A Link Between a HedgeHog & Company Differentiation!February 24, 2011
Do you seek new ways to differentiate your company in a changing economy while focusing on what your team is deeply passionate about? If so, this article is for you!
You might be thinking, so what the heck is that furry little animal in this article for? If you know about hedge hogs then perhaps you are wandering what they have to do with your business and career?
My goal is in this post is to help you in two areas:
1. How to better differentiate your company
2. How to build your company’s Hedgehog Concept if you haven’t done so already.
I seek to do those two very things, while helping you to see the link between them so you and your company can take proactive steps forward to walk into a brighter future.
What is Your Company’s Differentiator?
So, does your company really stand out against your competition in a notable way? More importantly, are your clients and potential clients telling you this? If not, I find many times that business owners all want to believe that they are the best thing since sliced bread, however their reality is not “reality”. We find this out when prospects and clients who are willing to speak up offer the valuable information that is the truth in regards to how your company does or doesn’t differentiate itself today. If we are willing to listen, clients and prospects can teach us immensely!
To truly stand out, you need to do something that well is “truly different”. Sounds pretty silly since we are talking about differentiation right? Wrong! Just repeating the best of what everyone does around you is not differentiation. It might help you be competitive; however you are surely limiting how great your company can be. Below are a few practical insights on how I have deployed points of differentiation within some of my businesses to date:
I realize every business is different, and there is no magic one-size-fits-all formula for success. For one of my company’s, Sharp Innovations, Inc. who has specialized in the Internet Marketing industry since 1999, we have found one thing that continues to be a wise investment and differentiator. We not only charge for what other people call proposals (our Discovery Process), we ensure the client gets superior value. One of the flagship components is offering a design competition for each of our clients. It requires that several different designers invest significant time in each project to present unique solutions. It pushes quality up because of the healthy competitive environment. It also creates opportunity for greater collaboration across a talented team. Lastly, it allows each client to get truly unique perspectives as we work through the creative, brainstorming stages with them. It costs us more time internally, and the client pays us more than many of our competitors for the additional value. They do so because it is a clear differentiator and I have heard it echoed for many years from the voice that matters most – “the client”.
Another is example through my business and life coaching service offerings through Live With Purpose Coaching. It has nothing to do with getting paid up-front, but everything to do with extending maximum value to the client while I clearly differentiate myself. Since I began this business in 2008, I have offered several free sessions of my coaching time to each person. I have done so because I wanted to build a deeper relationship with each person, I wanted to serve God by serving others, and wanted to do all of that while ensuring I wasn’t first focused on how much money I was making in the process. I simply wanted to serve business owners and companies with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I wanted to offer the skills and gifts God has blessed me with. I wanted to make sure I did just that in a way that was unique. Yeah it might have meant that I have spent eight to fifteen hours of free time on average with each person before I ever saw a penny, however each time I was able to differentiate myself and ensure I was maximizing the value each person was receiving during the coaching process. It also helped us to ensure that we could be a good fit for the long-term, not just a few weeks or months. We all know that building long-term relationships is fruitful, enjoyable and what any good business should be all about. Quality of relationships always trumps quantity in my book.
I also want to remind us that just because you have one or more concept today that might help you differentiate yourself in the market place, you should review them annually and make sure that they continue to do that very same thing. You should also constantly be looking at new ways to differentiate yourself. Lastly, remember to get input from some of your most recent customers, so you can deal with the brutal facts which are your reality in the current market!
The HedgeHog Concept
I wanted to share a great book with you in case you haven’t read it before: Good to Great by Jim Collins. Jim’s research team presents and interesting concept called: The Hedgehog Concept. It is focused on three core principals as seen below. The reason they use the hedgehog analogy is that the predator of the cute little hedgehog, is the wily fox. Many times, no matter how the fox tries to outsmart the hedgehog, he ends in failure. It is because the hedgehog is wired to have one brilliant solution or should I say defense. It is able to ball up and spring-load its nest of barbs that stick out in all directions and make it impossible for the fox to safely go in for the kill.
Hedgehogs are able to simply a complex world into a single organizing idea (a basic principal or concept that unifies and guides their daily life). I believe if you can do that, your business can reap the same rewards. By addressing the three core principals below you can begin this journey. I also greatly encourage you to read the entire book, and realize as stated in the book many of the best Fortune 500 companies that applied this approach in the most recent decades spent many times several years before they had their workable Hedgehog concept. It requires your commitment and the commitment of the core team members to be relentless in pursuing your answers to these three concepts below. I encourage you to focus on progress not perfection. Step one is getting the right people together and asking these 3 questions…
- What are your deeply passionate about as a company? – Many times people just do what they always have done, and because of if they squash their future that is found within their team’s collective passions. If you can channel getting the right people on your team and finding a common thread between the true passions of with each other you can find a common denominator that could re-shape your business for the better as you walk forward together. It requires openness to new ideas, willingness to change, and a shared commitment to being a company that is about doing whatever they do with passion and zeal! It allows superior results to happen much easier when people are passionately engaged.
- What can your company be the best in the world at? – Now I understand that you might be a small business, and you might be thinking well how the heck could I be the best in the world with so many competitors? The point is what could you do uniquely in your respective market that could make you the best of show? It might take a lot to get there, but the first step is in defining what it is! What could you specialize and focus on? Would it be the best customer service that is offered, the most efficient turn-around time, the most cost-effective in one product or service or perhaps the best at implementing industry leading solutions before they become mainstay? These are just a few quick examples.
- What drives your company’s economic engine? – Many businesses believe that increasing sales is what drives their economic engine. That is only a part of it. There is a beauty in really understanding the song that is being sung within your individual business as you look at the details of your books. You might realize what drives your engine by focusing your company’s energy on becoming greatly improved in one area. It could become the key ingredient to your company’s remarkable improvement in effectiveness and profitability. For example, it could be profit per employee, per geographic region, per customer, per customer brand, per customer visit, etc. It doesn’t have to be limited to macro increasing revenue and shaving expenses purely (though they are smart to do many times generally speaking). You need to understand why and how you will really drive your unique economic engine by defining one key area to change and measure your change.
The reason why I share with you the Hedgehog Concept is because I believe it is a great process to work through with your team so you can get clearer about your company’s mission, and as a by-product I believe you will crystallize your best ways (or new ways) to differentiate your company. I think it can help you get to the place where the rubber meets the road, and real progress can be seen for your future company!
I help my coaching clients focus on matters like these so they can see their business become more efficient, profitable and scalable, if desired. I also help them achieve better balance professionally and personally so they can see their business work to support their life purpose and vision. If you want to find out more about how this could be leveraged in your world, or if you want to discuss a business problem you are facing, feel free to contact me or call me at 717-615-2274.