February 28, 2014

Transforming Communication into Competitive Advantage

The term “competitive advantage” refers to factors that can be leveraged to stand out, get ahead, and win in a given pursuit. In business, competitive advantage matters significantly when you are operating in a climate of hyper-competition with ever-increasing costs of doing business. Knowing and using your competitive advantage wisely in the marketplace can make the difference between innovation and growth, or decline.

When it comes to identifying competitive advantage, leaders often ask questions that set them apart from their peers such as: what do we know how to do, that they do not; what resources or technologies do we have, that they do not; what do we understand about the market, that they do not; and what do our customers love about us, that they cannot find anywhere else? We can refer to questions like these as the search for competitive advantage in the form of things.

These are important questions. However, notice how none of them focuses directly on the greatest asset that every organization possesses—the collective potential of people and their performance contributions. When I work with leaders and their teams on their strategic planning, issues of competitive advantage invariably surface. When the theme arises, I surprise them with this question: If you had no industry intelligence, no breakthrough technology, no innovative production or service delivery model, no singular resource, and no brand loyalty that could push you ahead in the market— who would you rely on for your competitive advantage?

This hypothetical question wipes the slate clean and temporarily redirects people away from the obvious competitive advantages they may consider (e.g., goods, services, technology, etc.). We can refer to this question and others like it as the search for competitive advantage in the form of people.

I believe that one of the most significant competitive advantages for organizations in the twenty-first century is a workforce that has the capacity to identify unwanted individual, team, and organizational patterns of communication and interaction and re-make them to better align with their true values, priorities, and desired performance outcomes. To help people grasp this new definition of competitive advantage, I introduce a scenario that provokes more specific discussion about the power of what people do when they truly are an organization’s competitive advantage:

Imagine that you have to re-build this organization or team from scratch. You do not have any of the typical competitive advantages you relied on in the past (no stuff) and for the time being you can only work with the people you have right now. In this scenario, how would people need to communicate and interact with each other in order to create the necessary conditions of success?

Framing the question in this specific way is critical because it forces you to think not about people and things at the surface level, but about what people do—specifically, what habitual patterns of interaction must exist at the foundation of the enterprise’s success.

Re-making Communication at Work shows you how to spot unwanted patterns of communication and interaction that produce negative outcomes and experiences that reduce individual, team, and organizational performance. And with that simple ability, another way of describing this competitive advantage is “the capacity to literally re-make unwanted patterns into coordinated efforts that align people with priorities, bring out the best in people’s talent and motivation, and boost learning and performance by closing the inevitable gaps that form when things go bad.” If this competitive advantage is put fully into practice it can have dramatic effects at the individual, team, and organization levels.

For individuals, they will be able to stand out and stay ahead of the change curve in an environment of high job insecurity, meet the various challenges of the changing world of work, and craft a working life full of meaningful experiences and outcomes they want. For teams, they will transform conflict and collaboration breakdowns by re-making them into growth opportunities, boost team performance with greater efficiency and alignment, and create more high-impact results in response to the challenges and opportunities they face. And, for organizations, they can leverage their viable business models with people to carry out their plans efficiently, get out of their own way by increasing the alignment of people and activity that are consistent with priorities, and sustain optimal recruitment and retention of high performers who thrive in the kind of cultures that emerge when you re-make communication at work.

Implementing the concepts and tools of Re-making Communication at Work can accelerate this competitive advantage, which marks a shift from relying on “technical resources” and “people” to a focus on the ways people intentionally develop patterns of communication that create the conditions for achieving the organization’s greatest goals.

Dr. Jesse Sostrin can help you transform communication into competitive advantage by re-making the critical patterns of communication that sustain unwanted outcomes in your organization. If you’re tired of dealing with the burden of unresolved conflict, eroded trust, collaboration failure, and declining performance, then start your Discovery Session now to create the conditions for the changes you seek.

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