Everyone’s trying to get a competitive advantage today. We’ll do anything we can to get some, even small, edge on the competition. That’s why, for example, you see so many new supplements and diet products on the market. They’re promoted as an ‘easy way’ to lose weight and take back your health – all the benefits in half the time with a lot less work. But will you ever really reap the benefits they promise?
Today’s American culture will tell you that unless you’re an all-star parent, own your own unicorn-of-a-business, AND are a Level 2 CrossFit instructor, you’re not doing enough … and by that token, you’re unsuccessful. But is that really for them to decide? It certainly doesn’t seem fair for them to decide.
In business, it’s common to hear people around the office trying one of these ‘new and improved’ diets to expedite the process of getting in shape, holding the belief that a healthier ‘you’ makes for a better ‘you’ to put out into the world. And just like with dieting shortcuts, business people often get caught up competing. A company might try to release a product that’s similar to a competitor’s in order to quickly gain a piece of market share (See Smartphones). The problem is that they release that product with the sole intent of taking out their competitor, not because it’s the right play for them or what the market really needs.
The last company I worked for – the CEO was so competitive – like a hawk, he watched and waited for our biggest competitor to make a move. When they did, he would jump on the product team if they didn’t have a similar release ready for market – just to try to stick it to them. He was so caught up in beating the competition that he had forgotten the true value we delivered – he forgot our competitive advantage. He lost touch with the key positioning that differentiated ‘us’ from ‘them’, and why our customers bought into us in the first place.
At our annual client conference, I had a conversation with one of our customers who said the same – that we “weren’t what we used to be and had lost our way.” They were evaluating other solutions. While it can be hard to hear, especially straight from the horse’s mouth, I couldn’t argue with her. After all, a copy is never as good as the original.
The company slowly lost its identity. We didn’t know who we were or what we were trying to achieve. All we knew was that we had to do whatever the competitor was doing so we beat them. This attitude eventually stifled our innovation. It created a workplace where the employees lost interest in achievement and became complacent. What were once vested interests, were now uninterested.
In September 2016, I was laid off from that company with about 20% of its workforce. The CEO and other executive members weren’t far behind. They were replaced about a month later.
I’m not sure how the company has fared as of late – I hope for their sake that they’ve started to turn the corner. But the point of this is that everything today in our society tells you to do more, more, more. The overwhelming demand companies burden themselves with to reach unrealistic growth targets is like dropping a grenade on the ground and hoping it won’t blow up in your face. It most always will.
To drive employees down a road that has very little chance of success, and then berate them when they miss the target is not only unprofessional, it’s poor leadership. Added stress in our lives from these types of situations can create a ‘failure’s mindset ‘, meaning that because you’re consistently setting a bar that’s impossible to reach, your ego takes the hit, and instead of motivating, encouraging, and building confidence in your employees, you’re actually contributing to their failing mental health – leading to problems outside of the workplace.
Richard Branson has been quoted as saying that his employees come first, and his customers come second. He knows that creating a happy environment for his employees will lead to creating not only happy customers, but recurring customers who, with any luck, will become advocates for your brand.
In all the madness, it’s easy to get lost, complacent, or checked-out. We need to remember our individual identities and what makes us valuable. Everyone else will remind you what you’re not good at or what you’re not doing right. It’s up to you to surround yourself with people who help you focus on what you’re good at and remember what you bring to the table. If you’re finding that you’re feeling unhappy or less confident in your abilities, it could be them not you, and a potential sign that you need to make a change.