Most dudes that come to run companies love to discuss their “enemies” or “rivals” and how they’re “crushing” them, which is a human nature tactic straight out of the cavemen era (and used quite well by the NRA), but in reality it’s very infrequently your competitors who pose the threat.
Don’t believe me? OK. Let’s go to the videotape of Tom Peters, who has been studying management for 50 years and wrote In Search of Excellence, which is probably on the Mount Rushmore of management books for some people.
“Poor cross-functional coordination and communication is the principal element in the delay of everything,” Peters says. Internal barriers, not the competitors, are the big impediment to effective execution. Getting functions to stop feuding isn’t enough; they need to actively work together in a spirited, coordinated way.
I’d classify this quote as a “no shit” deal personally.
Here are the problems, though
A few I can think of:
- “Cross-functional” means nothing to most people. They understand their bosses, their silos, their incentive structures, etc. Usually they only work cross-functionally because someone (i.e. their boss) told them they had to. Completely organic cross-functional reach-out is super rare in companies, at least that I’ve observed or heard about. Collaboration is much more forced than we discuss.
- Communication in the workplace is an even bigger joke/buzzword/train wreck than “cross-functional,” although communication can be fixed and it’s not even that complex.
- Annnnnnd, as Bain as noted, 94% — pretty high number — of business challenges tend to be internal, not external.
What would be the takeaway then?
Get your own house right internally before you start worrying about what your rivals are doing.
There’s a second tier here, too
A lot of times — especially in marketing, but in other functional areas too — an over-focus on your rivals means you essentially start copying them, i.e. their strategies and branding and content topics and whatever else. That’s a giant race to the bottom. Now every buyer in your industry is seeing the same shit left, right, and center. What happens when he gets confronted with something new, different, and cheaper? He goes and buys that. That’s called “you just got disrupted, son.”
The last place I worked on a bigger deal was a cybersecurity type joint. There’s maybe six other “players” that do what they do. I won’t give you the names, but rest assured if you go to the LinkedIn corporate profiles of all seven companies, their webinar topics — lead generation! — are all the same. Now, it’s a pretty intense time in cybersecurity. We’ve had power grids hacked in Eastern Europe. It’s all this close to crashing down infrastructure-wise. Some hacker will get it. And yet companies putting together low billions of revenue solving these pain points just keep copying each other. Kind of absurd, no?
So, again, fix your internal bullshit. The bad culture people? The bell-ringers who won’t collaborate? The box-checkers who add 15 hours/week to everyone’s plate? Fucking toss ’em. Automate their roles. Get ’em out. Build around good people with above-average ideas and way-above-average execution. If people aren’t communicating, make ’em communicate. If they still don’t, boss ’em out. The problems are internal, kid. Your rivals will always be there and new ones will spring up. The easiest way to beat them back? Get your in-house shit in order.