Good company differentiators are mainly product, process and people with different emphasis based on the business type. I think process rules all, but good people are required to develop good process. Good process isn’t dependent on “star employees” to execute. Good process is repeatable and offers attributes a customer wants – speed, cost, timely delivery, etc., while maintaining profitability. Amazon gets goods to consumers because they have great logistics, not because they have thousands of extraordinary people in their warehouses.
A great product can make up for bad process for a period of time, but the edge can disappear quickly. A competitor that can offer something similar, but easier, can quickly take market share, and “easier” is frequently the result of process. Blackberry comes to mind because clearly their R&D process failed. Certainly there is a “people” aspect to Blackberry’s issues, but they should have had alarm bells ringing throughout the company. The other side of the coin would be a patented product. Assuming the patent isn’t close to expiration, a protected product can be a huge advantage.
The last piece of the puzzle is people. You need good people to develop good process and you need good people to update process, but you shouldn’t need good people to execute good process. People are important in people businesses – doctors, lawyers and PR firms, but process underlies that too. A doctor can’t be effective if there isn’t a process to keep the OR clean and ensure the right tools are available during surgery. Just like any good contractor can build a new house, all of them start with the foundation.
So how do you determine if your company has any of these attributes? You have to ask yourself if any one of your employees walked out the door, would it matter today? What stops a competitor from re-creating your product? How do you know if everything is going according to plan daily and long-term? If you wait until year end profits to know how things are going, when something goes wrong it will be too late.