Take a look around your office. Unless you’ve already made it to the top job, and often even if you have, you are competing with all the other people there. You’re competing for higher pay, the more powerful position, the office with windows or for funding for your pet project. You may be the best of friends, drinking buddies and confidants, or you may not even know who the hell those people are, but you must establish your superiority over them nonetheless because you deserve your fair share or you need to hold on to your job. You don’t have to become paranoid or hyper-competitive like that kid you hated back in school, but you should realize that even the richest company does not have unlimited resources, and your boss knows it.
Now, you may know how to compete against other companies. But do you know how to compete against the girl in the next cubicle? If the company has only one hundred thousand pesos left in the budget, do you want your boss to spend it on a raise for the hardworking utility man or give it to you? Could the generic strategies to achieve a competitive advantage inside the office be the same as those outside in the market?
Option 1: Cost leadership. You are a cost. An input into the product or service of your company or of your boss. Therefore, you have to make yourself more efficient, delivering more bang for the buck with as little fuss as possible. If the deadline is on Friday, submit on Wednesday. If a pile of documents lands on your desk, bulldoze through them and send them off to their next stop before the day is done. If you are given a budget, spend less and return the excess. These are tactics that children have successfully used through the ages to curry favor with their mothers. They continue to be effective today.
This strategic option works best for those who do drudge work and those whose targets are expressed in zeros, as in zero casualties, zero violations or zero pesos lost. If your job lacks glamor and consists mainly of not making mistakes, then efficiency is your game.
Option 2: Differentiation. Go big. Stand out. Think creatively. Wow the clients. While the other guy is counting centavos, you spend to the max to change the game. Most important, you need to stop using clichés.
If rainmaking is the measure of success, find the non-traditional client from whom your firm will earn millions, and do whatever it takes to reel him in. If relationship-based client servicing is your job, then you must provide matchless service. Know not only your client’s business but his birthday, the birthdays of his children, the birthdays of his wife, his mistress and his girlfriend, and the birthday of his sports car. Corporate governance rules may prevent you from giving the perfect gifts, but simply remembering all these dates for him can put you ahead of game. If your field involves the manipulation of numbers instead of people, you must master the ancient techniques of no-look calculator use. Better yet, be able to do the math in your head like a savant. Whatever the performance metric, you must find a way to excel at it.
Not everyone can make use of this strategy, obviously. It requires not just dedication but brilliance. You cannot simply walk the extra mile; you have to walk in style.
Option 3: Focus. If beating the competition on overall cost and outperforming everyone else on key attributes are not things you think you can do, you might want to find a niche that you can own. Do one unusual thing extremely efficiently and well. Maybe you can be the data geek or the computer super-user. Or you can specialize in dealing with clients of a specific ethnicity. (Let’s be honest here. You know this is done.) Or you can volunteer for all the projects that require travel to godforsaken places with so-called hotels that do not provide towels. Plainly this is a difficult strategy to employ and success with it could be rather limited, but it is a legitimate option.
If all these strategies fail or if you find yourself incapable of competing in accordance with gentlemanly rules on the basis of performance, you can always kiss ass. Go where the boss goes and never lead the way. Give the boss whatever she wants. Forget the customer—the boss is always right. Speak untruth to power. Wear what he wears. Eat what he eats. Sing loudly at his birthday party. Efficient, high quality, intensely focused ass-kissing is an art that requires a strong sense of priorities. It should not matter to you whether your company is able to compete or not, so long as you win the office race.
Let the games begin.