How To Thrive In a Cut Throat Business Environment

“I think that only daring speculation can lead us further and not accumulation of facts.”

Albert Einstein

How can you thrive, not merely survive, in a cutthroat business environment?  The answers are unconventional and will challenge you to think outside the box of status quo, beyond the usual thinking habits practiced by many business leaders.  Do you have the guts and the heart to expand your perspective as it relates to the business you run, the way you think about your customers, how you view your suppliers and how you engage the people who actually do the work of serving your customers?  If you want to thrive in the highly competitive business world, then you will need to be daring and open to new ideas, insights and patterns of engagement.

Two key factors are required in order to consistently come out on top in your field: a focus on expanding perspectives beyond time-worn assumptions, and the ability to effectively increase the level of engagement of your employees. A winning business strategy also requires increased speed of learning. There are several powerful and proven methods you can use to meet these goals. This article cannot cover all of these yet will point you to four major steps you can take to help make sure your business will thrive – today and into the ever-changing future.   The four primary steps are:

i. Expand Perceptions/Think More Strategically and Broadly: Arie de Geus, as former head of Shell Oil Company’s Strategic Planning Group, famously stated, “Perhaps the only sustainable competitive advantage is the capacity to learn faster than your competition.”  In highly competitive markets and industries the capacity to discern key patterns, expand thinking and learn more quickly than your competition is a huge advantage. There are many ways to foster this capacity and to build it into your operational framework.  It takes a great deal of diligent attention, competency in strategic thinking and understanding of the psychology of perception. For example, most often the answers you need to thrive will not be found in your industry but instead will come from other industries, and even from arenas outside of business. For example, Environment One, a manufacturer of low-pressure sewage systems and solutions, found a powerful new business model by looking at manufacturers of garbage disposals and then also the physics of low-pressure systems.  This led to the breakthrough creation of their low-pressure grinder pump systems that offer builders, developers, municipalities and site planners innovative, lower-cost sewage system solutions.

One of the many tools to help you with this step is a process called “chunking.”  Chunking means you and members of your organization are trained to look at a variety of perspectives and outside inputs by which interesting ideas are “chunked” into a box, or virtual collection system.  Then that information is reviewed on a monthly basis by some of the most open-minded of your team, who are charged with pulling out ideas that could be useful to your industry and your specific business enterprise.  Next, these ideas are reviewed and discussed on a quarterly basis with the focus on pulling out one or two key actions that could give the business a leg up with customers or new customer segments. What are you doing to look in a broader, more strategic way at your business and the products and services you could offer?


ii. Discern / Uncover Key Insights: Engineers have a great phrase that illustrates this key form of thinking-activity, “Discerning the signal from the noise.”  If you are looking at the bigger picture and strategically thinking about how to take your business to a higher level of competitiveness, then it is critically important to be able to discern the true value out of all of the information you are looking at.  You want to be able to pull the value-added signal from all of the noise, that vast amount of data that does not offer insights. This requires rapidly evaluating ideas and inputs to see if they have any real value to offer to your processes, or to products or services for your clients or desired client segments.  This means being able to think creatively and to apply insights, coming up with practical options, plans and specific actions to take. This step only really works if you are systematically working on expanding perspectives in step one above. Power questions based on the Pareto principle (20% of action brings 80% of gain) can be useful for discernment.  For instance, “If we could only change ONE thing here that would make the biggest difference, what would it be?” What are you doing to help discern the signal from all of the noise in the industry as you cast a wider net for greater perspective?


iii. Create High-Level Engagement: Psychologists use the term “discretionary effort” to describe how avidly people work together and bring their best to what they do. As a young man I ran a crisis center.  The team was composed of myself and one other as the only paid staff members, and more than one hundred staff volunteers. The center required two active staff every hour of every day of the year.  This taught me the power of discretionary effort and I found that volunteers could be more passionate and committed than paid staff. The Gallup Organization has now consistently shown, through applied research with thousands of organizations, that the higher the level of employee engagement then the greater the level of sustainability, profitability, customer satisfaction and the lower the turn-over in an enterprise.  Employees are engaged primarily through four (4) key drivers: How they are treated by their supervisors (listened to, recognized, rewarded, valued; a focus on the core purpose or the primary “why” of the business (inspired at making a difference in the lives of others, in doing something that matters and is important;) development of personal mastery (actively challenged to grow and develop, given opportunities;) and finally, a sense of autonomy (some say-so in the week-to-week work, some built-in flexibility).  Do you treat your employees as if they were volunteers who you value and hope will keep showing up with drive and passion, or as employees “obligated” because you pay them?  The most powerful way to increase engagement is to treat all employees as if they are volunteers who can choose to “vote with their feet” and go elsewhere whenever they want.  


iv. Generate Powerful Teamwork and Collaborative Networks: One of the greatest differences between so-so organizations and great ones is the level of teamwork and active collaboration taking place.  Great teamwork is not an accident; it takes focus, understanding of team dynamics and then hard work to make it happen. Five key ingredients here are: creating a team charter (the why, the what, the identity), engaged employees (see step 3 above), clearly defined team norms (rules of engagement, practices that invite participation), reinforced interdependence / accountability (“We rise and fall together; we actively need each other”), and psychological safety (people feel safe in speaking up, challenging one another, engaging in vigorous intellectual debate looking for the best answer).  What are you doing to ensure you are creating powerful, high functioning teams? What are you doing to promote active collaboration and a network of learning and cooperation among all levels of your organization?  Are you engaging your suppliers as part of your collaborative, value-added network? Do you see your customers and desired customers as a vital part of your extended team?

These are the four most critical steps to take. There are many more tactics and skills you can use to get the most gain out of each. However, there is plenty here to help you hone your competitive edge. Are you ready to help your enterprise exceed expectations and to thrive? Are you willing, do you have the heart, to be an even stronger leader and bold explorer of options and opportunities?  


Robert (Dusty) Staub

Author's bio; Robert (Dusty) Staub, Best Selling Author of The 7 Acts of Courage and The Heart of leadership

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