The Importance of Competence

Steve Coats

There is nothing like a downturn in business to highlight potential weak spots in the level of competence within an organization. It is not that people suddenly wake up stupid one morning and business suddenly drops. What it usually indicates is that something is radically different in the marketplace, and people are ill-prepared to do much about it. So when companies are expecting times to be tough, they naturally cut back on expenses. And often those companies cutting back are your customers – and the expenses they are cutting are for products and services they have been buying from you.

So what do you do? Do you keep attempting to operate in the same way as before, and hope that business turns for the better? Or do you challenge the process and attempt some very ‘non-status-quo' options. Remember this: when companies are curtailing costs and buying less from you, they are communicating that the value proposition you have been offering them is no longer valid. To keep or even grow the business, you must find new ways to add value besides simply reducing your prices.

So here is the tough question. Are people in your organization competent enough to think up and deliver entirely new and mutually profitable avenues of value? Are your salespeople basically order takers, or do they have the ability to be innovative problem solvers? Do your customer care people have the skills to recognize a golden opportunity for new business when dealing with a customer, or are they basically a traditional complaint handling or fulfillment center? Does the senior team have the experience to lead a top-line, growth-focused turnabout, or are they only schooled in scrutinizing budgets line-by-line, or looking for assets to sell off or write off?

You cannot solve a competency deficiency overnight, but you can take two immediate actions. First, take the shackles off those you know are competent, and aid and support them in proposing and implementing new value-added ideas. Let go of the ingrained notion that valued-added ideas must always mean high cost. That is simply a bad assumption. Finally, start right now raising your own capabilities. Make a conscious and deliberate effort to improve on something important—be it skills in customer relationships, strategic thinking, leadership, collaborating, value chain analysis or whatever. There is nothing that prevents you from being able to increase your own or your organization's levels of competence, even in tough times.

Steve Coats, a Leadership Challenge® Workshop Certified Master, is a managing partner and co-owner of International Leadership Associates, a leadership development education and consulting firm. For nearly twenty years, Steve has taught, coached, and consulted with executives and all levels of managers around the world in leadership development, team development, personal growth, change, and business strategy. Steve can be reached at stevec@i-lead.com

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