The top company executives and their advisors spent the day closeted in a hotel room. There were no breaks, not even for lunch. The telephone was off-limits. Because the intent was so serious, the leadership of this highly sales-directed firm chose to isolate itself completely from any distractions. One participant even complained about traffic noise.
Everyone had been asked to read a book, a current business bestseller by two management consultants, and then evaluate the company against the three standards set by the book's authors and determine which format best fit their operation.
As the hours went by, something seemed amiss. Slowly, the problem took shape. The authors of a book were actually determining the destiny of a company they had never seen by dictating the management decisions of executives they had never met. No one questioned the authors' concepts. No one suggested looking at other models. No one asked, "Is this what we need?" Even more to the point, no one stepped forward with a model that met the unique requirements of the company. Even worse, the brief time given to writing a mission statement was spent trying to locate the page in the book from which to copy the words.
Leaving that hotel room late in the afternoon was like leaving a group of youngsters who believe that the goal of homework is coming up withthe right answer. The answer is all that counts. How to arrive at the solution is unimportant, just wasted time. These talented executives settled for a quick, slick, off-the-shelf solution so they could "fix" the business.
Trying to emulate Cable and Wireless, Airborne Express or Dell Computer, however, is to miss the point. The way to outsmart, and out-distance the competition can't be found in a book, particularly a momentary bestseller. A plan for successfully out-maneuvering the competition will have nine key strategies.
1. Start learning and never stop. There's far too much mimicking and not enough learning taking place in every business. Jack Welch, GE's CEO and chairman, says, "When the rate of change outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight." In most businesses, the situation may be even worse since there is an attempt to solve today's problems with solutions that were effective five to 25 years ago. Unless a business is constantly challenged and stimulated by new concepts, solid data and penetrating ideas, it is facilitating its own demise. Knowing why customers behave the way they do is far more important than looking for a gimmick for grabbing momentary edge on the competition.