Last week I kicked off a mini-series of blog posts about the importance of building a centre of excellence (CoE).  In this post I want to explore why you should view doing so as a competitive advantage for your company.  

First, exactly how is a centre of excellence a competitive advantage?

Building a centre of excellence (CoE) within your tech division particularly, is a critical tool to gaining competitive advantage. This is relates to any industry, but if you are a tech company it should go without saying.  
Talent – the staff you have working in your company – is a finite resource with many levels of skill.  Attracting this top tier of talent is vital.  If you do so, you will not only have the best talent for your business, but your competition can’t have them.
With a suitable framework in place staff will then teach each other what they know, getting even better in the process.

Innovation: once is not enough

A single innovation will allow you to leap-frog the competition, but only for a while.  Repeated innovation, now that’s a competitive advantage!
Whilst events like regular hack-a-thons might look like a holiday to the rest of the business, try and get the rest of the business involved too.  Hack-a-thons are all about innovation.
Encourage your very best talent to let their creativity loose, to solve things that they see as problems. Even if it is just for a couple of days every few months, they will come up with something truly innovative. Just ask google about their 20% time or Facebook about their regular hack-a-thons.

Just a friendly tip:

When I talk about top-tier talent in tech, just because you say ‘we only hire the top 10% of people’ does not mean that this is so.  
In the past, I have declined roles where I was told this during interview.  Tech is not that big a pool, and when you factor in locality, it gets even smaller.  So when you show a candidate round your offices they will see some familiar faces – will your candidate rate them as ‘top 10%’?  What about if they looked up on LinkedIn who in their network works there?  If you make that sort of claim to a candidate, you absolutely have to be right.
Talent knows their own market place better than you do!

So, What Exactly Do ‘they’ Want?

I will write more on ideas for this in a later post, for now, here is an overview.
Imagine you are in that very top tier of talent, and in the market for a new job. You have a great CV & lots of relevant experience. Because of this, you probably have a couple of offers to choose between.  How do you choose which offer to take?  It’s certainly not only about the fringe benefits, but it is also much less about salaries than you might think.  
People are looking for a tribe.  A place where they fit in & belong.  A place that shares their set of values.
Additionally, top talent – especially in the tech world – want to work with people smarter than them.   
If you want to hire the cream in your business, you have to create an environment where your talented staff can get even better at the things they do best. 
Tech is a fast-moving, ever-evolving beast.  This means people who work in this sector need to love learning.  If you don’t learn, you can’t keep up with the latest developments and your skills age, making you a less desirable hire.  We can all short-cut our learning by working with smarter people.  
The result is that top talent in the tech sector tends to clump together in groups. They self-select.  This is a useful thing to know ( it’s interesting both for attracting staff, but also is part of the reason why companies tend to loose good staff in waves).

Build it and they will come

If you can hire great talent and meet those needs, more great talent will join them.   Recruitment can get easier (once you get over the initial hump).   New, great talent will find you – perhaps, from recommendations of your existing staff. It could be that they meet some of your staff whilst visiting a conference or a meet-up. They may even hear about the great things your tech team are delivering via blogs and articles your team write.
So, if you want to entice more of the very best talent to your company you need to build an environment that they will want to join.  They need to have a good degree of autonomy, they need leaders with vision, they need to work with other top talent.

One last thought before you go… 

You may have read this article and were not convinced by my arguments.  I am truly sorry if that’s the case because I have failed you. Allow me to offer you this one last perspective.
Imagine for one moment your counterpart in your biggest competitor has also read this article. Unlike you, she / he decides to act upon it and slowly make steps to build a centre of excellence.
How long do you think it will be before they start pulling ahead?
Here is a quote from a client a long time ago. I presented evidence to the client their competition were building a centre of excellence. I warned them of the risk of being left behind. This was their response (paraphrased):
“I have been working for this company for more than 20 years, and I couldn’t tell you what our competition is doing!  What makes you think it makes any difference you telling me?”
I watch the stock exchange, and there is no warm glow from having been right.
Over the next few weeks I will write several pieces looking at how we can build and grow a Centre of Excellence. I’ll also be offering some tools and frameworks to help you build your own if you want to.
P.S.  If you want to read a most excellent related article, this one I stumbled on the other day is great from Chris Matts.