“You cannot win a race by standing still”. When you see it written down it looks really obvious, and yet so many businesses and brands do end up trying to compete by standing still. This article explores why companies fall into this trap, and offers some tips on how to ensure that you do not try and compete by standing still.
If you are running any race and you stop and stand still, you will let your competitors run ahead. It is impossible for you to win. So why do so many companies and brands lose by doing just that? Usually it is because they are not constantly changing, and assuming that the reason that they have succeeded in winning an order, or closing a sale, today will be the right and best way to keep succeeding.
The world of sport teaches us that to stay in contention you have to constantly do things better than you are doing today.
There are at least 2 examples from the London 2012 Olympics that drives this point home very strongly:
- The popular Team GB swimmer Rebecca Adlington only won a Bronze Medal in London 2012, even though she actually swam much faster than when she won a Gold in Beijing.
- In the Olympics Men’s 800 Metre Final the runner (Andrew Osagie) that came last would have won the Gold Medal at the last 3 Olympics with the time he ran the race in.
What does this teach us about competing in the world of business?
- When you are “the winner” you become the focus of attention. You become the focal point and target that the competition are looking to beat. When you are coming up from behind, you have the capacity to surprise and do the unexpected as there is less focus upon you. Once you succeed, you become a target and resources are actively spent on beating you.
- The Competition will be actively analysing what you did, and are doing, to achieve success. They will design plans to replicate, do better or out-manoeuvre you.
- The Competition will focus on where you are susceptible, and where your weaknesses are.
- The Competition are not going to be constrained and limited by “what has worked” and “if it in not broke, don’t fix it mentality”. They will not be constrained in their thinking and cautious to change their “formula” for success.
So how do you ensure that you keep changing and competing better and more effectively?
In order to ensure that you keep changing and competing more effectively, the secret is to avoid focusing on your personal best. You must keep a focus on those that you compete with. Just as athletes are less concerned with their personal best but what their competitors personal bests are, so should brands be. It is no good beating your personal best if that falls behind what others are achieving. Unfortunately this is where many companies go wrong, and the business planning process encourages and reinforces this flawed approach.
The Annual Business Planning Process does a lot to encourage managers to focus on incremental “personal best” performances.
This activity is, in my view, one of the main causes in laying down a plan to lose the race. In the annual planning process the focus is on sales and profit, and so managers are more comfortable and are usually rewarded on building in steady stable growth numbers. Targets that show steady and achievable improvement on past performance. This is the equivalent of delivering a good new “personal best”, ignoring what is happening in the market around you,
There are 3 key actions that you need to take:
1. Do not benchmark and measure your performance based on improvements to yourself. For example, many Western companies make the mistake in fast emerging markets like China and India as they get excited and pleased with growths of say 20%. This is staggering growth for Western Minded companies versus their established markets. But the markets are usually growing double that, and so you are building in falling behind.
2. Incremental improvement over what you did in the past to deliver your brand’s “personal best” is unlikely to be enough. You need to ensure you have plans that will ensure that you are improving faster than the competition.
3. Focus not on what the competition are achieving now, but on what they are capable of or could do. Both Rebecca Adlington and Andrew Osagie found that out at London 2012. They beat their personal bests, but that did not matter as all the competition had got much better and faster. Blockbuster, the video and DVD rental company, did not focus on how to deliver content in alternative forms. They focused on DVD rental and maximising that. They did not focus on what competition was capable of doing, and so have been hammered by on-demand and streaming of content.
You can not win by standing still. You cannot be focused on just on improving your personal best performance and methods. You need to focus on what your competitors are capable of doing, just as world class athletes do. They know that speeds will be getting faster and jumps getting longer or higher. It is part of their attitude and ethos. Brand Owners need to embrace that more. Incremental personal best improvements are not going to be enough to win every race.
Challenge yourself: are you focused on improving your past performance (sales, profits etc) or truly focused on what it will take to beat what the competition is capable of?