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How can I get ahead and stay ahead of my competitors?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Investment, Skills and training

It’s the age old challenge for every business: responding to competitors, getting ahead of them and staying ahead of them. Every business is looking for the way to achieve this and there is no universal answer that will tell you how to do it. But there is one critical factor that will help in getting ahead, and if you don’t have it, you will always struggle to achieve competitive success. In short, it is: having the right people with the right skills.

Whilst in the short term, businesses can achieve competitive success by all sorts of means; in the longer run there is only one way to sustain it - through skilled people.

Having the right skills is partially about recruitment, but it is more important to develop skills in the people you have. Unfortunately, the pressure of meeting daily challenges means that skills development is often not considered a priority and too often it can be seen as an expensive luxury.

Skills development does not have to be difficult or expensive, and it is certainly is not a luxury. There is plenty of evidence that the firms with competitive success are the ones that invest in their staff, and this applies to businesses of any size.

So what does that mean in practice? This is something I thought long and hard about when writing The Management Book. Clearly there is a place for training and for accreditation, and whilst it is true that this will almost always have a financial cost, the direct payback over time from skilled staff, and the indirect payback in terms of staff satisfaction and motivation is high.

However, developing the right skills is equally about every day learning from good role models, through reading and by being given opportunities to try new things. Simply finding a few minutes every week to discuss in teams how work can be improved can lead to significant performance improvements.

The truth is that much of the success in skills development depends on the attitude towards learning and development displayed by the leaders in the organisation. Do the behaviours exhibited show that skills development is valued or not? The degree to which an organisation learns is part of the organisation’s culture. This is more complex than a few lines can encompass, but some questions can help to identify organisations in which learning thrives. Such organisations answer yes to the following types of questions:

  • Are individuals allocated to work to learn as well as for the highest output?
  • Is learning considered as an important benefit from the day-to-day activities of the business?
  • Do new ideas receive encouragement, positive feedback or reward?
  • Are individuals empowered to take actions and implement any lessons they have learnt?
  • Do senior managers regularly ask – what are we learning, how are we applying this learning?
  • Are individuals praised for learning new skills, and - as important - sharing their knowledge with colleagues?

Changing the answer to these questions from no to yes does not need to cost a fortune and will go a long way towards achieving that competitive edge.

Let us know your thoughts - discuss!

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