August 16, 2007

Another Reason to Be Nice

My current read is Why Smart Executives Fail, by Sydney Finkelstein. I’m about half way through the book and read a small section that reminded me of a time in my career when nice would have been better. The title of the section was

Arrogance + Hatred + Disrespect for Your Competitor = Disaster.

The main point of the section was how this philosophy can lead to blindness for partner opportunities, but is it also a meaningful topic of where your companies focus should be. At a point in my career my company had a new CEO (an extremely successful one) that brought a new mantra into our company that made it into the Top 5 company goals: "Kill (Competitor Name)". It seemed the goal was to create a hatred for our competitor so strong that we would rally around the cause to crush them what ever it took…though it didn’t have this affect.

(What are the first organizations you think of that rallied around hatred of anything? All the ones I think of do not come with a very good connotation.)

Our competitor made roughly 10 times our revenue, and though there were many things about the competitor I did not like they were the obvious leader in revenue and market share. All of us felt our product was better and that we provided a better level of service, but I slowly began to see a shift in focus for my company. Rather than our focus remaining on building better products and providing the BEST level of service to our customers, we slowly begin to shift our focus to kill the competitor.

The longer this goal existed the worse place to work our office became. Our long time customers began saying doing business with us was like doing business with our competitor: we were arrogant, didn’t listen to our customers, and made promises we could not live up to. We also began to lose key employees that felt working for us was in some ways sacrificing their professional integrity. Company culture shifted from “help each other and our customers be successful” to “don’t screw up or you’re fired.”

Eventually the CEO left and a new CEO with a more “lovecat” philosophy took over and attempted to right the ship, but much of the damage was done. I stayed on and worked with my former and new colleagues to climb back to a place where we were known for great product and great service, but it was a tough uphill climb. The company is still recovering in many ways from the "kill" mantra.

The point of this ramble is company focus should be on building great product and providing the BEST service to the industry. You should remain focused on competitors in the market place, but do not make it a rallying cry. Rallying a company around the mantra “Kill Competitor” is difficult. As a manager what are you going to tell your employees to do to kill the competitor? (Outside of literally...) It is much easier to rally a company around “Build Great Product & Provide the BEST Service”.

Do not love or hate your competitor, but rather respect their position in the market place. If you are going to love something, love building great product and providing great service. It is a way better thing to love.

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