Competitive Advantage . . .

The successful man is the one who finds out what is the matter with his business before his competitors do.   ~Roy L. Smith

Recently I spent a week with the senior leadership team of a manufacturing and technology solutions company. Our collective task was to begin a 6 week process of building an aligned, line-of-sight go forward strategy.

The week was a great experience, filled with both business and personal insights (on both our parts), focused and heated debates, good deep listening, rollicking evening meals and lots of laughter.  The result of this first phase was the initial key elements of a strategy road map and a process for effective execution of that strategy.

If you don’t have a competitive strategy, don’t compete!

It has been my observation over the past 30+ years that most organizations fall into the trap of believing that a super-goal, or vision, is the essence of their strategy.  I think Richard Rumelt says it best in his recent book, Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, when he says that “a goal is not a strategy”.  I also like the way Rudy Giuliani says it:

Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.  ~Rudy Giuliani

So, instead of focusing on vision, mission and values, like so many other senior teams who don’t have the stomach or discipline to really dig into their business, we focused on four important major elements of an effective business strategy:  Competitive Advantage, Strategic Intent, Strategic Imperative and Strategic Approach.

By far the most lively discussion among the senior team was about their Competitive Advantage.  The first question that came up was are we talking about our current or future competitive advantage?  That’s a very good question since we can all be assured that the business environment is going to be different in the future than it has been in the past and some of their previous competitive advantages may not be as effective in the near future.  Someone else asked the question of whether we should build a competitive advantage around our core company strengths, or build them around the current and future needs of our customers?  This group was on a roll and realizing very quickly that determining their competitive advantage was going to be a challenging exercise.

And when we went around the room, giving everyone three minutes to talk about what they thought the company’s competitive advantage was (everyone else had to listen, no interrupting, just deep listening), it soon became clear there was very little alignment in the room.  So, we spent a good amount of time getting aligned around the issue of competitive advantage.  Challenging, but also very enlightening as the executives in the room were amazed at the diversity of answers, and they thought they were a “well-functioning, aligned” senior team!

When was the last time you and your senior team sat down and articulated your company’s competitive advantage?  I suggest it is a “must do”, sooner-than-later exercise, especially with the current and future uncertainty of the global marketplace.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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