Friday, October 29, 2010

Strategies for sameness

Let me ask you a question. 'How unique is your business/division?'
If you could rate your business/division out of 10 for uniqueness what score would you give it?.
When I talk uniqueness I mean the kind of uniqueness that gets you market-place advantage over anyone else.

Unless you are one of the few products in the world that has a complete monopoly, you are likely to have someone who competes with you in the market. Your product may look different, taste a little different, be presented differently, named differently, but at a basic level its still something that someone else can make. In fact the consumer choice of your product over another is a preference. A car is still a car however well you market it.
So is there much true uniqueness there in your product?
If you are offering a service it's likely that many other people will be offering that service too.
The conditions that surround your business are likely to be the same as your competition. The same marketplace, same customers to target, same environment, same labour pool opportunities. So no real uniqueness there. In fact a pretty level playing field.

The things that make your business unique or not must therefore be within your control. That means that they must be within your business/division and not in the context around you.
So how unique is your business inside? You think you score close to 10?

Do you have a unique vision, mission and values set? Really?
Is your strategising process commonly used?
Do you follow commonly methodologies to develop business plans?
Do you demand consistency on a daily basis but ask for innovation on that one strategy day?
So is your strategic start point really unique? Does your strategy give you advantage?

Lets look at the processes and tools you use to deliver strategy:
Do you use a commonly available I.T platform?
Do you use a commonly available data management tool?
Do you use a commonly available CRM system?
Do you buy and use commonly available equipment?
Is the machinery you use for manufacturing commonly available?
Is your office/factory any different from those around you?
Do your suppliers supply other people?
Do you have much uniqueness there? Are you using process, systems and tools that are unique to your business? So is there much competitive advantage in those?

Its a fact of the modern world that many of the platforms of business are commonly available. I often say to clients ‘anyone can buy the latest version of Microsoft windows, so is that something to hang your hat on as a competitive advantage?’ Yet many companies spend a vast fortune on new systems as if they will give them an advantage when in fact the system or tool just keeps them
in the market

So by now you will be saying ’My people are my advantage!’.
Every business says that, but have you tested that against the uniqueness question?
Do you use commonly available HR ideas and approaches? e.g. competency maps.
Do you buy and use commonly available HR tools?
Do you use commonly accepted remuneration policies?
Do you follow commonly adopted appraisal approaches?
Do you follow commonly adopted selection processes?
Do your training and development approaches differ significantly from anyone else’s?
Do you have a tolerance for people who don’t make life easy?

It’s another fact of the modern world that many of the HR systems and processes adopted in the last decade have been designed to manage consistency and to provide certainty for the business. Business has demanded that of the HR community.
So the best approach to managing HR has been to ‘follow best practice’. Unfortunately following best practice means doing what someone else has already done.
There is nothing unique in following best practice. There is unfortunately no competitive advantage in best practice. Best practice is like benchmarking. It has a built in second place mentality.

My question for you this week is ‘how often do you ask your business to find you uniqueness?’ How often do you support the trying of something different? How often do you ask a supplier the question ‘who else have you delivered this for?' Not because you want to be sure that it is already proven, but because you want to do something different to anyone else. Do you actively recruit people who will challenge the business? Do you tolerate the ‘deviant thinkers’ who go against the norm (but are difficult to manage). Do you review your best practices and say ‘tear them down because everyone else is doing that’ or ask the question ‘is that best practice doing anything for me other than keep us safe and second place?’

Let me ask you do you strategise for sameness or uniqueness?