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Are You Easy To Compete Against?

Of all the strategic plans I review, most contain at least a reference to competitor data - market share, operating margins, perhaps a bit of publicly available quality and satisfaction data. Yet plans often show little understanding of WHY the data are there, beyond the "Well, we're following an outline and it says we should review competitor data in Section 3 so there it is..."

Snapshots of last year's competitor performance are nice if you're writing history. And, yes, sometimes a sense of history provides a context to help you make sense of a confusing future. But for leaders growing companies, history is better left to historians.

You want to be difficult to compete against.

That requires, among other things, better foresight, not more detailed history. Your focus belongs on the future - yours and theirs.

Ask yourself:
  • What are my competitors' intentions?
  • How does what they've done affect what they will do next year and the year after?
  • What new entrants might join the competitive landscape?
  • On what part of my business will that new competition focus?
  • What response scenarios can I construct? "If they thrust here, I'll parry there..."
Doing this well requires information being triangulated from many, sometimes overlooked sources:
  • Interviewing employees you've recently hired away from your competition. You'd be surprised how much you can learn for the price of a cafeteria lunch.
  • Exit interviews with your employees leaving to work for the competition. What future were they promised?
  • Third party data: CON filings, zoning applications, real estate property transfers, incorporation records, service mark applications - public data speaking to plans and intentions.
  • Tapping your medical staff's information networks to stay current on your competitors' recent medical staff additions and recruiting activities. You think your medical staff can keep a secret? You're wrong. Neither can theirs.
  • Networking with equipment vendors for "sneak peaks" into major technology acquisitions. The most sophisticated equipment has the longest lead times, and vendors would LOVE to sell you one too.
  • Reviewing your competitors' leadership profiles on Linkedin and other social networking sites to understand skills, strengths and role descriptions. What they've done elsewhere may be what they were hired to do up the street.
Many of these data elements probably exist somewhere in your organization, locked up in individual silos.

Time to unlock that hard-won knowledge, making it actionable across the organization. Time for new voices to weigh in. Time to share and make new connections. Time for idiosyncratic facts and rumors to become a strategic resource, a foresight-generating competitive weapon. In TSA-speak, you're now "connecting the dots" and amplifying weak signals as you refine market and customer listening skills.

Here's a modest game plan: Begin with a basic data set. Publish it on your intranet. Assign an individual to manage the data and a team to watch over it. Encourage contributions of information and scenarios from a wide-ranging, diverse group. Play "what if..." games. Capture the scenarios for study and review. Refresh the data constantly. After each refresh, ask yourself "what's changed?" Share the learnings widely.


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