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How To (Professionally) Handle Copycat Competitors

By: Ashleigh Hardy

Well Sis, you got the job, and you're making all the right moves to establish yourself as the expert, the innovator, and the rockstar who is climbing up the corporate ladder. You have countless ideas that are not only genius, but they’re going to put you on the fast track to that promotion. Before taking this particular idea to the leadership team, you run it by your supervisor to get their take, and just as you thought, they think this plan is just what the organization needs to level up and reach their objectives. The next day you’re in the meeting with the leadership team, as well as your supervisor, who attempts to pitch your idea to the group. You sit there appalled, angry, and not sure of what move to make next.

Have you ever been here once or twice in the workplace? Maybe you’re an entrepreneur that's just launched a new product and you see one of your competitors launch the same product six months later. A relatable example of this would be McDowell’s vs. McDonald’s. If you’ve ever watched Coming to America, then you’ve seen a phenomenon that is practiced in the workforce and amongst entrepreneurs. The saying goes that "if you can’t create, then copy" but let’s be honest, when someone else is trying to take the credit for your hard work, it doesn’t feel like any form of flattery at all.

You'd be surprised at how many of my clients have brought this specific issue to our meetings. They come to me frustrated, angry, and discouraged because they thought they did the necessary work to build strong trust and a transparent culture among their team members. The question that they usually always ask me is what can they do when they have a "copycat competitor" on their hands. I always give my clients these five approaches to help them stay positive, productive, professional:

1. Continue To Work In Excellence

It's obvious that you're doing something all the way right if you have other people trying to pass your hard work and good ideas off as theirs, right? Trust me, I know it may be hard to keep from skipping down the yellow-brick road to pettyville, but trust me when I say how you react in these moments tells senior leadership more about you than it does about "Copy-Cat Catherine". Don’t seek revenge, but instead, try this next step.

2. Have A Chat With Your Colleague

Ask your colleague what happened. Be leaderly and do it when you’re not angry. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there are times when things are done intentionally and maliciously. If that is the case with your situation, then what you can do is email your colleague and copy your supervisor, or whomever their superior may be. Let them know that you are flattered and bewildered that they took credit for your work. However, because you are for collaboration over competition, you wanted to ensure that leadership recognized the oversight. Now make sure you incorporate this practice into your approach to work as it is good for yearly evaluations.

3. Document, Document, DOCUMENT!

Keep great notes and make sure that you include dates and specific milestones of your ideas or work. In other words, hand them the receipts to lock down your credibility if someone ever tries it with you.

4. Stop Telling Everyone Your Business!

I know, you thought you could trust them but I know you have seen countless memes and Instagram posts that tell you, “Don’t expect other people to understand your grind when God didn’t give them the vision." Stop oversharing, and learn to keep some things close to the vest. If you do want input on things, try asking a mentor, or a work bestie that you know has your best interest in mind. Don’t discuss your ideas or plans with just anyone.

5. Keep An 'Easy To Copy, Hard To Replicate' Mindset

This is a mindset that you’ll need to keep you centered. They may have copied your idea, but they won’t be able to execute and implement it as you can. Those that copy will oftentimes find themselves swimming in a pool of mediocrity. We all know about the iPad but, do you remember how Microsoft tried to shoot their shot with "Touchpad"… yea I didn’t think so. You may even still use your iPod, but I can guarantee you you never even thought twice about buying Zune. Exactly! Microsoft tried to imitate, but they couldn’t duplicate the success that Apple had. I won’t even get started on Facebook, because that seems to be their entire business model- to straight-up copy! The same will ring true for you too so, "No need to get bent out of shape,” as my father would say.

Having someone copy your work is irritating and frustrating however, putting these tips into practice can help you confidently stand out and get the credit that you deserve. Continue to do your best, and learn how to make those ideas and your work more visible.


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