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Why today’s business leaders must collaborate, not compete

Posted: 05/12/2016 - 20:41

“Eat or be eaten” - for centuries, this “law of the jungle” was the law of the business world, too. Beating the competition delivered power, money and influence. From the Square Mile to Wall Street, survival of the fittest meant there was only room for one victor at the top. The digital revolution changed this. Measuring success in today’s business world is no longer by the job or task performed for money. We value successful leaders for their contributions to the world as a whole and the manner of its making. What we do and how we do it matters. By joining forces as a united front with like-minded professionals, we widen our stride and deepen our impact. Today, collaboration rather than competition is the name of the game.

How Collaboration Disrupted the Workplace

Today’s business world is moving away from jobs or tasks performed for money to the world where how we contribute as important as what we provide. The digital revolution transformed the business community as we know it. From PCs to email to smartphones, instant access to effectively unlimited data means the world is literally at our fingertips, moving at light speed. Even a decade ago, the exceptional stood out because of what they knew and how they applied it. Today, the unique stand out because of their ability to harness their connections to deliver meaningful, impactful change.

When we do remarkable work, on purpose, and excel at it, then we also create a different future built on the value we bring. Careers are driven not by a desire for a big paycheck or plush spot in the executive suite, but our passions and talents. Our personal mission becomes our guiding light. When collaboration serves as a greater driving force than competition, collectively we can unite to do the extraordinary.

How the Collaborative Workplace is Changing Business

A collaborative rather than a competitive workplace has two critical implications for today’s businesses and workforce. That means outsourcing work to the idea place, the place where the skills are truly honed. It means collaborating, not instructing, sharing goals and visions and being open to two-way influence and design, for mutual benefit. It requires a different form of loyalty, and that’s transforming businesses and how they operate.

Firstly, Millennials feel little loyalty to their current employers, according to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited’s fifth annual Millennial Survey. Nearly half of all Millennials plan to leave their current employer within the next two years. Why? They are steering their careers by values and not roles. Millennials are acting differently to their older peers. From the employers they choose to the assignments they undertake, Millennials seek meaningful work. People and purpose matter more than profits. Millennials want to collaborate rather than compete.

Businesses that refuse to transform into a more collaborative model driven by purpose-aligned work will struggle to engender loyalty with Millennials. That might lead to high staff turnover and a creative brain drain. Businesses must create the right environment to nurture talent that is aligned with purpose. That means designing more portfolio-based work schedules, and short-term (yet purposeful) engagements will become the norm.

Secondly, individual workers must recognise that collaboration is also changing how businesses value industry expertise and skill sets. In this enlightened environment, the successful are working in an ultra-narrow niche. For example, rather than becoming a good general lawyer, they are choosing to work as something like "the country's most skilled entrepreneurial investment contract lawyer".

Expertise on its own is nothing. It merely denotes knowledge of how a particular skill works in specific circumstances. What makes expertise compelling is a connection with the authority of not any expert in the field but by being the expert in the field. Thought leadership and personal branding – both with individuals and businesses – are essential to standing out in a crowded marketplace, gaining referrals and strengthening credibility.

How to Build Authority in a Crowded Marketplace

How do you move from being competent to being the only business (or person) with a highly specific skill-set? The answer lies in profound clarity, exceptional strategy and remarkable implementation.

Profound Clarity, a crystal-clear understanding at every level, comes from being supremely capable at every aspect of the business, both now and with the vision of what it will become. Someone who is unable to articulate their skills, experience, or passions in a way that others immediately understand loses attention quickly.

Exceptional Strategy, the design of which ensures that change is both managed and leveraged, comes from a complete understanding of the vision, purpose, and pace of the organisation. It also is essential for all the enterprise's collaborative teams and partners.

Remarkable Implementation derives from sourcing the expertise, applying skills at the perfect moment, and managing risk and external factors. That comes from proper planning and a robust and considered strategy.

Business owners who seek to stand out must concentrate on building the environment where this way of working flourishes. Institutional barriers pose a tremendous challenge. The structure of many businesses has not caught up with the shift to a collaborative workplace driven by purpose rather than profit.

Yet today’s business structures continue to be derived from complex legislation and regulation. These structures are top-down models that prioritise advancement within the corporate structure. Business leaders must be willing to flatten traditional hierarchies to foster innovation, creativity and collaboration. The best will go further and create a community of networked businesses which will provide additional value to customers that isolated companies cannot compete with.

Final Thoughts

Remarkable people have a profound clarity. The biggest returns come when this clarity is applied strategically – creating positive, sustainable businesses that add critical value to a collaborative community.

Together, people with purpose and the companies that support them are changing the world. They will leave a tangible legacy that shines across generations. Businesses that choose to stand for people and purpose rather than just profit will attract an enthusiastic community, focused on sustainably creating meaningful value for all.

Will you strive for the clarity, focus and skills this new world demands, or will you only settle for gradually being sidelined?

About the Author

William Buist 150William Buist is a business strategist, speaker, and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club - an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. xTEN helps accelerate growth,  harness opportunity, build businesses and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: At Your Fingertips and The Little Book of Mentoring. See for more information.


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