lowest cost structure in the business."  Othertimes, it is a bit more subtle.  In my time working for agricultural irrigation companies, it was well understood that the quality of the dealers made or broke you as a manufacturer.  What wasn't so obvious was what our company did to make sure we could attract and maintain the best dealers.  It was a few seemingly smaller things (getting our shipments out 100% correct and on time, standing behind any product or other problems and not leaving the dealers hanging, and being patient with dealers through the occassional rough patch) that made all the difference.

When you figure out the essence of the company's competitive advantage, you know what to build on, and along which dimensions to carefully watch your competitors.  I was astonished to see one of my main competitors repeatedly renegging on their warranty commitments, for example -- it created a huge vulnerability for them with their precious dealers, one I was able to exploit on multiple occassions.

Don't be lulled into complacency, however.  Sometimes the rules of the game change (read Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma for more on this subject).  Sometimes your greatest strength (such as a tremendous dealer network) can become the albatross around your neck (if, for example, your product can now be distributed without dealers).  Scanning and staying informed about all aspects of the business are critical to avoiding nasty surprises.

For the present, and usually for the forseeable future, the competitive advantage dimensions are where the action is.

Any contributions you make to the company along these most important dimensions, will count double when your performance is tallied.  One of my subordinates, for example, dramatically improved our company's ability to ship roducts on time and without errors, and earned a positive reputation that stayed with him the rest of his tenure with the company.

Spend some time distilling those core elements of competitive advantage, to make your efforts as targeted and hard-hitting as possible.


Other Recent Posts:

Get that Confrontation Behind You

Corporate Vendettas

Humor, out of context

Vice in the Workplace

When you have to fire someone...


If you enjoy the ideas presented in my blog posts, then check out my novels. Corporate Thrillers LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZE, and DELIVERABLES are all based on extensions of my basic experiences in the world of business.