Simply put, core competencies are what you do best. A more detailed view might be the things you need to do best in order to thrive. It’s the practical side of business building that relies on focusing more on your strengths, and less on your weaknesses. Soar with your strengths.
What would your answer be if I asked you, “What’s your core competency?” Shockingly, some owners and CEO’s struggle to answer succinctly and clearly. A common response is more of a rambling searching than a clear declaration. I don’t think it’s because owners and CEO’s don’t know. They’ve just not really given it enough thought. It’s like I’ve caught them off guard (which isn’t really the point). I honestly want to know their answer.
Think about it. Self-awareness is hard. Whether it’s your personal self-awareness or your self-awareness about your company. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about core competencies. “What do you do best?” “What does your company do best?”
It’s at the heart of who you are and your competitive advantage. You’d think more of us would think about it. Sometimes we don’t because we’re just too busy doing business. We’re installing HVAC systems, repairing cars and trucks for customers, selling boats, building custom homes, selling cars, or whatever else defines our business. So it’s understandable that quite often business owners or CEO’s answer the question – “What do you do best?” – by simply stating what they do for their customers. But it’s deeper than that. More foundational.
A home builder builds houses, but his core competencies may include being able to find and acquire land. Building the homes on the land is just a way to enhance the investment and turn an even higher profit.
A retailer sells stuff, but her core competencies may include being able to find and acquire solid bargains. Selling the products at retail is just how she leverages her buying skills into higher profits.
In other words, it’s not always as it appears. Nor is it always what you might think it is.
“What do you do best?”
Let’s start with your company. What are the core competencies of your business? It’s worth wrestling down so you’re sure about them.
Step 1: Assemble multiple groups of people to see what others think.
Sit down with your leadership team and ask them to answer the question: “What are we best at?” But don’t stop there.
Create a group comprised of front-line employees with leadership (front line leadership and others). Mix and mingle is a good strategy. Hierarchy doesn’t exist in the group. The representative roles does matter.
Create a group of customers. How about a group of suppliers? Have top leadership facilitate these groups (for obvious reasons).
Have the groups wrestle just one question: What are we best at? As a company, what do we do well – perhaps better than anybody else?
You may learn that others, inside and outside the company, think your company is best at something very different than what you think. It’s easy for you to see what you want or hope to see. By getting a perspective from a variety of viewpoints you’ll more likely find out how things really are.
Step 2: Assemble the information and review it with your leadership team.
With fresh eyes – as much as that’s possible – open the envelopes to reveal the answers of what people think your company is best at. Don’t debate the validity of the opinions. What’s the point? People think what they think. If what they think is incorrect, it’s your fault. No point blaming them for their opinion.
Start with the congruencies. You’re likely going to discover some opinions that fit your own, and the opinions of your leadership team. You’ll have the thoughts of your leadership team, your front-line employees (and others inside your organization) and hopefully you’ll also have the thoughts of people outside your company because it’s their feedback that’s most valuable, especially customers.
Are the congruencies top-ranked, meaning do they occupy the top thoughts of the groups? It may be that you and top leadership feel a core competency is one thing and the groups agree…except it’s the number 1 thing according to your leadership team and it’s about number 3 on the list of others. Sometimes disconnected. Wrestle with that.
Examine the incongruencies, those things others list, but you may have not considered. Don’t be angry about it. Instead, be thankful because there may be big opportunities in those areas where others see strengths you’ve not considered.
This is the time to debate and argue amongst yourselves – not on the validity of the feedback, but on the viability of these things. Some questions to help you and your team may include:
“Do we want to leverage this core competency?”
“Do we want to rearrange our core competencies in order of importance to our company?”
“Are we working to leverage the right core competencies?”
“Are we in the right business (based on our core competencies)?”
Step 3: Keep the debate alive. Work toward clarity.
Don’t conduct one meeting. Keep the conversation going. Keep your leadership team thinking about it. Sit down periodically to see what new insights have bubbled to the surface. The team will likely know when they’ve wrestled it long enough to have gained clarity.
Step 4: Develop a plan.
Now what? Well, that depends on what you’ve discovered. And on what you want to do. There are no rules. You can do whatever you want. That includes ignoring what you’ve learned (which I’d advise against). 😉
Figure out how you want to proceed. I’ll just give you that phrase I’m so fond of, created by the father of StrengthsFinder, Donald. O. Clifton.
“Soar with your strengths.”
You’re wise to influence your team to lean into what you’re already great at. The goal should be to leverage it for all its worth and stop trying to be something you’re not. By the way, that goes for you and your leadership, too. Don’t mistake that for neglecting to improve. It’s just the opposite. It’s all about improving. It’s about not being satisfied with who or what you are, but it’s also having a strong enough self-awareness to stop fooling yourself.
I’m far better with words than math. My strength isn’t math. Try as I might, I’m not wired to be some high-level mathematician. It’s never going to happen. What about you? What are you far better at? Go in on that. It’s about being the best version of yourself possible. As the CEO or business owner, it’s about the same thing for your company. Make your company the best it can be at whatever it’s good at. Build on that to make your company great at it. Even world-class.
Do it for yourself, too.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!