The One Competitive Trait You Must Have

'The One Competitive Trait You Must Have' by Richard Shrapnel

Stagnation from indecision or inaction is the Achilles heel – the vulnerability – of every business. It can only be guarded against by seeding your business DNA with momentum so that growth and change are in your nature, and you can become unstoppable.


Active Knowledge Question:

How do you ensure your business is always advancing with an unstoppable energy?


The One Competitive Trait You Must Have

Momentum is the one competitive trait that every leader must seed into their business’s DNA. A business will not survive without it.

A good definition of momentum for business leaders is the ‘strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events’. It is the momentum in your business that allows it to overcome the challenges of change, disruption, innovation, to out-compete everyone in your market, and just get things done.

But most business leaders never think about their business in the context of momentum.

A business may have the brightest people in the world working for it and the greatest products but if it does not have momentum then entropy will set in and it will stagnate and decline.

Many businesses are actively seeking to grow and improve their efficiencies and effectiveness. But momentum is strategic and not just movement. It’s intelligent movement with a purpose and intent to compound. And it is in this difference that many business leaders miss the point – it is all about intelligent, purposeful and compounding movement.

Momentum starts with intent and the development of capability, growing into a clear process and corporate habit to become a key competitive asset. It becomes what allows a business to step ahead of its competitors, day after day.

What Does Momentum Look Like?

A business that has developed momentum is a business that is:

  • Constantly moving but also rests to restore energy.
  • Compounding on everything that has gone before.
  • Agile and not rigid.
  • Quick to start, rapid in stopping and changing.
  • Growing in strength through movement.
  • Anchored.
  • Purposeful.

It is a business that knows:

  • Why it exists – its purpose.
  • The way it does business – its values and culture.
  • What it is seeking to build – understanding the customer needs it meets today and tomorrow.
  • Where it is going – its vision.
  • How it will get there – its competitive posture.
  • How to maintain energy and passion – its competitive engine.

The business is clear on where it is heading and how it intends to get there but will adapt and change to reach its goals/vision without hesitation or delay.

'Alignment for Performance' by Richard Shrapnel
‘Alignment for Performance’ by Richard Shrapnel

It has been able to achieve this momentum because it has a succinct competitive story that it has developed as it has progressed through the stages of:

And it has designed its organisation to be focused on the goals at hand and not be distracted by misalignment.

A Leader’s Challenge

PwC director and author Jesse Sostrin in his article, ‘How Leaders Can Improve Their Thinking Ability’, published in strategy+business, notes the results of a recent PwC CEO survey that found 77% of respondents believed the most elusive talents were adaptability, problem-solving, creativity and innovation.

Further, Patrick Leddin, a professor at Vanderbilt University, noted in his article titled, ‘4 Ugly Truths That Great Leaders Know About Good Ideas’, that the challenges businesses face in executing good ideas are:

  • There are more good ideas than there is capacity.
  • The daily chaos that occurs in businesses is the natural enemy of delivering on any idea.
  • Often a ‘not so good’ idea accidentally gets the nod to proceed.
  • Good ideas can’t be executed well because typically processes are not well refined.

A business that develops momentum is addressing not only the skill cap Sostrin notes on a corporate-wide basis, but is also developing the capacity to deliver more effectively on ideas and overcoming the ‘ugly truths’ that Leddin notes.

Imagine what your business could achieve if it attained a 20% improvement in its adaptability, problem-solving, creativity and innovation capability. And 20% more on the good ideas it delivered. The compound effect on profit, capital value and, most importantly, customer value would be unheard of in your business.

Getting Things Done

Seeding the DNA of momentum in your business commences with the establishment of a process for the achievement of any goal – no matter how large or small. The process becomes a habit that then becomes embedded in the culture of your business and grows to become a strategic strength.

As with any change, it is the commitment of leadership that will allow strategic momentum to take hold. Worthy leadership is a must for momentum to take hold.

There are eight key steps that your process should include based on the lessons learnt:

  1. Build common ground.
  2. Check the depth.
  3. Map the stepping stones.
  4. Signal and energise.
  5. Rapid decision-making.
  6. Target early adopters.
  7. Remove resistance.
  8. Recharge and refocus.

Below, I expand briefly on each of these steps:

1.     Build Common Ground.

There must be a shared compelling reason for the goal and the benefit that will flow from it once it is achieved. If you are unable to identify the shared compelling reasons that will arise then it is unlikely that you will be able to muster the business’s commitment to achieving the goal. Further, if there is no shared compelling reason then it is also unlikely that the goal is aligned with your purpose and vision.

2.     Check The Depth.

You must have regard to the depth of change you are seeking and match the energy and resources accordingly. Be conscious and describe the impact that the goal will have on each process, policy, reward, functional area etc. within your business. Make sure you fully appreciate the changes and challenges that will be faced in achieving the goal and provide upfront more than adequate resources and support to your team.

3.     Map The Stepping Stones.

You must establish in advance the clear steps that need to be completed to reach the final goal and take one step at a time. Taking one step at a time enables progressive wins to be achieved and reward and recognition to follow. This enables energy, passion and enthusiasm to be maintained over the life of a project. It facilitates re-signalling and energising. It enables a clear purposeful focus to be maintained on each step whilst keeping the end goal in view.

It is also critical that a ‘no fault parachute’ be provided to every project team. Strategy is emergent and although business intent and purpose may not have changed, the course to be taken to achieve it may have altered due to changing conditions. You do not want to create a set of circumstances where continuation of the project is no longer viable but the project team is not provided with any option but to continue.

4.     Signal And Energise.

There must be a clear start and a boost of energy to commence the journey. Commence the project with an official launch so that everyone knows the race has started and thereby will maximise focus and drive. You will want to create enthusiasm, a rush so that the project kicks off with energy to see it through and beyond its initial barriers. During the life of the project you will want to revisit it and re- energise the project team. The greater the challenge of the goal, the more energy you need to generate in the team.

5.     Rapid Decision Making.

You must set up, prior to commencing the project, the procedures and policies to facilitate rapid decision-making. You do not want to lose the momentum behind a project because you need to pause and await factors such as the next board meeting, someone to return from leave, approval of funding, a licensing process etc. Plot and monitor your project’s critical path and ensure all approvals are obtained well in advance.

6.     Target Early Adopters.

You must assemble your project team carefully and seek the support of those who want to participate and see it succeed. You do not want to burden the team with individuals who are not interested in the project or whose participation is based on self-interest. Select team members on competency, capability and passion and empower them to succeed.

7.     Remove Resistance.

You must look ahead and identify well in advance any barriers to achievement and work to remove them. In checking the depth, setting the stepping stones, ensuring rapid decision-making and assembling your team, be alert for and conscious of barriers and resistance that will impede the achievement of goals. Once identified, remove them if possible, quarantine them if necessary, or go around them if you have no other choice. Do not ignore them and leave them in place for the project team to deal with.

8.     Recharge And Refocus.

You must never ever ‘set and forget’. You must always monitor and support. You must always pause, check direction and re-energise. As a business leader, your daily tasks are to set direction, align people and to motivate and inspire. You must continuously monitor and support your teams in their pursuit of goals. It is your task to ensure nothing stands in their way to success. At the completion of each stepping stone, you should re- signal and re-energise. It is also a perfect opportunity to ensure ‘parachutes’ are still in place and ready for use if necessary.


Seeding momentum into your business’s DNA will enable it to overcome many of the challenges you are facing today and to outpace your competitors.


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel