Our leadership team recently visited a relatively young business that is rated as top five in their category, worldwide.  For us, as a small enterprise with big aspirations, it was incredibly useful to get a peak behind their curtain – view the working spaces, observe interactions, and pick their brains on how they do work.

But one thing left a sour taste.  We asked a junior level staffer, “What is your unique advantage?  What makes you better than your competition?”

Most companies don’t navel-gaze enough to really know this – in the C-suite, much less in the break room.   However, you would expect top 5 companies to have it plastered onto walls, in culture books, and engraved on the tip of their employees’ tongues.  But if even that is unfair, the fact that this company works on others’ competitive advantage for a living should have made it a fair question.

To respect confidentiality, let’s pretend this was a bakery and I asked the two guys behind the counter, “What makes you the best bakery in town?”

Problem #1.  They had different answers.  To state the obvious, this means that even if there was a clear answer, it wasn’t being communicated to the frontline.  And if it’s not being communicated, that’s only sustainable if the person with the answer is the only person doing the work. For a growing company, if your frontline does not know what process, knowledge, and product to protect and grow for a sustainable advantage, you’ve taken the first step to last place.

Problem #2.  Their answers boiled down to simply “We make bread”.  No joke Sherlock.  Is that what’s stocked in the glass case you’re standing behind?  Every bakery makes bread.  Particularly alarming for this “bakery” is that they are still riding the “new bakery in town” wave.  They’re hot; the bread is better than average.  But when the next hot thing comes along and finds a way to execute, deliver, and satisfy clients better (as long as the bread is just as good), not only will this bakery be wondering where their customers went, but those two store clerks will likely be down the street as well.

If you surveyed your employees with this question, would they give the same answer?  Is your answer deeper than the blinding obvious?

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