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Blog : Creating clear blue water


Creating clear blue water

MJ Flanagan discusses a crystal clear strategy for creating competitive advantage.

I have been asked recently what makes learnpurple stand out. Why should we be the learning provider of choice? It made me analyse what we do and how we do it. What gives us - or would give - us competitive advantage?

It is a question every business should ask itself on a regular basis, with customers ever more discerning and demanding: “How will you differentiate yourself from your competitors?”

According to Professor Arnoldo Hax from MIT Sloan it is about watching the competitors -not following them. He describes it as playing a different game, but on the same field as the competition.

If we are to believe W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne who wrote the book 'Blue Ocean Strategy', the only way to beat the competition is not to try and beat them but to look at your own product or service and rewrite the rulebook. Dyson did this brilliantly with the vacuum cleaner. Despite my years of calling all vacuums ‘Hoovers’ he has successful redefined that, so much so my son calls a Hoover a Dyson - and we do not even own one.

Another successful example of this is Cirque de Soleil that shook the world of circus entertaining that had for so long been ‘taken for granted’. In doing so they created a whole new entertainment style that had all the drama and excitement of the best circuses but without the animals and old fashioned ringmasters – in doing so they lowered costs, became more environmentally friendly and are thrilling audiences around the globe.

A little closer to home - witnessing too many organisations lose good people and spend more money replacing talent rather than developing the ones they had – Jane Sunley created talent toolbox. Instead of competing with traditional appraisal and succession planning conventions she created a tool from scratch that would transform the way people are managed within organisations. talent toolbox continues to go from strength to strength.

When Sinclair Beecham developed The Hoxton hotel he said "The only procedure is that there is no procedure, that is the procedure". With higher than average occupancy levels and is named as ‘The Coolest Hotel in London' by the Sunday Times, it has certainly shaken up the London hotel scene.

So how can you create clear blue water within your organisations?

  1. Take an honest look at your business and analyse what you do. Ask your teams to help, use facilitated groups to involve them in the process - they are your front line and so have a much clearer indication than you might think.
  2. You could use a SWOT analysis to structure the session – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
  3. Be clear about what you stand for and where you are going – your values and vision.
  4. Involve your team in the process so instead of telling them what to do they understand ‘what and why’ and feel a sense of contribution. This will mean they will buy into the ethos and make more informed and effective decisions.
  5. Get your teams to define the non-negotiables for your business. Not the ‘nice to haves’, but rather the absolute must haves.
  6. Having done that move on to the behaviours required to deliver those must haves.
  7. Then throw the whole lot into the air and see if it still works or how you can be more creative or effective. According to Edward de Bono on average it is the 17th idea in a brainstorm that gets used so ask questions and keep going.
  8. Give your team the tools to deliver those non – negotiables and behaviours.
  9. Review, reward and reinforce those values and your vision.

Every stage of the client interaction with your service or product must be excellent, and the only way to really achieve this is to mirror your employees' experience with your client’s experience. This is about living your values, within the organisation as well as out.

It’s these drops of excellence that produce the ‘clear blue water’ that gives you competitive advantage.

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