There is a story of a time when one of the steel mill managers working for Andrew Carnegie was having trouble motivating his men to increase their speed and number of pours per shift. When he brought the problem to Carnegie, he merely took a piece of chalk and wrote the number seven on the floor at the entrance to the mill. When the manager for the next shift asked what the number was there for, Carnegie simply replied that it was how many pours the last shift had made. At the end of his shift, that manager wrote a big number 8 on the floor… and the game was on. Creating strong competition within an organization can bring forth wonderful results but only if done correctly. Approached in the wrong manner, internal competition can be corrosive, potentially destroying morale and ruining results. The key is simply to ensure that the rules of the competition are developed in such a way that they foster teamwork and collaboration and not aggressive rivalry.
If you want to use increased competitiveness to motivate your team, here are a few ideas to keep in mind.
Carefully choose the part of your company that will be involved in the competition. Competitions won’t work in every part of a business but some of the more obvious areas where they can work beautifully are sales, quality, speed, efficiency, customer satisfaction, innovation, cost savings, new sources of revenue and employee health.
Make the prize big enough and exciting enough that people are willing to truly go the extra mile. Few people will go above and beyond for an extra 10 bucks, whereas the chance to win $1,000, a cruise, a new car or tickets to a major sporting event like the Super Bowl or the Daytona 500 can often get individuals or teams to deliver fantastic results.
Make sure the rules of the competition are extremely clear and firm. Study the rules carefully to ensure that there are no loopholes or ways to game the system. Nothing is as de-motivating as having to give a huge prize to someone who cheated the system to win it.
Consider awarding multiple prizes. It is good to have a second and third prize too, so that if one member of the team gets far ahead of everyone else, people will at least continue to compete for the other prizes.
Structure the competition so people are rewarded for helping each other, or at least don’t profit from making other people fail. For example, if a real estate firm holds a competition between agents, it might cause the agents to poach each other’s clients to secure the most sales for themselves. But, if the competition is structured to achieve a team-wide sales goal it will encourage agents to help each other sell.
Competitions against a market competitor or an important deadline can also be very successful. Trying to win away a big client from a direct competitor, or beating them to the marketplace with a new product, has long been the kind of competition that can foster massive motivation throughout an entire organization. Two great examples would be competition between Coke and Pepsi or between Microsoft and Apple. Employees at these companies are driven to win against their arch rivals and will go to extreme lengths to beat them.
Lastly, try to keep it fun. Infuse competition with a sense of play and adventure and remain diligent so it never deteriorates into an ugly and ruthless rivalry.
Healthy and fair competition can drive people to accomplish much higher levels of success. Well-crafted competitions can also build morale, increase cooperation, and challenge your organization to deliver a new level of quality and customer satisfaction. So look for a few places within your company where creating a competition might be a good idea. You may find that competition is a superb way to motivate your team and bring members closer together.