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Yes. Competitors Can Collaborate.

Yesterday I wrote about the concept of competing with your own team.

Today, I want to take it one step further and talk about how competitors can collaborate.

As it happened, yesterday I listened to Andy Penn, CEO of Telstra, address the National Press Club.  He was discussing the future of the telecommunications industry in Australia.

One aspect addressed was the issue of cybercrime. What resonated for me was when he talked about working with the industry, including his competitors, and the Government to combat this threat: 

“The only way to look at cyber is as a team. Large enterprises, small enterprises, medium business, Government, we all have shared platforms, common customers, and we’re all the target of the same attacks. We all, therefore, play a role in keeping Australian’s safe. It’s a shared accountability. It’s not a competition. If one party loses, we all lose. As the online landscape continues to expand, we cannot afford to operate in silos, and we must work together.”

– Andy Penn, National Press Club Address, 31 July 2019

There is any number of ways for competitors to work with one another.  They just need to find common ground, which is an essential first step. That requires us to look at our competitors as having something to contribute rather than as a foe to be vanquished.

Imagine what you could achieve if you were to work with your competitors towards a common goal.

Control vs Influence

A myth I often dispel with clients is that we have control over people. We don’t. The only person we have limited control over is ourselves. We can control what we say and what we do. To a limited extent, we can control how we think.

We cannot, however, control others.

“But, I can control what my people do at work”, I hear you say.

No. That’s influence.

We can influence through punishment and reward. However, in his book Drive, Dan Pink discusses how the carrot and stick as a method of motivation is no longer viable. It works ok when people are doing routine, mundane and repetitive tasks, however, as soon as the job requires any type of cognitive effort, it becomes less effective.

People are capable of assessing whether they are motivated by the promise of reward or the fear of sanction. They then choose if they work or not. If the reward means nothing to them, or they don’t mind the consequences, they may decide not to complete the assigned work.

It’s their choice.

We can also influence through referent power the power that people believe we have through the position of our authority or the respect they have for us. Or, we can influence through our relationships. People will do things because they know us because we have built a relationship with them.

Again, it’s their choice.

If we want to get the most from people, we need to understand what motivates them. We all want to be treated like human beings so, spending some time understanding our people’s human motivations can help you build that relationship with them, and thus, your influence.

You Can’t Influence The Organisation

In his book, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari talks about how we, as human beings, have invented social constructs so that we can create order and certainty for ourselves.  We have called these social constructs ‘companies’ and ‘organisations’.  

The problem is that these ‘companies’ and ‘organisations’ don’t exist. Not physically. You can’t touch them. 

You can touch the buildings in which the people of those ‘companies’ work. Moreover, you can interact with the people that work for those ‘organisations’.

Physically, however, these ‘companies’ and ‘organisations’ only exist as inventions of our collective imagination.

This becomes a problem when people say things like:

  • “The organisation made a decision”; or
  • “I need to influence the company to …”.

No. The organisation did not make a decision. Someone who works for the organisation made a decision. That decision was made, by that person (or group of people), based on their interpretation of policy, culture and their relationship with the ‘organisation’. 

Also, because the company doesn’t make decisions, you cannot influence the company to do so.  Because individuals, or groups of individuals, make decisions, however, you can influence them.

So, if you’re having trouble influencing the organisation or company at the moment, give some thought to who the specific decision-makers are. They are the people you need to influence.

How you do that is a whole other story.