Elements of Strategy: Competencies

As the name implies, these are what you’re good at.  In fact, these are what you’re great at.  While there’s a long standing tradition of trying to “improve” weak areas, more recent thinking and research into this area (especially from the Gallup organization) is converging on the idea that you’re better off to put more focus where you’re great, and either hire or outsource other areas to people who are great at them.

To paraphrase Marcus Buckingham in “Now Discover your strengths”:  “If you spend all of your time trying to improve your weaknesses, you can get all the way up to mediocre.”

So what does this mean for your business?

Well, for one, it means that you can’t wear all the hats.  It means that, to be effective, you can’t be the only one who’s working on:

  • Organizing your office
  • Getting in touch with clients
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Doing your bookkeeping and taxes
  • Creating and designing your advertising
  • Negotiating with suppliers

You know this – It’s why you hire an accountant, and a lawyer, and a receptionist.  It’s why you read sites like this to get ideas that you can implement, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel.

But this understanding takes a special role when you’re considering strategy.  Because, much like the core beliefs sets the boundaries for how you and your team will behave, the competencies will set the boundaries for which avenues to pursue to fulfill your vision.

Further, it will inform your hiring choices – Knowing what skills you need, and more importantly what skills you lack, is an essential element in putting together a team.  When you combine a shared vision and core beliefs, and wildly different core competencies, you will create an incredibly strong team.

I’m going to cite “Now, Discover Your Strengths” again – the authors use the analogy of a broken vase to describe the idea of putting a team together based on strengths.  I’m going to paraphrase it here, because I use it often:

“Imagine you’re holding the pieces of a vase that have been broken cleanly into two pieces.  If you fit the pieces together, you have a fully functioning vase again, and can barely notice the fault-lines where it was split.  Or, you could throw away one of the pieces, and then sand down the jagged edges of the piece you have in your hand, and try to make the best of it.  The former is like what happens when you put two or more people together who have complimentary strengths – the deficits in one are complimented by the strengths in the other.  The second situation is what happens when you try to do everything yourself – you never get to develop your strengths, and everything gets sanded down to ‘average’ while you try to be good at everything.”

Understanding what you’re great at is a key component of setting your strategy.  Without a realistic appraisal of the areas that you excel in, and the areas that you are weak in, it’s impossible to build a strategy that allows you to get the most out of your strengths.  And that is just as true whether you are a sole proprietor or a large company.  Understanding your competencies is a critical prerequisite step to developing and executing a good strategy.

On that note, I’m going wish everybody a fantastic weekend.  On Monday, I’ll tie together the last few days worth of posts with some examples of how to start crafting or refining a strategy for your business.