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Take the Lead

Find out what it takes to get ahead of the competition.
November 1, 2005
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/80462

Before he writes one of his bestselling business books on competition, Jason Jennings and his research team spend more than a year doing an exhaustive study of the specific topic at hand. Here, the author of It's Not the Big That Eat the Small... It's the Fast That Eat the Slow and Think Big, Act Small reveals the five characteristics of companies that stay ahead of the competition.

1. They have executives who keep their hands dirty. That means entrepreneurs are on the front lines with customers at least 50 percent of the time. Jennings explains: "This helps them keep their fingers on the pulse in the market they serve."

2. They're quick to let go of yesterday's breadwinners. If a product, service or method worked once but its day has passed, they let it go. "They don't cling to the attitude that if something's always been done this way, it must be done this way," says Jennings. "And they let go of the idea that the CEO's ideas are sacrosanct. Businesses waste too much time trying to breathe life into something that's dead or trying to make something work because it's the CEO's idea."

3. They generate real solutions. "The big word today in business is solutions," Jennings says. "But most companies are still just selling stuff, slamming boxes." Entrepreneurs who manage to stay ahead of the competition create authentic win-win solutions for their customers. Jennings cites the story of one entre-preneur who started out by sewing nurses' uniforms, then began providing all kinds of disposable items for hospitals, and now is taking over the purchasing function for entire hospitals--saving their customers millions of dollars in the process. Affirms Jennings, "That's a win-win solution."

4. They get every employee to act like an owner by basing pay and bonuses on the value each person adds to the business. "You can't have everybody think and act like an owner until you pay everybody like an owner," Jennings stresses. "Owners don't get paid unless they create value, but if they create lots of value, they get paid a lot. If they create tremendous value, they get tremendous pay."

5. They base their business on a set of five or six values or principles. "It became very popular a few years ago for companies to come up with a lofty set of 15 or 20 values," Jennings notes. "They hung them on the wall, published them in the annual report and talked about them once a year at a company meeting. Then they went back to doing everything the way they did it before." When an entrepreneur has a manageable number of key principles--and everyone in the company knows them--more people are able to make decisions. Employees don't wait for the hierarchy to make decisions, which speeds up decision making incredibly. "Being fast or staying ahead of the competition has nothing to do with physical speed," Jennings says. "It has to do with thinking fast, deciding fast, getting to market fast and maintaining momentum. And the only way you can be fast is by making sure everybody in the company knows how decisions are made."

For more tips on staying ahead of the competition in your business, go to www.entrepreneur.com/fasttracktips.