"I want to take my company to the next level."
I hear these words from CEOs all the time as they talk about their goals and dreams for their companies. When I push for the details, the conversation tends to get a little murky. It's usually just a recap of how the company has been performing recently. The conversation always ends with a statement of aspiration, "I just know we are ready to really grow."
Certainly, set your goals for the stars. Along the way, however, you need to pass the runner in front of you before you overtake the record-setter at the front of the pack. If you have ever raced, you know the importance of focusing on the racer right in front of you as you look for your opportunity to pass.
What to do:
1. Study the pack
Pick out the market leader. Now pick out the one-to-three competitors who are at the next level ahead of you. Take your ego out of the conversation as much as possible and put your analyst hat on. What separates the pack into their current positions? These layers in the market are often set by what the market values. The question should be, what criteria are being valued by the customers you want and the market-share you want to take? If you can determine those elements, you can plan your company's stepping-stones for growth.
2. Emulate, eliminate, differentiate and overtake
You've done your homework on your competitors. Now look at your company. In the comparison between you and them, what are the characteristics that are making them successful? This is no time for emotional self-indulgence. Focus on what is worthy of emulation, what should be eliminated from your costs and offerings, what truly differentiates them from you, and what it will take to overtake them.
3. Build your race strategy one competitor at a time
There are lots of things to learn from the market leaders. I believe in learning from the best practices of the best players. However, the company who is ahead of you is your focus in the short-term. Market performers have a tendency to cluster around similar components of success. Figure out those cluster formulas.
A word of caution: This set of strategies is about getting your company to the next level, but it is not a plateau. As a CEO, building a strategy exclusively around replicating the successful traits of your competitors will lead to a flattening growth curve. You need to combine the winning characteristics of your competitors with your own unique game-changing strategies. By defining what the next level is, then identifying how to get there, you can give your team a real plan.