Checking Out on Your Competitors

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The word “competitor” tends to either make a leader’s stomach turn or his blood pressure spike. Competitors, we often think, are mortal enemies to be vigilantly monitored, outwitted, stomped, crushed, and eliminated. Unless total victory is accomplished, the borders will not be safe.

This mentality, however, is simplistic and wrong. The leader who thinks of competition in this way is using a mindset better suited for medieval times than the dynamic and complex world of today.

In today’s world the more time you spend looking at your competition, the less time you spend focusing on your vision. You obsess about what they’re doing instead of focusing on what you’re doing.  You lead your organization in circles as you attempt to either follow or to hide from your “enemy” in the marketplace.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, exemplifies this point. Several years after the online retailer of books was established people began to take notice. Naysayers came out in droves. Soon experts began predicting the extinction of the company at the hands of large, established corporations. They called it “Amazon.bomb,” “Amazon.con,” and “Amazon.toast.”

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos called an all-hands meeting. Employees suspected that he was going to talk about ways to mitigate disaster or strategies for responding to the new mammoth competitors flooding into the marketplace. Instead, he reminded the team of Amazon.com’s mission: to be earth’s most customer-centered company. Bezos was adamant that if Amazon became a company that simply responded to competitors in the market, it would lose control of its own destiny and lose its customers along the way.

Stock analysts went ballistic when Amazon announced that it would not emulate its competitors’ pricing model and profit margins. But for Bezos, serving the customer meant offering maximum variety and minimum price, even if it resulted in losing money on some products in the short-term. Selling only books that the company could make money on was not congruent with the company’s mission.

“Our profitability is not our customer’s concern,” Bezos explained.

Leading by example, Bezos communicated to all Amazon employees that they were free to obsess about how to serve customers better, but not to fixate on what the competition was doing.

10 years later, Amazon is still here. Many of its competitors are not.

It takes a certain level of faith to commit to this way of thinking. You must be convinced of the validity of your mission. Your leadership team must be convinced as well. When revenues are dropping and earnings are shrinking it is very tempting to quietly put your company’s mission in a drawer to be retrieved in more comfortable times. It becomes tempting to look at what those around you are doing and succumb to paranoia. But your company’s mission is not a luxury; it is its lifeblood.

Losing your focus on your mission is more deadly for your organization than any competitor will ever be.


 

“Competition Concept” courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Jeff Bezos’ Iconic Laugh” courtesy of Steve Jurvetson at Flickr.com

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