In his 2010 book “The Fifth Discipline” Peter Senge said “in the long run the only sustainable competitive advantage is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than the competition.”

Clearly, any business that survives and grows, must be delivering value to customers and performing at least near enough to its competition in that market.

However, if one competitor starts to develop better products or service offerings than the rest of the market, then over time that competitor will capture more market share and will ultimately become more successful.

This is what we see in highly competitive markets like the USA and Europe.

I recently asked a number of business owners how much time they allowed each week for team development, learning or group problem solving. Out of 30 individual owners, only three set aside time, with many admitting they had not done any formal training and development or set aside time for this activity in over 2 years!

Of the three, they allowed between 0.5hour to 1 hour – less than 2.5% of the working week.

The people working in your business are the only people who can improve it. If we don’t empower, train, develop and motivate them to do so, then we are accepting or hoping that our current performance will be good enough to sustain and grow the business in the future and outpace any local or international competitor.

Does this approach seem wrong? Well, it is. This is the slow road to ruin and one of the reasons NZ is in the bottom of the OECD in terms of productivity.

The skills and competencies, especially around leadership, are lagging and it is imperative that we recognise that the future businesses in NZ will need capabilities around building and sustaining teams, strategic and team leadership, competitive systems and practices, and problem solving to list just a few.

I get requests almost weekly from businesses as to whether I know a good shift leader, production manager, operations leader and so on. These requests are a symptom of a marketplace that does not have enough talent. Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon. It has been exacerbated by Covid, but this has been the case for the last 20 years and the root cause is that not enough NZ businesses are investing in or developing talent.

They recognise they need better leaders and suchlike, but are not willing to invest in developing their people.

So, can you envision a workplace where the team are trained, they have developed the right data capture and information systems to highlight any problems with product or service, and the teams work in a structured way to solve those problems relentlessly?

To realise this vison we need:

  1. Leaders who are willing to empower their teams and people and make some short-term sacrifices
  2. Team members who are willing to learn and apply themselves
  3. Appropriate training and learning experiences
  4. Mentors to help you establish the system and processes to enable the teams and the business to succeed.

Items 1 and 2 are up to the business leadership, commitment and having a clear purpose and vision. Items 3 and 4 are about providing the right support to help them develop, and measuring and managing the outcomes.

If you, as a leader within your business, are up for items 1 and 2 then items 3 and 4 can be addressed through qualifications such as the Diploma in Competitive Systems and Practices.

This year this qualification is fee-free funded, so if you can invest peoples time to build capability then the cost could be zero! And you could benefit from a highly productive and trained workforce. If you want to be part of this initiative then drop me a line

Ian Walsh

Partner, New Zealand

More Articles