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Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Olympic "edge"

When you are running a blog entitled "Exceeding Expectations" you really have to include an article on the Beijing Olympics and especially the performance of Team GB.

We define Excellence as exceeding both requirements and expectations, requirements being tangible and expectations being intangible. The team exceeded requirements in terms of both medal count and final position in the medal table. In doing so they exceeded the expectations of their funders and sponsors and of the country as a whole. Certainly we did not expect to become a sporting superpower but that's exactly what fourth in the Olympic medal table makes us and boy do we all feel good about that!

We know that Competitive Strength is strongly linked to Excellence. High levels of Competitive Strength in any context enables people to exceed requirements and expectations. In the case of Olympic athletes this is not just about the talent, dedication, hard work and ambition of the athletes themselves but about the back up teams performing to the same level.

Here is Bradley Wiggins a double gold winner and member of the all conquering GB cycling team on this subject. "We have an unbelievable team behind us, management and technical. I know with confidence that when I step onto the track my bike will be in absolutely perfect working order. I can't remember the last time a mechanical problem was a factor in any GB races. When I start a race it is big boost mentally to have certain knowledge that nobody lining up against me starts with an edge. In fact it is always us who have the edge".

With this level of Competitive Strength our cyclists were nigh on unstoppable. They are best cyclists in the world with the best back up team. How many of us running businesses or public sector organisations can honestly say that our front line people can line up to do their jobs every day "knowing they have the edge"? What could they achieve if they did know this?

Our last few articles have focused on the different thinking that is needed to achieve Excellence through Competitive Strength. So what about Usain Bolt then? This man is not built for sprinting says the conventional thinking. He is too tall, his stride is too long and slow and really he is much better suited to 400 or 800m. Well Bolt and his coaches have rewritten some of the rules of sprinting by finding a way to adapt his stride pattern in such a way that the supposed weaknesses are turned into competitive advantage. With this Bolt made history and now other coaches will have to rethink what it takes to sprint 100 and 200m. It certainly is not going to be "run a bit faster the way you have always run", because that isn't enough to beat Usain Bolt!

The last two articles have focused on British Airways and how their conventional thinking dictates their strategy and response to challenges. In the last article we contrasted this with the different thinking displayed by Virgin Atlantic with an example of a stunningly high standard of customer service. Well today Virgin announced a leap in profits from £6m to £34.8M for the year. Profits for the first quarter of the current year are £23.5m and business class passengers (the most profitable) are up 22% with overall numbers up 7.6%. So whose employees know that they " have the edge" and does it make a difference? Answers in the comments please.

So congratulations to Team GB and here's to London 2012. To find out more about Competitive Strength and different thinking go to the brand new Changeworld website.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Above & Beyond

In our last article on the theme of different thinking we highlighted British Airways' explanation for their falling passenger numbers (increases in fares and the economic slowdown) and their persistance in pursuing their strategy of merging with other carriers. We demonstrated how BA are trapped in their traditional thinking and their strategy and responses are therefore all about how they can keep on doing things the way they have always done them.

This article is a story from the same industry which demonstrates different thinking in action.

Two friends of mine had booked a holiday in Barbados. They arrived at the airport looking forward to two weeks on an island paradise. Unfortunately the flight had left the day before and there was not another flight for 4 days! Our friends had got the wrong date in their heads so it was entirely their fault.

They were flying with Virgin so they were taken to the Virgin desk to see if anything could be done. The Virgin staff worked out a way to get them to their destination that day by flying them to Antigua then on an internal flight to Barbados. With transfer charges and the additional flight this was going to cost a further £500 plus. However when Virgin realised our friends were previous customers they immediately waived all the transfer charges.

What is more when our friends arrived in Barbados they took a taxi to their hotel as the coach transfer was obviously not going to be there for them. The next day when they met their Virgin representative at their hotel she asked how they had travelled from the airport to the hotel. When they said by taxi the representative said "just let me have the receipt and we will reimburse you for that".

To say our friends were impressed is an understatement and they never stop telling people how good Virgin were. They were staring a ruined holiday in the face and would have paid almost any sum to have it sorted out. Virgin not only rescued it but did not take advantage of our friends' mistake and only charged the minimum for solving the problem. This is different thinking. None of the "well we will see if we can get you on a flight later in the week" or "well if you write to Head Office they might be able to do something about the charges". All the decisions and actions were taken by front line staff, no reference to managers for permissions was needed.

Different thinking is the key. No amount of carefully written policies and procedures handed down from above would have enabled the Virgin staff to have acted the way they did. The personal and organisational recognition of the value of the existing customer is a manifestation of this different thinking. They not only represent future repeat business but can also be the strongest and lowest cost advocates for your brand.

Also Virgin clearly understand the business they are in and it is not simply transporting people from point A to point B. They know they are in the holiday business and that their customers value their holidays highly. So meeting or even exceeding their customers expectations is the key to success. In the case of our friends it was "you have given us your business, not just on this occasion but previously so we will see that you get your holiday".

This is just one story from one source and no doubt Virgin do not get it right every time. However would you honestly expect to hear even one story like this involving BA, even though they give themselves plenty of opportunities and don't have to wait for a customer to slip up?

This demonstrates the superior level of Competitive Strength that Virgin's different thinking has enabled them to achieve. When Richard Branson set up Virgin Atlantic in direct competition to much larger and often heavily subsidised national flag carriers few industry insiders gave him any chance of surviving. However his airline and the accompanying holiday business has both survived and prospered. As the sector faces up to the massive hike in its fuel bill and slowing demand which business do you think will emerge the strongest? BA with its strategy of getting bigger so it can be what it always has been or Virgin with its highly developed customer service ethos and consequent superior Competitive Strength.

Any business can do what Virgin does and profit from it. To find how and perhaps more importantly why, go to the Competitive Strength website.