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A Company’s Real Competitive Advantage Starts Internally

When internal intelligence is harder to gather than searching for external sources.


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Kristi Pelzel

3 years ago | 4 min read

It was a quickly growing startup, and I was a communications contractor. Every time I set up a meeting, a new staff member or contractor/advisor joined the call. People were starting every week, but people were leaving every week, too.

I enjoyed the work because it aligned with my skill set, and the value I brought was necessary and unique. Still, there were too many new and inexperienced people, partly due to a supervisor who tended to promote mismatched people to supervisory jobs with fancy titles.

The titles might have empowered people, or made the company look good, but with so much emphasis on helping yourself and preforming high-level tasks without real experience, training, or mentorship, people shut down. They stopped communicating, left the organization, and no one benefited from what they could have contributed.

I learned three things from this experience. One, overloading staff with tasks and burning them out early, drives up the turnover rate, preventing critical information from passing from one teammate to another.

Two, if you’re going to hire entry-level staff for a mid-level job because you can get them cheap, be ready to nurture creativity and productivity, by teaching them to collaborate and communicate. Last, push people together, not apart, focusing on long-term outcomes and transparency.

People are not going to share information when they’re professionally competing for promotions, feel threatened, lack trust, don’t really like being there beyond getting the paycheck, and suffer from decision-making biases.

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“I expect my direct reports to be accessible 24–7, 365 days a year, and if they aren’t going to be available outside of working hours, they need to let me know.” — TOMO Director

Task Overload Blocks Communication and Creates Distrust

When people are unable to share expertise and pass knowledge due to task overload, it forces their teammates to seek relationships and value outside of the organization. The Harvard Business School estimates that stress-related burnout leads to healthcare costs of up to $200 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

This misalignment means that people you’re working right next to might not even know what you’re working on. Over some time, without a collaborative environment, distrust starts to build, and people find that they’re holding back information even when they know it could result in a team win.

One solution is to adopt both a moderately flexible and moderately structured environment. Too much flexibility, letting people set their own schedules, can backfire because a company assumes the team member will manage their time in a way that will collaborate with all of the right teammates at the right time, and that’s just not the case.

Too much structure with unrealistic time frames for given tasks, lead to stress and company resentment. This is when people stop sharing internally.

A strategic supervisor can help people position productivity, leveraging ideas and insights across the organization because they’re on the pulse of talent intersecting with critical needs inside and outside their department.

“a problem has a different solution on different days …” — US Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Teach People to Collaborate and Communicate

Investopedia defines competitive advantage as “factors that allow a company to produce goods or services better or more cheaply than its rivals.”

They say these factors depend on “cost structure, branding, the quality of product offerings, the distribution network, intellectual property, and customer service.

Within that meaning, you can see how external communication, either through marketing, customer contact, B2B coordination, or vendor negotiation, rely on internal collaboration.

Awareness of how critical the interconnectedness of an organization is to outside factors should lead companies to identify their “connectors” within a team.

And if leadership pushes back on investing in people skills remind them that in 2016 U.S. companies spent more than $70 billion on training and learning hard skills while statistics say that nearly 90% of new skills are lost and forgotten within a year.

Investing in people first and networking internal teams will lead to greater investments long-term because you’re able to integrate existing talent and skill strategically.

Long-term Outcomes Require Short Term Successes

Bringing people together to focus on long-term outcomes requires the ability to keep talent in an organization long enough to understand their decision-making process. Everyone has emotion-driven beliefs that impact how they communicate and collaborate called biases.

  1. Maintaining the status quo because you don’t want to do things differently, believing what’s been done before is always the way it should be done, can be a Status Quo Bias.
  2. Continually looking for information and visual confirmation to prove you’re right is common, but this could lead to Confirmation Bias, blocking your mind from better ideas and groundbreaking intelligence.
  3. When a group majority agree with an idea, it’s too easy for everyone to go along with it, brushing aside any notion of staying curious in the Bandwagon Effect.

Every company must balance speed with strong and supportive internal communication processes to nurture talent, gaining long-lasting competitive advantages over their competition.

Hiring people is just the first step. It’s everything that comes after that which defines the future of a company.

Originally published on medium.

Kristi Pelzel

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