I have a number of executive and career coaching clients who are currently applying the concept of competitive intelligence to their projects at work. The concept has been around for decades and is one of the more resilient approaches to assessing long term risks and opportunities posed by competitors and the environment.
Strategists often use the process to swot analysis look at a situation, yet I have never seen it applied to individuals specifically with regard to career. “Why not?”
I took a shot at it asking, “How would using this model of thinking be different from setting goals and objectives?” The answer is significant because the mindset is opposite to the other.
Let’s say you’re a high potential manager in a large, multi-division organization. You want to advance in responsibility, influence, and compensation. You’ve figured out all you need to do for the next year or two is deliver in an impactful way, embrace the culture, manage up, network with influencers, and raise your hand for additional assignments. You’re working on your internal and external brand. What you’re not sure of is where you fit and want to be in the future. Actually, you are not sure what the future will look like and are not at all certain who your future competitors are and what the hurdles will be.
Competitive intelligence is strategic, rather than tactical. Tactical is often easier because it is so here and now, step by step. All the pieces are generally visible on the board. I like to think competitive intelligence is like playing with a three dimensional board with many pieces yet to be revealed. It’s more complex, requires forecasting, and the ability to take seemingly unrelated trends and match them in a way that is insightful and applicable to a user.
Who is your competition? For many it’s not other people but technology, politics, other organizations (in your sector or another), or different external factors. We all know people who had successful careers that technology changed forever. Way too many contributors in the financial industry failed to see the impact global, off site, high speed trading would have on their work. They also did not envision the opportunities high tech would present. That lack of foresight, along with a good dose of denial, gave them a narrow and limited perspective to the developments and events around them. They gave up their competitive edge.
Let’s make it personal. Look at your current career choices.
Who are your present competitors? Whom do you market against or worry will grab your business, job, RFP? Who do you admire? What environmental factors would change the landscape – new regime, cheaper, faster ways of doing what you do, public opinion moving away? Now dig for factors that are only possible in the distant horizon. How would that alter your next or future career move?