The 3 Ways You’re Killing Your Competitive Advantage

Your processes, your business model and your workflows will need some ironing out. That’s just a fact of life in business. We all have kinks and growing pains. That being said, every organization will also come with inherent pros -those are your competitive advantage -the positive things that make your team unique.

Your competitive advantage might be purposeful, and it might just be intrinsic to your team. Whatever it is, define it, embrace it and be sure these common poor workplace practices aren’t extinguishing it.

Running Your Business on Excel

If you have a few simple numbers to run, or an ad hoc project with very few moving parts (like only you) excel makes a lot of sense. It should never, we repeat, never be used as a business database. When we get the opportunity to sit down with potential clients, we find they have a few of the same reasons for sticking with the old standby, excel…

Excel is fine for the amount of data we have.

Everyone already knows how to use it.

We’ve always used excel.

Whatever your particular competitive advantage is, it will always be overshadowed by poor information management. The utilization of sound, measurable data is any business’s strongest shot at improvement and growth. Businesses that rely on spreadsheets to store, organize and interpret their data are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage compared to those who are willing to invest in a real database.

Databases can be shared and worked on by multiple users and they support formal workflow processes. Plainly put, spreadsheets aren’t built for multiple users. When we look at this on a larger scale, spreadsheets are sometimes shared with hundreds of people, reviewing, approving and making edits to one document. At the end of this process, each and every one of those sheets must be consolidated manually. Please take a moment to think about that.

We could go on forever with this one, that’s for another blog post…and don’t even get us started on security.

Tailoring your Workflow to Your CRM

We’ve seen it a hundred times, instead of going with a tailored or customizable CRM, the choice was made to instead tailor an established workflow. That’s fine and dandy if the workflow is flawed and is being improved upon, but that’s not generally what happens.

Many organizations realize their competitive advantage flows from a particular process that has been refined over time, and with the right people in place. Your CRM should support these such workflows, not impede or alter them.

When thought is put into the customization of a good CRM, it feels almost intuitive to users. It should feel like this system is aligning itself to your team, rather than the other way around. No, a CRM cannot do this on its own, there must be a strong, supportive vendor behind it.

Failing to Empower Your Staff

Let’s get one thing straight, no matter how awesome your tech is, your number one asset in business is your human capital. Use them, empower them and seek return on your investment in them in a more enlightened way than in the past.

A great example comes from Zappos. Their competitive advantage can almost directly be attributed to their unique stance on customer care. Their sales teams aren’t merely order takers and the go between for the customer and line managers. Instead, Zappos employees are empowered to make customer care decisions and actions on their own. How much more sense does that make?!

“I want to feel like I can make decisions for what I am doing and other people want that as well. When people are empowered they feel a sense of ownership.”

Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO

We contend that there is a better way to integrate technology into your workforce and workflows. We don’t believe in the rigidity of unwieldy bureaucracies, we believe in change. We love to find an organization’s competitive advantage and create processes, systems and workflows that support that. Stop killing your competitive advantage with archaic business practices and become the nimble, market share winner you got into business to be. We can help. Connect with a group of lifelong learners of workflow now.

CEO of Evernote, Phil Libin, not only brought us a pretty fantastic life hack tool, but he’s also known for sharing his pearls of wisdom on the topic of booting archaic workplace practices and workflows. His common sense anecdotes on improving the place we spend a majority of our time, often leave us scratching our heads, Yeah, why do we still do it that way?

Here are a few Libinisms that we here at Volano could totally get behind…

On Eliminating Artificial Barriers

Libin refuses to buy into workplace politics, so he has very thoughtfully designed his own company in a fashion that discourages an emphasis on the traditional signs of seniority. The physical office has a very flat, open structure with no offices, quite literally eliminating the idea of “the ladder”.

Evernote offers no perks and none of the traditional status symbols that come with being a higher up. Libin believes that these things create artificial barriers to communication, and they just aren’t necessary. Obviously, there are varying levels of financial compensation, but his goal is to get rid of all of those outward signs that make decision makers unavailable to the rest of the company.

“We try to have an organization that just helps you get your work done, and then it’s my job to eliminate all of the risks and all the distractions so you can just focus on achieving. That attracts people who are primarily motivated by how much they achieve.”

On the Problem with Email

This one sounds insane, but Libin has actually uprooted the e-mail culture at Evernote. The tide is really changing here. Once thought of as the backbone of workplace communications, email is now going the way of the fax machine when it comes to interoffice communications. We can all agree that email isn’t efficient, but what are the other options?  Well, according to Libin, the other option is to get up from your desk and walk over to the person you’re trying to communicate with. What a novel idea.

Simply put, when Libin sees a workflow flaw, he gives it the boot and he’s never afraid to try and fail. Maybe he didn’t find the better way this time, but he keeps trying until he does.

“We strongly discourage lengthy e-mail threads with everyone weighing in. It’s just not good for that. Plus, it’s dangerous, because it’s way too easy to misread the tone of something. If you want to talk to somebody and you’re a couple floors apart, I kind of want you to get up and go talk to them.”

On Stupid, Passive Aggressive Signs

Probably our favorite. Libin realized that everywhere he went around the office he would see stupid, “snotty” signs. So, he went around, tore all of them down and talked with the people who posted them. Now, common sense, passive aggressive signs are nowhere to be seen in the Evernote office. Instead, people are tasked with saying what they mean. In this case, what has for years passed as the “polite” way to do things, is totally not acceptable any longer.

“I declared war a few months ago on stupid office signs. I realized that I started seeing signs around the office everywhere. Like, ‘Your mother doesn’t work here, make sure you wash the dishes after yourself.’ And the signs suck. They’re passive aggressive….Because when you get to be a company of a bigger size, it really does start to feel like work when you see the accumulation of crappy culture like this.”

Libin is of the same school of thought that we are here at Volano. “Because we’ve always done it that way.” isn’t a reason to continue with archaic business practices or flawed workflow management procedures. There will always be a better way to do something, a way that saves time, money or sanity, and we’re all about figuring out what it is.

If you’d like to talk about how Volano can help improve the workflow at your company, we’d love to talk.

“Differentiation is the essence of strategy, the prime source of competitive advantage. You earn money not just by performing a valuable task but by being different from your competitors in a manner that lets you serve your core customers better and more profitably.” Chris Zook and James Allen

Process or product differentiates you from your competitors. Volano knows that as you scale your business – you must follow the same process and create the same consistent product despite your growth.

Custom software provides efficiency.


Repeatability is a measure of a system’s consistency to achieve identical results across multiple teams and multiple cycles. The ultimate goal is to have both a highly accurate and highly repeatable business process. Repeatability is the primary route to efficiency and scalability. Custom software can enforce business processes in a highly repeatable way. This kind of software brings differentiation, scalability, and repeatability. This is how software can be your competitive advantage.

We call this workflow. Volano builds workflow systems that allow you to repeat what works…and efficiency follows. Software to Make Work Flow.

Our team at Volano is a pretty happy bunch. It’s a big part of our culture and is evident in our core values.

A recent blog post on the Huffington Post talks about how Dr. Kaufman analyzed 24 traits of 517 individuals and looked for associations to happiness. It so happened that two traits were significant predictors of happiness, or as the psychologists call it, well-being.

The first is a pretty well-known driver of well-being and that is gratitude.

The second actually ties directly into our top core value at Volano – “Love of Learning“. Our core values are very important to us. They are a part of the hiring process and part of every review. Topping the list of our core values is “Learn Constantly“.

Every day we give our team ample opportunity to learn constantly and everyone on our team embraces the challenge.  Our culture would not be fun and we wouldn’t be happy doing what we do if we didn’t have the keg, the whiskey Wednesdays, the darts, the Sonos jukebox…

But most importantly, seriously, if we didn’t have our deep love of learning constantly.