Business schools specialize in teaching competition and company strategy. Experts like Michael Porter focus on how a firm or a region can build a competitive advantage and develop competitive strategy. The importance of strategy for corporations is indisputable; the art and the science of bringing a company to where the market will be.
Consider how to apply Porter’s principles to your own career. Think about William Bridge’s concept that you are a corporation of one: You, Inc. You are like a small company, but with more cash flow challenges.
We have all seen people who always seem to know what they want to do and actually get there. These people probably have a Porter-like strategy to create and maintain a competitive advantage by differentiating their business/persona to deliver distinctive value through a refined value chain, all basic Porter concepts.
How do companies do this? By addressing Porter’s five forces, all of which impact profit and return on capital. To review, the first force is Existing Competition. The second is a Bargaining Power of Suppliers, third is the Bargaining/Buying Power of Customers, fourth is Potential New Entrants to the Market, fifth is the Potential for Substitute Products. It would be worth taking time to stop and think about how these forces translate to your career. It requires you to look inside at your skills and abilities, outside at the marketplace, backward at your past, and forward into the future.
Existing Competition is easy to identify and characterize. It consists of people in similar jobs in your company competing for the next promotion or any of the thousands of candidates applying for a position you might want. Suppliers are a little more difficult to characterize. They are your current employer, which is hopefully enabling you to build new skills and experiences to make you more marketable; educational institutions supplying training; and anyone else providing the fodder to help you build your career. Be sure your suppliers are delivering good value and making you more viable in the marketplace.
Your customers are potential employers or investors. You should spend time becoming aware of their present and future needs. This means that you should spend at least some time networking, building contacts and listening to the employment marketplace.
Potential new entrants include virtually anybody who targets your type of job and thinks it looks pretty easy compared with what they are currently doing. These people include everyone from new graduates to more senior executives moving down in the employment market.
Substitutes take many forms including technology, outsourcing individual work or whole organizations, or corporate delayering, eliminating levels of management and passing the work around lower levels.
So what to do? Start now by simply thinking strategically and then building a plan. Define your product by focusing on key strengths and deliverables. Build skills and experience valuable to the markets you are aiming for. Build and tailor your value chain, become very efficient and super productive in what you do. Build a board, personal advisors and mentors (we can help). Build and articulate success stories so you can quickly explain who you are and what you can do. Build your networking skills and continuously build your personal and professional network.
An important Porter concept-decide what not to do; you can’t be all things to all people. Then, build bridges to prospects, understand their current needs and anticipate their needs for the future.
If you create and execute a five forces strategy, you will create a superior product, be in demand, command a premium price, and have multiple career options.