We were sitting in the small conference room of a major web services company when the head of global sales walked in. He tossed his copy of our proposal on the table in front of him and landed in a chair. Turning to me, he said in a friendly tone of voice, “This is a very safe and traditional proposal.”

My colleague stopped breathing and I turned pale as we realized we’d miscalculated. We’d offered a plan that represented the best practices in the industry. We should have realized that they wouldn’t want the best practices; they’d want something no one else was doing.

Most organizations want something we’ve done dozens of times with other famous companies. Clients ask questions designed to ensure that we have lots of experience with the design and that we have proven it with other organizations like theirs, with leaders like theirs. They want to know that it has worked well and delivered measurable results that mattered to the client.

However, a small number of fascinating companies take the strategic value of differentiation to a whole new level (I learned that “a whole new level” is consultant talk for “improved”). An even smaller number of organizations want everything they do to set them apart from the competition. They don’t want “best practices” because that’s what everyone else is trying to do. They want their business models, their strategic plans, their talent management and leadership development to differentiate them.

We’re still working with the client. They’re bringing us along into their world of creative innovation and constant redefinition. We’re helping them discover what kind of leadership they will need to develop to advance this culture.

What is the emphasis in your organization — best quality, highest innovation, or neither?

– Doug Riddle

Photo Credit: Sparrow on Edge Andy

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