Your Greatest Competitive Advantage Today

There was a time when having a pretty good product or service in a market where you knew your customers and they knew you were all that it took to have a successful business. Today, a product or service that is only "pretty good" places you on a path toward irrelevance.

While the majority of people still prefer to purchase from their favorite brand, their loyalty can't be taken for granted. Your customers will leave you for something better - product, price, experience - and because you failed them.

It's no wonder that your competitors - both existing and emerging - are diligently working to provide a customer experience that is faster, better, cheaper, and/or friendlier.

Then again, you probably know or have felt the reality of increased competition and the uncertainty of customer loyalty before. If not, you are either extremely fortunate or wildly out of touch with reality.

Uncertainty and upheaval most likely means that your biggest competitive advantage has shifted, too. In 1988, Arie de Gues wrote that your ability to learn faster than your competitors is your only sustainable advantage.

Today, your ability to continually and quickly change, adapt, and transform in pursuit of serving your customers is the difference between brand insistence and brand irrelevance.

Your New Reality

At any given moment, you only know what used to work. Your competitive advantage is to build and sustain a culture dedicated to delivering a customer experience that is faster, better, cheaper, and/or friendlier tomorrow than it does today.

At the same time, you can't ignore the need for flawless execution. Once you lose the customer, the majority of people will not give you a shot at redemption.

Maintaining the balance between a nimble approach to the future and the operational excellence that comes from optimized, consistent processes isn't easy. There are no clear paths to follow ... at least at this point. To paraphrase Dr. Emmett Brown from the movie "Back to the Future:" Roads. Where we're going there won't be any roads.

So buckle up and realize that you will need to get better in the following four areas to flourish in the face of uncertainty and upheaval.

1. Go all in on a commitment to empowerment and engagement. The best leaders and organizations have always known that - all things being equal - an empowered and engaged team delivers better results.

The difference going forward is that empowerment and engagement must move from "nice to have" to "must have." You can't afford a single team lead, supervisor, manager, or executive only providing lip service to these principles. They must become a catalyst for flawless execution and continuous growth at every level of your organization.

2. Create comfort with ambiguity. Uncertainty and rapid change are the new status quo. Get used to it. Until you embrace the new normal, the chances of your team thriving are greatly diminished.

Likewise, you must help your team get comfortable with the ambiguity that they see and feel. Promote curiosity about the future. Learn to anticipate your customers' needs. Change is less scary when you see it coming. Most important, help your team members see that the best way to ensure their continued relevance in the organization is to develop the ability to quickly change and adapt.

3. Generate urgency and a bias for action. Don't confuse talking about the need for change with actually changing. Encourage your team to look for and make changes that improve the business on a regular basis. For instance, find one thing that you can change every 30 to 60 days to create the habit that things are always changing. Reward ideas for improvement rather than kill them. Make failure in pursuit of your vision a learning opportunity.

4. Manage the conflict between execution and innovation. This is perhaps the greatest challenge you face in sustaining a nimble culture. It is tempting to focus your attention on the area in which you are most comfortable. The "idea" people gravitate towards reinventing everything while the "execution" people stress the value of doing what you have always done.

One way to manage the perceived conflict is to recognize the role of both idea generation and idea implementation in every area of your business. Innovation isn't just the job of a select few, and your responsibility for execution doesn't end with a new idea. The creative juices can flow when generating and growing new ideas, but that freedom must be countered with the discipline of proving the value and implementing change.

The baseball legend turned philosopher Yogi Berra was correct, "The future ain't what it used to be." That doesn't mean that you can't flourish, however. Start by learning how to change faster than your competitor.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit , email, or call 972.980.9857.