Today I answered your question:
“What are the most dominant competitive advantages of any business generally speaking?”
From a contemporary technology and innovation perspective, there are several areas within any business that can be used as dominant dynamic competitive advantages. However, firstly, the business needs to develop the capability of adapting to change and managing uncertainty effectively. A business that learns from customers and the business environment it functions in, then adapts quickly, is a necessity today for creating a competitive advantage. A business that effectively manages uncertainty can adapt quickly.
Here are 4 key areas of a business that can be adapted once the above capabilities have been developed:
Continuous learning about changes often provide insights into changes to be made and new opportunities. For example, changes in new technologies, legislation, economic conditions, customer changing habits provide early insights to changes that need to be made. A current example is the need for masks and sanitisers because of COVID 19.
Identify which aspects of your business model can be adapted or innovated to provide a significant competitive advantage is contemporary. Consider Uber versus traditional taxi services as an example.
New technologies open doors to creating new products, delivering services in different ways, streamlining or changing processes to create more value for clients than your competitors, that is, a competitive advantage. For example, e-commerce convenience with speedy delivery and no-fuss returns, or free knowledge for learning available online from universities and only pay when you need an official certificate.
Very popular today, backed up by scientific evidence, is using a clearly communicated titillating culture ‘statement’ for customers and quality staff with the same mindset to ‘buy into’. The statement defines, explains, and clearly expresses the ‘character’ of the company. The statement not only positions the company in the market, but also expresses the unique value offered to customers. This unique value often highlights what customers and potential staff want and can’t get from competitors (the competitive advantage).
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“How does a company develop the culture of the business? Is it something that is planned or eventually forms as the business grows and develops?”
The following is from a contemporary technology and business innovation/change management perspective.
Elliott Jacques’ (1951) defines culture as the “customary and traditional way of thinking and of doing things, which is shared to a greater or lesser extent by all [...] which new members must learn, and [...] accept, in order to be accepted into service in the firm”.
In simple terms this definition suggests that the culture is planned and established when the company is set up, such as the logos, titles, as well as the business and power structure. For example, does the company use processes to control staff or rules? Is the company hierarchical (top-to-bottom) where the top man sets the core belief system, or is it horizontal where all staff play a vital part? Culture is often expressed as “the way we do things here” so includes accepted rituals, norms, values, acronyms whether set by management, influenced by staff, or both, over time.
Today, companies are redefining their culture, strategically expressing and using their culture as a dynamic (changeable) competitive advantage, a tool that sets the company apart from competitors, and entices loyal customers and quality staff with the ‘matching’ mindset. That’s why, today, we see an abundance of statements such as “People over process” (Netflix, 2020), or, “Move fast. Be bold. Be yourself (Facebook, 2020). So, a modern company’s strategy is one that embraces and plans for ongoing culture statement changes with the times, to always remain fresh, relevant and enticing.
Companies are also changing their cultures completely to ensure longevity. IBM are an example of successful cultural change from black suited, rules orientated, to the dynamic company it is today. The IBM story makes good reading.
If you are currently looking at adopting a popular business model, whether it be for a new business idea or innovating or updating an existing business, a strong strategy would be to familiarise yourself with today's popular business models. Then adopt one (if possible) that will be widely adopted over the next 5 years. That way you can get ahead of your competition. Here is some useful information and a resource to get you started:
A strong, precise business model(s) can be a powerful tool for innovation, competitive advantage, decision-making, and culture development. Business models (BM) can either be explicit, written/drawn out, or implicit, unspoken/ undocumented, yet no less powerful. A business model can be a graphic, template, or text heavy document in the form of a business plan. Often businesses have more than one business model (BM). For example, a business may have one BM for each of the following:
Building and developing strategic partnerships
There are over 50 types of BM’s that most businesses fall into (Gassmann et al, 2014). Some of the most common today are:
Freemium (18) - use some of the service for free, upgrade for additional functionality;
Subscription (48) - pay a monthly fee starting at an affordable price point with the option to increase or decrease over time;
E-commerce (13)- sell products/services online;
Performance based (38) - the client pays on results.
St Gallens Business Model Navigator (Gassmann et al, 2014)
Regardless of the size of business, every business has a culture. Some cultures are explicit while others are implicit. Today, business cultures are very relevant as they are used as a competitive advantage tool. So, developing a strong culture and communicating it effectively is vital, especially if your competitors are already expressing their cultures in a strong way.
Developing a culture is different for each company and changing a culture requires special skills. As a general guide and starting point, here are two simple, yet highly effective, actions that can be taken towards developing a strong culture relevant to any business.
1. Take a close look at your business model.
If you have not written one down, I strongly suggest you use one of the many free templates available online and write it down. Business models are powerful tools as they not only focus management decision-making, they are a graphic representation of a business plan that is needed for business funding, and it also communicates the business purpose in a clear, precise way.
Does your business model have a strong value proposition that focuses on the value you provide customers? Is it something like – “Rides in minutes” (Lyft), or, “Light. Years ahead” (MacBook), or, “CTO as a service” (ToodGlobal), “Deliver on time every time” (unknown).
The value proposition is the core of why you are in business (purpose), how you deliver it, who you deliver to, and the quality. A workforce that is focused on a clear value proposition act develop a culture aligned with company focus and values.
2. Another area to take a close look at is the leadership approach of the business.
Is it hierarchical and bureaucratic or is it horizontal where there are no management levels as such but teams with everyone playing a vital part in the success of the business?
For example, in your sales office, do you tell staff how they fall short each day or is there a suggestion box/daily meeting for the sales team to share customer comments, complaints, requirements with suggested solutions to those in the room?
The horizontal approach supports your company in accumulating valuable intel about your customers that informs decision-making and keeps you up to date with your customers changing needs and expectations. In terms of culture, staff feel an “ownership” of the business as their contributions are considered and are valuable to the company.
As mentioned previously, culture identification, development, change is a highly specialist skill, however, the two points above should provide some insight into where to start.
The digital revolution that exploded from around 2010 has changed the way we do business and live our lives today. Culture, and using it as a competitive advantage is very popular today.
A simple example of the overused trend on company websites of links to an “Our story” page. The purpose is for prospective clients to buy into the culture of the business which turns them into loyal customers.
So, how can you turn a company culture into a competitive advantage?
Both the culture and a business’s objectives, vision, aim are unique to each business so there is no ‘1-size-fits-all’ step by step guide. Rather, an holistic approach is required, skillfully applied by specialists in cultures, competitive advantage, and innovation. Specialists can identify the elements within a culture that can be used for competitive advantage successfully. The specialists also need to be up to date with your competitors, sector, and the business environment you operate within to effectively position your business and its culture within the business environment so that you outperform competitors.