How to identify a unique organisational competence

You must differentiate yourself from your competitors; in order to thrive in good times and bad, you must go beyond the regular, expected offerings that everybody else in your business has, according to Steve Van Remortel in his book Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream: The Scoop on Increasing Profit by Differentiating Your Company Through Strategy and Talent. If your clients see no difference between your offerings and those of your competitors, you will be left competing on price.

The author’s strategic planning process revolves around five fundamental features:

  • Differentiation: Deliver what the author describes as a “competence”, which consistently makes your customers choose you over your competitors
  • Tangible value: Consistently reinforce the tangible value, in dollars, that your competence delivers to customers
  • Talent management: Have a system for identifying, selecting, developing and retaining the skills sets necessary for delivering your competence
  • Tactical/departmental plans: Develop action plans for each department of your organisation
  • Plan execution: A plan execution program ensures the accountability and discipline necessary to bring plans to reality

According to the author, fewer than 10% of organisations that develop an annual business plan are able clearly to define how they will differentiate themselves from competitors. Is it even possible for most businesses to differentiate themselves? The ones that try often make spurious claims to being the “best” or “most experienced” in the district/state/world, often supported by reference to “awards” won. But what clients and customers are really seeking is something that will be of value to them, because the goods or services are provided in a uniquely helpful way.

Most businesses give up on the idea of finding a true point of differentiation, just as most businesses that do formal planning fail to execute the plans in an accountable manner. Nonetheless, some firms do manage to achieve a clear and sustainable differentiation, leading to significant profitability. This book provides a helpful process for identifying a unique organisational “competence” and using that as the basis of strategic planning. A lot of research, creativity and soul-searching is still required, but the author’s process helps to make the steps manageable.

The book has a companion website which provides numerous worksheets and resources that can be used in the strategic planning process, including some online behavioural and skills assessments that are available free to purchasers of the book and can be used to help team members better understand and interact with each other.

While I did not find the book to be an irresistible page-turner, and many of the steps involved in the author’s process are pretty much the same as those in everyone else’s strategic planning process, I think there are sufficient unique features of the book, particularly in the area of identifying a unique organisational “competence” as a basis for differentiation, to make the book a very worthwhile purchase for organisational leaders, and there is compelling value in the free extras available via the companion website.

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