Competitive Intelligence: How to Profile Key Competitor’s Organizational Attributes

By James D. Underwood

In analyzing your competitive intelligence, looking at a sector’s competitive benchmark and the ratings for individual competitors gives you a broad view of how competitive your competitors will be over the next three years or so, but you can’t always trust those ratings when studying them in a vacuum.

To obtain a clearer idea of what you’re up against, examine the benchmark and ratings in the context of your competitors’ organizational attributes, which comprise the remaining five items of the seven-factor profile:

  • Management

  • Culture

  • Structure

  • Decision systems

  • Strategic planning


Based on your research and the assessment of management, rate management for each of your competitors based on the following five-point scale:

1 = Highly controlling

2 = Controlling

3 = Goal oriented

4 = Moderately empowering

5 = Highly empowering


Based on your research and the assessment of culture, rate the corporate culture for each of your competitors based on the following five-point scale:

1 = Rigid: averse to change

2 = Nonadaptive: resistant to change

3 = Moderately adaptive: slow to change

4 = Adaptive: highly adaptive to change

5 = Proactive: iconoclastic, create the future


Assess each competitor’s structure using the following scale:

1 = Hierarchical: bureaucratic, inflexible

2 = Traditional: mostly bureaucratic, rarely flexible

3 = Divisional: moderate level of flexibility

4 = Matrix structure: cross-functional relationships, very flexible

5 = Matrix, bicentralized, empowered, highly flexible

Decision systems

Based on your research, rate each competitor’s decision systems (how they make decisions related to speed and horizon/time frame), using the following five-point scale:

1 = Internally focused: incredibly slow

2 = Internally focused: slow

3 = Internal with some external focus: moderately slow

4 = Externally focused: fast with future-focused decisions

5 = Externally driven: light-speed decisions, proactively future focused

Strategic planning

Figuring out how competitors plan their strategy can be very difficult. Many don’t talk about how they plan, so you can’t get that info. By observing an organization over time, however, you can often figure out how the organization “thinks.”

For example, 3M’s strategic planning focuses about 20 percent of its efforts around nonlinear thinking; that is, the company likes to force people out of the box when thinking about the future.

On the following scale of one to five, rate each of your competitors in the area of strategic planning based on your observations:

1 = Little or no formal strategic planning

2 = Strategy basically involves the budgeting process

3 = Historically focused on perceived competencies, resources, and advantage

4 = Future focused, creativity driven, and innovative

5 = Focused on asset maximization: nonlinear, systems thinking

Strategic planning at level 3 and below tends to be focused on historic patterns, competencies, product areas, and budget concerns. As the approach becomes more externally focused, the firm’s leadership is more willing to innovate outside of historic areas of competence for the purpose of discovering novel, high-growth opportunities.