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Building sustainable competitive advantage It is not enough just to have an advantage over your competitors.

For your business to succeed, it has to weather the storms of competition. You have to be able to beat today's ferocious market forces and volatility. In other words, your competitive advantage must be sustainable and able to endure the test of time Understanding your competitive advantage is critical to your survival. It is why you are in business. Keep in mind that what you do best is what draws customers to buy your product or service rather than your competitor's. Gaining a sustainable competitive advantage is not as simple as just being different. Your competitive advantage is not a list of your strengths. In today's market, too many companies:

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Have a competitive advantage but don't know what it is Know what their competitive advantage is but neglect to tell clients about it Don't have a competitive advantage but think they do Mistake "strengths" for competitive advantages Don't properly focus on their competitive advantages when making strategic and/or operational decisions

Performance Is The Key Competitive advantage comes from what your people do (performance), not from what they know. How well does your company build and maintain a competitive edge? Five challenges most organizations face in gaining competitive advantage: Recognizing and taking advantage of market opportunities Defining product and/or services that create value for customers Attracting, retaining and improving the best available resources for providing product and services Managing uncertainties in creating and realizing product and service opportunities Sharing the resulting benefits with your resources (employees and suppliers) Attracting, retaining and improving the best available resources is perhaps the most difficult and often overlooked of these challenges. Performance-based training is one way to meet this challenge. Performance-based training emphasizes proficiency in job tasks essential to your competitive advantage. It is based on clear definition of the tasks, skills and knowledge needed to competently perform each job in your organization. A performance based training program is a planned, organized sequence of activities designed to prepare persons to competently perform their jobs. Competitive advantage requires that every employee maintain their job performance at the highest levels possible, or improve to meet the need. Training and Performance Improvement departments must be able to guarantee that every learner can demonstrate full competence on every skill taught. How do you know if the training you are providing is performance-based? True performance-based training applies scientific principles on how people, learn, think, and remember. It requires the application of an instructional system design model that provides for: Needs assessment Curriculum development Course design and pilot delivery Evaluation There are four key characteristics of true performance-based training that will help you determine how your organizations training rates, and where you can potentially make improvements. 1. 2. 3. 4. Does the training provide clearly stated performance objectives? Is the training derived directly from the job? Does the training use vocabulary and examples that learners will relate well to? Does the training focus on providing learners with practice and immediate feedback on all the skills required to perform a job to contribute to competitive advantage?

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Role of Management

Managers must apply critical thinking to all aspects of the organization and build a strong business case for decisions. Effective critical thinking takes into account sustainable competitive advantages of every process and opportunity. The mission statement will only drive competitive advantage if it is properly designed and cuts across the entire organization (multilevel). it is possible that it is not a strength for either of you . For example. Approximately 70 percent of all new products can be duplicated within one year and 60 to 90 percent of process improvements eventually spreads to your competitors. problem solving. No strength or weakness applies against all competitors in all market situations. Opportunities and Threats In making use of SWOT Analysis. a key point for one category cannot be a key point for another category  Strengths and weaknesses are relative and have limits. Weaknesses. Be careful not to define a requirement such as this as a competitive advantage . Managers must be able to make your business vision a reality by developing employee's abilities in team work. Developing Sustainable Competitive Advantages  .but is actually a requirement for competing in this market. start with overall strengths and weaknesses. then find the best combination of relative strengths (and the absence of critical weaknesses) to use against specific competitors in specific markets. It is not enough to merely have a vision. there should be no more than 3-4 conclusions for each category of a SWOT. either for yourself or a competitor. Comparing the Competitors' SWOT Analysis to your own SWOT Analysis can help to identify true strengths and opportunities for you and the competition. Considering Strengths. Competitive advantage is a dynamic process that demands constant attention.  Both strengths and weaknesses are internal. Keep in mind that most advantages can be duplicated within a period of time. When developing a SWOT Analysis.Enhancing human performance requires a team of managers and supervisors that can perform as both a well organized management team and have an in-depth understanding of people's basic needs and behaviors. they are outside the direct control of the company  By definition. It is NOT a once and done flavor of the month! Brice Alvord has over thirty years experience as an internal and external performance improvement consultant. and critical thinking. if your analysis identified the same strength for you and a key competitor. consider these points: Generally. It is an advantage that enables your business to survive against its competition over a long period of time. A vision without corresponding action is merely a dream Action without vision is a waste of time Vision and corresponding actions will take you to new heights! . The advantage comes from your company's unique skills and resources working together to implement strategies that competitors cannot implement as effectively. even in most complex situation. they are within the direct control of the company  Both opportunities and threats are usually external. He is the author of over two dozen books on continuous improvement and training.Joel Barker. Business of Paradigms Corresponding action is derived from the organization's mission statement. your managers must be able apply corresponding actions to make it is NOT! Conclusion Sustainable competitive advantage allows for the maintenance and improvement of your company's competitive position in the market. He holds a BA in Sociology/Psychology from Central Washington University and an MBA degree from City University of Seattle.

and loyalty programs. or an experienced manager. 4. System Negative Feedback An organization's performance is directly linked to its ability to compete. clean. is measured by the value which a customer observes. They have cheap meals. or develop new capabilities through planning and implementation. So. such as delivery. However. Target can track all of their transactions and store it in their data warehouse. nice facilities. Business strategy can revise current capabilities. 3. Distribution and Information Systems: Walmart has killed this part of the retailing strategy. they do little media advertising due to their location strategy. if you want Craftsman tools. Every capability is supported by competencies. Unique Merchandise: Private label brands are products developed and marketed by a retailer and available only from the retailer. which keeps track of the customer’s needs and wants outside of Target. or price. Target can track customers who use their card at other retailers and compete by providing that merchandise as well. those internal structures that an organization possesses such as a filing system. This will entice Target to offer products that they do not have in stock. This advantage must be supported by a unique capability or capabilities. Multiple Source Advantage: Having an advantage over multiple sources is important. Sustained competitive advantage requires constant adjustments to the organizational system in response to varying inputs and desired outputs. quality. Distributing is extremely expensive and timely. 6. a milling machine. A loyalty program is like a "Target card. That closed feedback loop measures performance outcomes to alter business strategy. Location: Location is a critical factor in a consumer's selection of a store. Yet. A firm's competencies are remarkably intertwined. Koufteros (2002) offered this example of the strategy- . hot food. A competitive capability." Now. not performance alone. Competitive advantages will develop in a tuned organizational system. They will conquer one area of a city at a time and then expand in the region. proprietary software. you must go to Sears to purchase them. a firm which does not align strategy with the application. and development of capabilities will become uncompetitive. Customer Service: This takes time to establish but once it's established. 5. There is a closed feedback loop which organizations use to develop their competitive capabilities. and good customer service with a strong reputation for always providing fast. Starbucks coffee (shown here Figure 1) is an example. true competitive advantage is results from the interactions between organizational components. especially in their effect on competitive advantage (Koufteros. McDonald's is known for fast. positioning. 2002). competencies must be used properly and in conjunction with each other to meet strategic demands. Retailers try to have the most effective and efficient way to get their products at a cheap price and sell them for a reasonable price. This can be accomplished through retail branding. Customer Loyalty: Customers must be committed to buying merchandise and services from a particular retailer. Target tracks all sales done on their cards. For example. 2. when the customer uses the card as a credit card. it will be hard for a competitor to a develop a comparable reputation. refinement. and hot food.1. Vendor Relations: Developing strong relations with vendors may gain exclusive rights to sell merchandise to a specific region and receive popular merchandise in short supply. For example. 7. They open stores close to one another to let the storefront promote the company. Competencies alone do not guarantee results.

but is more effective at supporting differentiation and premium pricing. the overall performance targets of the organization will be difficult to achieve. " if an organization's goals are to increase product variety and reduce lead time for customers (competitive priorities). In order to develop or maintain a competitive advantage. Koufteros' (2002) research agreed with the suggestions of Porter. Typically. These main themes drive the selection of competitive priorities and the development of competencies. innovation does not greatly affect delivery. For example. even though it affects quality. if a firm can produce quality products. it can be assumed that capabilities are positively reinforcing. enhance. On-time delivery supports profitability more as a customer requirement than an optional advantage. as will be seen in later sections. Information Technology One capability that has garnered much attention in maintaining a sustained competitive advantage is information technology (IT). it must also be able to innovate. Interestingly. because undesirable products of high quality and innovative products of low quality have a small market. This symbiotic relationship of an organization's capabilities explains why it is challenging to be competitive. However. and that if any one capability is lacking. For instance. From Koufteros' (2002) results. It is not logical to pursue a single capability when capabilities positively reinforce each other. This organization effectively used a closed loop to develop strategic goals. it may develop programs and practices that reduce setup time and increase equipment reliability" (p. The power of IT to retain. An innovative firm with quality products will deliver products to market faster than the competition without costly rework or returns. Quality enhances the chance of delivery dependability and the likelihood of return customers. time. quality can allow for cost leadership via cost cutting. Kettinger (1994) discovered . The cost of quality can be a detriment to a firms value.capability relationship. it can be concluded that competitive advantage is attained through interrelated competencies and capabilities. System Interdependence of Competitive Capabilities Capabilities are emergent. that companies mainly compete on a basis of cost leadership or differentiation. or any other expenditure. A popular assumption might be that any IT competency will yield competitive success. and implement plans to reach those goals. strategic goals must be value focused. identify the distance from the current state. and reuse knowledge supports its role in creating competitive organizations. 259). strategic results of competencies that allow for the transformation of inputs to outputs. The purpose of system feedback is to ensure capabilities are properly developed to reach desired outputs. It is possible that different capabilities carry differing importance weights depending upon the main organizational strategy. Customers may perceive value in terms of cost.

semiconductors. These customers form the demand for a certain quality level. Intuitively. p. 32). "The 1980s saw Japanese firms make dramatic gains in market share in industries such as automobiles. Khosla. A major reason for the success of these firms was the superior quality and reliability of their products" ( Banker. He pointed out that "opportunities for achieving sustained competitive advantage from early use of IT may be more difficult than originally conceived" (p. IT is a distinct capability and is impacted by the whole organizational system. Banker. The level of competition arises from several factors. Companies with higher quality levels gained market share and forced other companies to also increase their quality levels to prevent continued losses. 1998. Khosla. The proper alignment of structure and strategies is clearly just as important for information technology as it is for manufacturing technology. When an industry contains a large. & Sinha. As organizations compete. Negative factors are exemplified by easy market entry for competitors. and ignoring risk management strategies. Competition exists to win over customers with options. which were illustrated by defect rates. dominant competitor. 1179). . large organizational size which prevents action. Quality's effects on production cost and price was central to the authors' game theory based findings. this makes sense since the smaller firm will increase its own quality without affecting cost greatly. The third force studied was not from individual firms owning separate quality levels. and organizational strategy. and consumer electronics. it might be expected that smaller firms have a lower cost related to increasing their quality levels. Quality Quality has become a major competitive focus in US manufacturing due to competition. Global competition in areas like the automotive industry was created by different quality levels. Factors that influence how successful an organization is at maintaining a sustained competitive advantage include the organization's competitive environment. but rather by the number of competitors in the industry. they look amongst each other to determine what quality levels (combined with other competitive items) best meet customer demand. Consumer demand was modeled as a linear function of price and quality. and Sinha (1998) researched competitive intensity as it was driven by three separate forces. The second force was one of restraining cooperation between firms in quality partnerships. One force was the need to compete with the quality baseline set by the dominant firm in the industry. organizational structure. This causes industry wide quality to increase when the firms have a desire to compete on a basis of quality value. Quality is a relative item.that creating a sustained competitive advantage was not guaranteed solely by the use of a computer database.

A decreasing rate for the cost to improve quality is plausible since experts in the industry become more available and machinery becomes more standardized. This contradicts generalizations such as "quality is free. Although competitive advantage is generally seen as admirable. On the other hand. and must outweigh the dividing of market share in order to prevent industry wide quality levels from decreasing. This is the situation assumed by most quality supporters. and Sinha (1998) defines competition by the number of competitors. due to a lack of competition. The end result is a more attractive product to customers. The larger firm controls such a major competitive advantage that it eliminates the ability of smaller firms to compete on a quality basis. Industries with costly design cycles tend to benefit most from the pooling of resources to build quality into the design. without sharing knowledge with rivals. the industry wide quality level tends to decrease as desire to compete on quality levels increases. McEvily (2005) also looked at partnerships as a key method for developing competitive capabilities." The authors again base their model on the cost of quality levels which affects price. when the dominant firm has cost advantages for improving quality. In the case of a high cost of quality. dividing up the available customer demand. It is interesting that competitive advantage formed by supply chain cooperation can be extremely beneficial. This decreasing cost of quality is not guaranteed. The McEvily study concluded that organizations tend to form capabilities with support from their supply chains. Although the supplier does not compete with its buyer. Their model showed that quality levels cannot increase without limits. That is a truly sustained advantage.thereby taking market share from its competitor. the formation of a partnership creates an event where organizations collaborate on determining quality levels. The final scenario investigated by Banker. Khosla. and that increasing competitor numbers does not automatically deliver an increase in quality. The outcome could also be looked at as creating a sustained competitive advantage over a firm's historic quality levels. it may be hesitant to offer information or share costs. In this case. In the second scenario. but it may also increase the size of the customer pool by adding new customers who would not otherwise be shopping. and the illustrated negative impact to society could be mitigated by government intervention. . it is possible that competitive advantages are not always beneficial to society. the partner defined quality can be a competitive advantage only against firms outside the partnership. and Sinha (1998) continued their games with two other scenarios. quality levels will only increase if the cost to improve quality decreases at a strong rate. The partnership quality level is higher than purely competitive quality levels if the cost to implement quality improvements is high enough. As more competitors enter the industry. Such a firm might arise in the form of a monopoly. Khosla. Banker.

did not result in increased quality. Without study. Free switching may not always be possible. It is not always enough for products to be high quality. companies. as well as compliance with hail. The study found that offering cheaper services at lower rates was the likely reason. while other portions are private and supported by both individuals and groups of individuals. allowing Chinese companies to produce solar panels at a fraction of the . since organizations can compete on a cost basis regardless of quality levels. firms will focus on the development other competitive advantages with lower costs. especially given enrollment periods. Competitive advantage can only be established in those areas which are highly desirable. The authors admitted that the sample size for their study was small enough to have statistical errors. China's subsidies altered the market in a way that prevented quality from being leveraged as a competitive advantage for Solyndra against global competition. The fact that this did not happen shows that being competitive is extremely sensitive to the market in which an organization competes. and government bodies. fueled by a growing demand from individuals. wind and seismic events. At equal costs (including price and time). The healthcare industry is an example of a very complex marketplace. Chinese manufacturers were so heavily subsidized that they were able to sell products well below Solyndra's threshold. Mixing of public and private support does create challenges for quality as a competitive advantage. they certainly did not show an increase in quality. This supports the assertion that the cost related to quality and quality improvement does not always result in a gain in value as perceived by the customer. & Chernew (2008) found that increased numbers of HMOs. the Chinese government poured $33 billion into its solar industry in 2010. Portions of it are public and subsidized. Swaminathan. While the results did not show a definite decline in quality due to competition. Solyndra's quality can be seen in their product certifications to IEC61646/61730 requirements for Europe and UL 1703 requirements for North America. it would expected for HMO companies to raise quality standards in order to capture more business or lower costs. "According to the Energy Department. In the case of domestic solar cell manufacturer. but they may also lower their quality demands. Customers may defect to other firms. Quality as a Minimized Advantage The study by Scanlon. competing for the same pool of customers. The study may not have proceeded long enough since the worst quality HMOs may ultimately fail due to customer defection and costs associated with poor quality such as lawsuits. The markets desired solar cells. Solyndra. global competition was fed by a mix of public and private support. a higher quality product should win.with a large number of competitors. Lee.

. and greater knowledge of the domestic electricity market? Perhaps the company may have been able to diversify its product into a new solar cell market that placed high demands on competitive needs other than price. Strategy (purpose and principles) and operations (processes) are the baseline for enabling competitive competencies. a recurring theme is that the management of complex a system governs the success of an organization. processes. The Importance of Management In seeking the methods for remaining competitive. This means that new technology alone is not enough to guarantee increased performance. It is clear that it would take dramatic competency changes to allow Solyndra to achieve the internal cost reductions that Chinese manufacturers enjoyed as an external subsidy. If Solyndra was unable to compete on price or quality alone. Managers were interviewed and ranked based on their ability to perceive and react to organizational problems. New technology must be properly managed in order to make improvements to performance levels. could the company have competed on fast delivery. and accountable role for any organization.S. Firms that focus on differentiation would have been more difficult for the study. and performance make up the complex system as identified by Pryor (2007). Within the organization. but competition would still reward firms that effectively use resources to create value for customers. which exist in the U. Business strategies are formed by management and are of extreme importance to remaining competitive. The US government did provide a $528 million loan to Solyndra which is less than 1% of the Chinese investment. markets. Van Reenen (2011) investigated why companies can have extremely different performance outputs when they are making similar products. people. Van Reenen (2011) found that organizations in strongly competitive environments tended to have highly competent managers. principles. These competitive firms. Could Solyndra have maximized its value by strategically positioning itself in a way that would not directly compete with Chinese manufacturers? The poor response to Solyndra's quality may have been that Chinese solar cells perform equally well to a customer's requirements. The products of the studied firms were relatively easy to copy. 2011). as well as their ability to increase the productivities of their organizations. are forced to use quality and lean processes in order to keep efficiency high. and therefore competed on price. The similar inputs and outputs suggested that the main organizational differences were in operations. Therefore. purpose. Organizations that use all available tools in a way that optimizes overall performance will perform better than organizations with sub-optimized components.cost that American companies like Solyndra were paying" (Bingham. management is a critical.

By analyzing other studies. O'Daniell (1999) found that companies are trying to increase employee satisfaction in order to effectively use organizational culture as a competitive advantage. and efficiency reinforces other competitive advantages. In addition. The Importance of Human Resources Even though management is important. The purpose is to emphasize an employee's skills and competencies as a business asset rather than emphasizing their time or physical location. identification of problems. The culture of an organization is a critical internal factor that affects productivity. An organization which does not value or foster management talent is likely to give up that talent to another organization. in price. In this case. 2004 p. These results support the likelihood of quality costs to decrease as more competitors enter a market. 1020). it is people at all levels that ultimately make an organization perform successfully. Wilkinson (2004) asserts that global competition has created a need for total quality management (TQM). those people are critical to success. A strong culture of honesty. for example the need to create employee commitment to quality and flexibility. "As a commitment to quality management is one component of most business strategies. quality levels are a competitive advantage observed by the customer directly. so thinking about strategic [human resources management] is likely to emphasize quality management issues. She goes further by suggesting that human resources management is often left out of specifics which tend to focus more on operations. and flexible scheduling make the job fit the employee rather than trivialize the employee to fit the job. It is equally important to align the strategic management of human resources with organizational strategy as it is to align process management. Methods such as work sharing. . Managers should consider quality initiatives as a means for remaining competitive. management practices are dynamic enough to circulate between organizations." (Wilkinson.Similar to adopting new technologies. Human resources are part of the organizational structure. empowerment. innovation. Von Reenen (2011) demonstrated that highly competitive markets have a positively reinforcing effect on quality levels. Communication is another important factor to creating a strong organizational culture. Management practices strongly influence organizational ability to create competitive advantages through unified strategy. Disgruntled or demoralized employees are less likely to support a positive and productive culture. but only if they are understood in terms of customer value and in relation to the entire organizational system. but moreover. management practices do change over time in the ongoing struggle to be the best. Honest communication enables fast response times. and creates a sense of teamwork.

TQM may be repelled as invasive and disruptive if it contradicts established norms. A focused strategy is expected to define what capabilities are required to maximize value observed by the customer. It is not enough to optimize only one component of the system. nor is it enough to optimize each component in isolation. As the organization takes measurements from the customer's viewpoint.In order for TQM to be adopted by people. it must flow down adjustments in its system to increase customer satisfaction with enhanced capabilities. Those goals propel an organization forwards in the creation of competitive systems. it must work within their personal and organizational culture. Conclusions Organizations seeking a competitive advantage must examine every component of their internal system. This integration is more properly labeled as strategic quality management. For this reason. machinery. The system optimization that occurs at each level must work in conjunction to support the large-scale goal of sustained competitive advantage . building structure. People are the ultimate tools in creating competitive advantage. and software all contribute to organizational capabilities. disseminated strategy enable people to work together in sustaining a competitive organization. Strong organizational culture and clear. TQM must be used in alignment with achievable strategic goals. Competencies such as human resources.