Go First – The Secret Sauce Of Gaining A Competitive Advantage

Leadership Development, Step Up

Go first. That was one of the mantras I learned from my coaches when I was a competitive martial artist.

Whatever your current position, leader, individual contributor, employed or not – you are in a constant state of competition. You compete against other organizations for business, your peers if you are trying to get promoted, or other candidates if you are currently job seeking.

When I was competing, and hearing my coaches encouraging me to “go first”, they meant strike first, make the first move, play offense, or in other words, get out ahead of my competitor. This meant taking control of the physical space we were competing in, it meant controlling the momentum between me and my opponent, namely, get them playing defense and catch up. In a competitive match, I had to figure out how to do this, even when the match was not going according to plan. In other words, based on what was happening around me, I had to maintain high awareness, in the moment, and change as needed.

How does this apply to you?

Let’s focus on decision making. It used to be that markets and competitors moved so slowly, the playing field was so stable, that having a near perfect 10-year plan was a good recipe for success. We’ve facilitated thousands of hours of strategic planning and implementation sessions with executive teams and our clients execute th­­eir strategies at almost 8x the rate of most organizations. In this market, one where the earth is constantly shaking and disruptions are always happening, we don’t even take a client if they want to write more than a 2-year plan. A 10-year plan is obsolete, as is the company that tries to write one. Simply put, whatever plan you write will have less and less of a relationship to what you actually do as more time progresses. This too shall change.

We encourage our clients to decide and execute faster than their competitors. This means there are two things we want you to take away today for a competitive advantage:

  • If you have 60-70% of the information you need to decide, make a decision and begin executing. Don’t wait for 100%, adjust as you go. McDonald’s has shrinking market share because they can take up to 30 months to introduce a new food product. Starbucks is growing because they can bring a new food product to market in as little as 16 weeks. McDonald’s tries to make it perfect before introduction. Starbucks gets it mostly right, puts it in all stores, and makes rapid adjustments based on customer feedback.
  • Focus your resources on knowing when you as a person and/or the organization needs to change and do this faster than your competitors. Once you know a change is needed, change faster than your competitors. In short, you need to recognize the signals that you need to change. These can be things like; lower NPS, profit margin, or sales, when you see them, change rapidly to reverse your negative trend. If you recognize the case for change and change faster than your competitors, you will outperform them.
    To wrap up, there are no perfect plans and even if you had one, your environment would change forcing you to change the plan anyway. So, gather as much information as you can, we recommend 60-70% and begin executing.

When executing and as markets or the behaviors of competitors change, you must undo some of your past decisions to remain competitive in the current conditions.

Lastly, realize both the case for change and change faster than your competitors. For decision making (and in most business cases) speed won’t kill. In fact, it will give you a competitive advantage.

If you want more information on how to make better decisions, read the chapter Decide Already, Chapter 3, page 65, from our Amazon top-10 business book, Step Up, Lead In Six Moments That Matter.

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