Competitive Intelligence: How to Deal with Bureaucracy and Egos - dummies

Competitive Intelligence: How to Deal with Bureaucracy and Egos

By James D. Underwood

In competitive intelligence, you have to gain the approval of the leaders of your company. Let’s face it: big egos and bureaucratic tendencies can transform organizations into dinosaurs destined for extinction. Unable to evolve in response to changes in an industry or in specific markets, the organization loses ground to its more agile foes. If conditions persist, the organization eventually experiences the same fate as its prehistoric ancestors.

To be honest, unless you’re a member of a company’s board of directors or the CEO, you don’t have much power to execute change, but you can take some practical steps to overcome the ego and bureaucracy that stand in your way.

How to purge narcissism from a company

Narcissists can destroy organizations. They drive key contributors to leave the company and ultimately have a direct negative impact on customer relationships. If performance is the objective, then these performance destroyers must be eliminated.

At the heart of a narcissistic personality is an overwhelming need to control everything and command unquestioned obedience. An added dimension to many narcissists is a tendency toward sociopathic behavior: They see no right or wrong except as it relates to what they want. They can be incredibly brutal toward any perceived threats, even if those “threats” hold the promise of improving the organizations they lead.

Recent research reveals that some degree of narcissism is present in almost all leaders, so your concern should center on the degree of narcissism. A mild case of narcissism isn’t a concern, but organizations need to deal with moderate or severe narcissism so that it doesn’t hinder change and progress.

To purge narcissism, encourage your organization to establish a clear no-ego-trip policy and enforce that policy consistently, meaning that no one gets a free pass. If a senior executive breaks the rules, he must face the consequences, which may ultimately involve termination. Any standard short of that is a waste of time.

Establish the CEO as the accountability agent for the company’s no-ego-trip policy. For personnel to take the policy seriously, they need to hear a clear and forceful message from the CEO that ego trips will not be tolerated.

A narcissistic CEO can ultimately destroy an organization. While CI may have no power to stop such a CEO, sometimes the board of directors or a private equity firm will take the reins to dissemble the bureaucracy and destroy the narcissism that accompanies it. Clayton, Dubleir, and Ross, one of the most successful private equity firms, has made its money by transforming failing companies into success stories.

How to confront a declining level of entrepreneurialism in an aging company

As companies mature, the level of entrepreneurial behavior tends to decline. They begin to lose sight of many of the ten values of top-performing companies, including humility, innovation, individual initiative, creativity, and generosity. They’re so caught up in doing business that they forget about generating business.


One of the most difficult challenges any company encounters is that of fostering entrepreneurialism on a long-term basis. Companies fail not because they lose focus on historic competencies and their supposed sustainable competitive advantage but for the following five reasons:

  • Inability to create or discover the next little thing (short-term profit drivers).

  • Inability to create or discover the next big thing (long-term profit drivers).

  • Inability or unwillingness to manage the organization as a financial portfolio. Decisions are based more on what the firm has historically done well rather than on which opportunities have the most potential.

    Corporate leaders need to think like portfolio managers. They need to know when to divest of a mature or declining product division and reinvest into a segment with high-growth, high-profit potential. This is where corporate leaders must be capable of thinking in terms of unrelated diversification. For example, if the buggy-whip division is dying, sell it and try to find a high-growth technology opportunity.

  • A change in culture from challenging everything to maintaining the status quo.

  • Forgetting that the people make the profit. (One of America’s top-performing companies claims that 99 percent of all innovation comes from its people, not from senior management.)

Depending on your position or status, you may or may not have the power to breathe entrepreneurial life back into your organization. If you’re just a working stiff, the most you can hope for is to convince your organization’s CEO or board of directors that an attitude adjustment is necessary.

If your organization has deteriorated into a calcified, stupefied bureaucracy, all new ideas are shot on sight. More often than not, the messenger gets shot as well.

If you do have the power to reinvigorate your organization or at least influence those who have that power, here’s a strategy to get your organization back to its entrepreneurial roots:

  1. Perform an informal audit of your CI team and its internal customers and sponsors regarding their attitude toward change.

    Pay special attention to the executive-level sponsors. Spotting highly resistant people is easy; they use phrases such as don’t rock the boat.

  2. Pick out areas of future weakness, maturity, or decline in your product families.

  3. Convert information about problem segments into financial projections by using your internal intel resources.

  4. Share your observations with the CI team, especially if you have senior executives as sponsors on the team.

  5. Try to discover targets of opportunity that may generate growth as a replacement for the loss areas you discovered.