The Only Competitive Advantage That Matters


Forget first to market, customer service, value-adding features or perfect strategy. The only real competitive advantage you need to know is none of these, yet all of these. You can have all of the above factors yet fail dramatically. You can have none of the above factors, yet succeed beyond reason. But if you manage a team, you better have one thing nailed down, because without it, nothing’s going to work as well as you have hoped.

In the 21st century businesses are focussed on efficiency. It's a cliche that we're all trying to do more with less. To make this happen, we are re-engineering job descriptions, processes and org structures. Or we're just trying to get our people to take on more responsibilities. But in all organisations, efficiency comes down to a really simple concept:


Get people to do more of the things that make a big impact.

And less of the things that distract them from the things that make a big impact.

I'm going to call this 'Focus' and it represents our employees' ability to focus their efforts on the things that matter.


Imagine if you could do this:

It's Friday afternoon and you have an automatic download of all the activities that one of your team members did throughout the working week. Every minute of every day. How many of those activities would you look at and ask yourself "why did they choose to do that?"

You see every second of every day our staff make choices about what to do and what not to do. Because we're so busy, we always do something at the expense of doing something else. So the question is simple: do they always choose the right thing?

For most people the answer is no. But even if it's 90% yes, then we can constantly strive for better Focus. And here are three reasons it's not as good as it could be.


1)    Lack of clear priorities

To be really focussed, teams need to know what's most important. Not just what's important - but most important. In other words, they also need to know what's not important. Too many teams get caught up trying to deliver too many projects and doing none of them well, if at all.

Teams members need to be really clear about the things that are going to make a big difference and make these a priority. This also goes for team behaviours, standards and culture.


2) Under-communication of priorities

The next mistake managers make is that, once they establish the priorities, they fail to embed them in their team's thinking. To do this we need to be talking about them all the time. People need constant reminders. In team meetings, during one-on-ones, within feedback, visually - you name it, it needs to happen.

When they get sick of hearing you talk about it, then it becomes a part of their working mantra.


3) Lack of accountability

Most managers leave far too long between progress reviews. The annual performance review is a poor tool for managing people's capability, behaviours, and Focus. Instead, we pay attention to the things that people are going to hold us accountable for either today, tomorrow or by the end of the week. Kotter's old adage of 'what gets measured gets changed' only applies if it's going to be measured in the near future.

Without all of these, people don't tend to do what's most important. At best, they do what they think is most important. And at worst, they just do what's comfortable.


** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert. He helps organisations build high performance culture and helps people manage their own performance and productivity. He combines the science of high performance with contemporary management theory to change the way people work and lead in the 21st Century. For more, visit




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