Why Competition Is Missing from the Corporate Course Catalog
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The following excerpt is from Benjamin Gilad and Mark Chussil’s book The New Employee Manual: A No-Holds-Barred Look at Corporate Life. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound
Companies spend millions on training its managers. They send managers to corporate universities and “rising-star” camps, and pay for horrendously expensive Executive MBA programs. They buy the latest online courses and MOOC courses, TED talks, and any other learning technology on the market.
Yet the skill of competing is the most neglected of all the skills being taught. A study by Forrester Consulting on behalf of IBM extols the benefits of design thinking in improving performance and urges companies to train all teams in design thinking (by IBM, of course). Interestingly, not one word in the entire design-thinking process or the study is dedicated to competition. It’s as though we expect our competitors will curl into whimpering, helpless fetal balls when our employees, freshly trained in design thinking, produce invincibly superior results. The problem is that as common-sensible as it is to streamline design processes by centering them on the users, competing isn’t just solving users’ problems but solving them in ways that competitors can’t or won’t. IBM demonstrated this point as competitors successfully challenged its position.
Competing isn’t managing
Maybe “Corporate” thinks investing in the same subjects one learns in an MBA program creates competitive managers. Business schools may teach the skill of solving problems but not the skill of competing.
Maybe Corporate thinks competing is the same as “leadership” training. Send managers to a wooded resort to be screamed at by tough guys as they build rafts, cross rivers, and learn the value of teamwork. Teamwork is essential to crossing a river, but when it comes to thinking strategically on how to position your company more distinctively than competitors for the next 10 years or how to compete with China where your products have been stymied by unfair play for a decade, we suspect other skills are as pertinent.
When we understand that competing involves the integration of a maverick mentality and strategic thinking, we gain the insight that practicing competing via simulations is the most effective tool that companies should employ routinely, just like they employ budgeting, planning, office cleaning, and replacing coffee filters (or Keurig pods).
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Leaving the continuous practicing of the skill of competing to HR’s formula of managerial “development” is like entrusting the combat training of the Marines to the USO. HR is just not the right conduit.
So, who should be responsible for turning competing skill into a fundamental requirement like speaking English and wearing shirts? We suggest Thomas Jefferson.
We can imagine a meeting with President Thomas Jefferson in the early days of the Republic. Jefferson was an early proponent of breaking with Great Britain:
Jefferson: Gentlemen, we need to free our citizens to pursue opportunities in our vast country! We need to compete with the vast British Empire, and we need to win!
HR: Hmm. Sorry, sir, which course would you like to add to our training program?
Jefferson: Discovering entrepreneurial skills! Understanding market realities! Predicting competitors’ moves before they happen!
HR: No problem, sir. We have a course in Dining Etiquette of the Royal British Court. Would that do?
Jefferson: No! We need original thinking! We need strategies! We need visionaries! We need mavericks who take the initiative and take risks and think like owners!
HR: Oh! No problem! We have a famous professor from the great University of Hamburg who developed an intriguing theory about motivating the serfs to increase the production of cotton in the Southern Alps area.
Jefferson: How much does he ask for teaching it?
HR: We could get it for nothing. It’s freemium.
Jefferson: You are all noodleheads. Bring me Andy Grove.
Without a strong commitment from the top to cultivate competing as a skill throughout your company, and to use it as a promotion criterion and a mandatory ingredient in leadership development, don’t expect to be able to compete like founder and former CEO of Intel Andy Grove.