It’s an ambition you regularly encounter in organisations: being the best. Ranking highest on the list. Reaching the Champions League.
I grant any organisation the feeling of euphoria if they are recognised as being the best. But I wouldn’t easily advise people to choose this as the ambition to change. This is because of the following paradox: the more you aim to be it, the less you will succeed.
There are four reasons for this.
In sport it’s crystal clear how to determine who is the best, but in organisations you open a can of worms riddled with discussions. After all, when are you the best? Who decides this? And with which indicators? Do they do justice to the complexity of the work? And what if there are several rankings that all measure something else? Or what if new lists are added?
It’s quite possible that the need for being the best is shared in the entire organisation. But this is -particularly- not self-evident among passionate and headstrong professionals. They are often more driven by the need to practise their trade well and offering their customers* the right help.
The ambition to be the best then mainly leads to resistance.
In fact, the worst thing that can happen to you is that you succeed. That you are the undisputed number 1. That everyone in the sector talks about you in awe. That you are allowed to talk about how you became successful at conferences.
What is then left to aim for?
If you want to be the best, and you are, this opens the door to complacency. It’s like still water; it will start to smell at any moment. Good luck getting this water back into motion as soon as possible when it becomes clear that with your competitors* it didn’t stop flowing and they triumphantly sail past you.
The deeper issue lies in this metaphor of ‘sailing past’. Because, by wanting to be the best, you put yourself in an arena in which you are battling several opponents for the favour of the customer.
The energy you spend on your opponents in the arena will be at the expense of your focus on the customer, who will feel that you –no matter how subtle- are resisting your competitors. While to him this only distracts from his own request.
If your competitor does manage to focus on the customer, he will do exactly what you’re scared of: He will not choose you. The ambition to want to be the best is then a self-denying prophecy.
Every organisation would benefit from regularly looking at what its competitors are doing. It helps you concentrate on your own blind spots, on new directions and sliding doors. Moreover, if you never look at what your competitors are doing, you also open the door to complacency.
But you shouldn’t have to look at your competitors because you want to be the best, but because you want to be the best you can be for your customers.
Annemarie Mars, November 2018