Who listens to you when you talk about your day-to-day job highlights or complaints? Is it your wife, husband, or best friend? You nominate your mother as your keenest audience. Without question, your Nana will always give you her full attention. All these loyalties aside, there is someone else eager to put you in the spotlight. You may encounter him in the pro shop at your favorite golf course. You may sit beside her at the bar while waiting for colleagues to join you for dinner. She may book a hotel room on your floor at a conference. Your competitor is "all ears." Protect yourself and your company.
Acknowledge that you possess valuable business knowledge. Competitive intelligence is never a set of perfect information. It comes together like a mosaic, one pretty little piece at a time. Often, a bit of business information is not important in and of itself, but instead, it points a competitor in a direction that can lead to a big "Eureka!" A business that is serious about reducing its exposure to competitive intelligence will implement a comprehensive training program, adjusted by role, that every employee is required to attend.
Remember that there is a war on. Many large companies actually have a "war room" where business strategy, based on deep competitive intelligence, is formulated. You've heard the World War II cautionary message, "Loose lips sink ships." In the business world today, it is more likely that the stock price will be what sinks. Or that the go-to-market campaign will be preempted. When business information is prematurely or improperly disclosed, there can be very real fiscal ramifications for a company.
Avoid getting caught in the net. You use the buzzword, you've attended the events. Networking is the new lifeblood of business connections. And you don't even have to play golf to benefit. But watch out - the casual, chatty ambiance surrounding a networking session is like a petri dish for growing competitive intelligence. You are not in kindergarten anymore. You can play nice, but don't share and share alike.
Zip your lip when traveling for business. Be as enigmatic as the silent, smiling Mona Lisa. Business travel substantially increases opportunities for competitive intelligence to occur. Travelers are out of their element and may be slightly disoriented and quite fatigued at the very times when they are the most vulnerable. Pick-pockets know this. Columbo knew this. And so does your competitor's CI agent.
Recognize that not everyone likes you for yourself. People who work in the CI arena have been carefully selected to appear innocuous, especially attractive, or "just like" their target person. It is not unusual for even those who know better to realize - after the fact - that they may have let down their guard with that friendly person who had seemed so "taken with" them. Try not to let your ego loose and assume that it is just your charming old self attracting these warm and beautiful people. If someone other than Rick Blaine toasts you with "Here's looking at you, Kid," look behind the curtain.
Lock up the place - every time. Those who carry top-secret information as part of their regular job sometimes get unwelcome media coverage. Usually it is because they were the victim of someone who steals top-secret information for a living. Inarguably, it is inconvenient to have to think like a data thief, but it is more inconvenient to be called on the carpet for having lost the memory stick on which the latest marketing proposal is saved. Keep your technology on your person or keep it locked up. Don't carry more information than you need.
Checking in? Check the place out. Your hotel room is nice and the bed looks comfy. But its too early to tuck in, and you haven't eaten dinner. You lock up everything worth anything and call for a cab. You relax. Should you? Let's go through the checklist. Do not disturb sign on hotel room door. Digital documents require passwords and data is encrypted. Cell phone is locked, browsing history erased, no passwords are saved. Memory sticks riding with your passport - close to your heart. Laptop secured with a cable in hotel room or tucked into your ultra-cool, anti-theft backpack that you wear even on the dance floor.
Encourage a mind-set for counterintelligence. Many competitive intelligence providers include employee training as part of their service package. Hiring experienced CI agents - who draw from a menu of engaging, true-life stories that read like spy novels - can greatly increase the credibility of your training program, add a sense of urgency, and foster employee buy-in and behavior change. Begin before you need to by establishing a through training program that touches every employee.