Culture: The Sharpest Tool in the Toolbox for Competitive Advantage

Culture Competitive Advantage

What makes up the components of a competitive advantage? Is it just one-upping your competitor? Not so much anymore. We see companies like Apple thriving because they stay in their lane, remain laser-focused, and put out consistent products. Is Southwest Airlines putting people on elite spaceships or regular airplanes? Airplanes – and yet they still dominate the market. Both of these companies are known for exceptional customer experiences, innovation, and having a strong employment brand. What else do they have in common that is the driver of each of these? An unmatched culture.

When it comes to competitive advantage, culture eats strategy for both breakfast AND lunch. You cannot have one without the other, as great plans require people. Let’s take a look at the three components of competitive advantage and how culture is in the driver’s seat for each one, every time.

Customer Experience – Have you ever gone to a restaurant and had a grumpy server? We all know the face of “what do you want, but I don’t feel like getting it for you.” In the most basic of examples, we know that happy employees make happy customers. In more complex cases, your customers can feel and recognize your core values in action. Next time you go to your neighborhood, Trader Joe’s, compare your experience to that of their core value, produce Customer Wow Experiences. Not only do they hit the mark on this, but they do it consistently and organically because their core values have shaped the culture, and the culture reflects in your customer experience.

Innovation – When you’re a child, you have permission to be playful and creative. This behavior only ever stops when we grow up and expected to act within the boundaries of society. When it comes to being playful and creative with ideas in the workplace, adults need that same permission. To get the most innovative and creative ideas from your employees, they need to feel free of judgment and that they are in a culture where ideas MATTER regardless from whom they come. Over the holidays, Amazon had a package tracker displaying Santa’s sleigh to let consumers know where their items were en route. In a silenced culture, whoever came up with that would have never been vulnerable and comfortable enough to propose Santa’s sleigh as a tracker. Their culture let this fun and whimsical idea come from their core value, “Think Big” – it makes an impact on their consumers every day.

Lastly, but probably my favorite, Employer Brand (Okay, okay, I know – I’m in Search, and I love employment branding). This one is simple, though – who wants to apply at a place where people hate working there? **crickets** How you live your core values, how your core values impact your team wanting to come into work every day, and how much they believe in your mission IS your culture – and precisely what’s going to make your company on the best places to work list. Not only is Costco known for their free samples and smokin’ deals on bulk items that will sit in your pantry for a year, but also recognized for their mind-blowing employee retention rate of 94%. This retention is a direct reflection of their mindset of taking care of their employees – and keeps people around and keeps people applying.

Between improving customer experience, innovation, and employment branding, we should all feel jazzed about putting some love into company culture to feed our competitive spirit. This one powerful tool is all you need to have a market advantage – and it’s fun, too.