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Creating a Company that can Compete and Win
By Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas

In many sectors different companies appear to have similar competitive strategies. They recruit from the same business schools, buy the same technologies and employ standard processes. Yet some expand and prosper while others decline. Despite a decade of re-engineering, a succession of management fads, heavy investment in IT and extensive use of management consultants many companies struggle to cope. What do the businesses that adapt and grow do differently?

For more than a decade a research programme led by the author has examined why some companies win new business, build customer relationships, create and exploit know-how and manage change while others stagnate. Research teams compare the approaches and practices of the most and least successful. They isolate critical success factors for competing and winning. These are summarised in: ‘Transforming the Company, Manage Change, Compete and Win’*.

The collective experience of over 2,000 enterprises across many sectors reveals how profitable and expanding companies become and remain competitive. People in these businesses don’t print money or cheat. Their attitudes, approaches, perspectives and priorities ensure they win the battle to change, re-invent and break free of past constraints.

If you and your colleagues are frustrated and would like to transform the fortunes of your company you can learn from those who succeed. The key lessons - and stark differences between winners and losers - can be expressed in terms of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’.

Let’s start with what you are setting out to achieve. Survival – getting through the next quarter or twelve months - does not energize and excite. Be positive. Craft and communicate a distinctive vision, a compelling purpose, stretching goals and clear objectives.

Remain relevant and stay vital. Develop additional income streams, enhance capabilities and refresh intellectual capital. Create additional options and extend choice. Launch new ventures and establish new markets.

Display the will to win. Winners are driven to succeed. Their actions demonstrate they care. Read the road ahead. Anticipate events and confront realities. Take a longer-term view and provide strategic leadership. Ensure immediate priorities do not take precedence over longer-term aims.

Inspire and motivate. Lead and guide. Make sure people understand what they need to do, are visibly committed, and are prepared, equipped and enabled to act. Identify and tackle barriers to change. Don’t sidetrack critics, conceal disappointments or rationalize failure.

However keen you are to go forward don’t make changes for changes sake. Change can be stressful and it may disrupt valued relationships. Think before you act. Assess likely consequences. Balance change and continuity. Distinguish goals, values, objectives, policies and activities that need to be changed from those that should be continued.

Don’t expend energy in peripheral areas or bark up the wrong trees. Concentrate your effort where it is most likely to make a difference. Focus upon the critical success factors for achieving key corporate objectives and delivering greater customer and shareholder value.

Understand your customers. Ensure they are not disadvantaged by change. Put yourself out to develop tailored responses. Deliver bespoke offerings to them. Be proactive. Don’t wait to be asked. Take the initiative. Identify and approach those you would like to do business with. Push back the boundaries of what is possible, and aim to become a sought after and trusted business partners.

Don’t adopt standard approaches or be rigid and inflexible. Think for yourself rather than imitate and copy others. Jumping upon band-waggons and ‘me-too’ activities are not the route to market leadership. Don’t be overly cautious and too wary of commitments. Don’t respond belatedly to events or fail to anticipate requirements and implications.

Be confident. Don’t be indecisive or oblivious to the needs of others. Build and release talent. Explore, pioneer and discover. Encourage and support enterprise and innovation.

Losers are complacent, secretive and defensive. Don’t keep things to yourself or be reluctant to delegate. Trust other people and share information and opportunities with them where this is likely to prove mutually beneficial. Empathise and invite feedback. Question and challenge, and listen and learn.

Build relationships, but select people, business partners and opportunities with care. Don’t end up playing other people’s games. At the same time, don’t focus exclusively upon your own agenda. Collaborate on the basis of openness and transparency with complementary spirits who share your vision and values.

Be persistent but pragmatic, and determined but adaptable in pursuit of your aims. Take calculated risks. Experiment with new ways of working, learning and collaborating.

The board should help you to compete and win. It should be the heart and soul of a company, the source of its ambition and drive. Without a sense of purpose, a sound strategy and the will to achieve, well endowed corporations wither and die. Whether or not a company achieves and sustains success depends largely upon the attitudes and conduct of its directors.

Don’t mouth generalizations, engage in spin or confuse activity with progress. Cut through blather and hype. Get down to the fundamentals of what needs to be done. Wherever possible adopt simple solutions and take direct action. Regard change, renewal and transformation as normal activities.

Don’t try to do everything yourself or resist new and external ideas. Work with colleagues to foster winning attitudes and behaviours. Balance strategy with capability and think holistically. Ensure all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle required for successful transformation and sustained competitiveness are in place.

Directors and senior managers cannot become directly involved in the many and varied activities needed to respond imaginatively to changing circumstances. Empower business units and venture teams to bring about whatever changes are required to enable them to achieve their objectives and deliver value to their customers.

New areas of risk can arise as structures, processes and systems are reviewed and altered. Make sure people understand what is at stake and are ready to respond. Problems will arise. Their absence could indicate a lack of ambition. Learning from them and celebrating success help to sustain momentum.

Finally, go for it. The prospects of ‘loser’ companies can be transformed by putting the critical success factors required for winning in place. Achieving success is often easier and is invariably more satisfying than rationalising failure.

© Colin Coulson-Thomas, 2005


Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas
Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas
About the Author:

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, an experienced company chairman, has advised over 90 boards and management teams on director, board and corporate development. Formerly the world’s first Professor of Corporate Transformation and Process Vision Holder of major transformation projects, he is the UK’s first Professor of Competitiveness and can be contacted:

Tel: 01733 361 149
Fax: 01733 361 459
Email: colinct@tiscali.co.uk
Web: www.ntwkfirm.com/colin.coulson-thomas

*‘Transforming the Company, Manage Change, Compete and Win’ by Colin Coulson-Thomas and published by Kogan Page can be ordered by Tel. 01903 828800; Fax. 020 7837 6348; E-mail: orders@lbsltd.co.uk or on-line at www.kogan-page.co.uk or www.ntwkfirm.com/bookshop

Transforming the Company: Manage Change, Compete & Win
Colin Coulson-Thomas shows that to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality, business people must make far-reaching decisions about the value to them and their companies of particular theories, past assumptions and traditional approaches. Based on original research, the first edition of this was ahead of its time and predicted many of the current management trends. The author now brings the text bang up-to-date for the 21st century. This second edition of Transforming The Company shows how to turn theory into practice by highlighting the obstacles and barriers that confront companies when trying to bring about change. For management at all levels faced with this task, this thought-provoking book will inspire and enlighten.

The Knowledge Entrepreneur: How Your Business Can Create, Manage and Profit from Intellectual Capital  by Colin Coulson-Thomas

Buy UK   Buy US

The Knowledge Entrepreneur: How Your Business Can Create, Manage and Profit from Intellectual Capital
In many companies knowledge management has focused almost exclusively upon the packaging of existing knowledge. This book is designed to help readers boost revenues and profit by significantly improving the performance of existing activities and also creating new offerings that generate additional income. It shows how practical knowledge-based job-support tools can transform work group productivity, and reveals the enormous scope for addressing contemporary problems such as "information overload" with imaginative responses. Additional information includes: a list of possible commercial ventures; detailed checklists that can be used for identifying and analysing opportunities for knowledge entrepreneurship; and exercises for assessing entrepreneurial potential and "scoping" possible products and services. The free CD-ROM packaged with the book gives examples of particular knowledge-based job support tools that have dramatically improved desired results in crucial areas such as winning more business.



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