In his excellent book, The Case Against Competition, Alfred Cohen discusses how internal competitions generally are more destructive than beneficial to company performance. In contrast, an October 2009 Inc. Magazine article showed how “College Hunks Hauling Junk” created friendly competition that helped grow their company. Because most of their employees are college students and college rivalries are a big deal, the company created a contest. Eventually, this evolved to the point that ownership focused on key performance indicators as the basis for contests. They developed a dashboard which was available through the company Intranet (think Fantasy Football).
Although in-house rivalries worked for College Hunks, it can be poison for other companies. A classic example is the reluctance to disclose injuries or other problems in order to win safety competitions. To put together an effective in-house content, the Inc. article recommends these guidelines:
- Beware of temptations to cheat or sabotage rivals. This is one of the main concerns voiced by Cohen.
- Vary the size and choice of awards. Huge awards and over-emphasis on money can have negative consequences.
- Reward effort, as well as results. This is about playing win/win, not necessarily win/lose (for example, a nominal award of a lotto ticket, raffle ticket, or other symbolic thank-you).
- Publish real-time results. This has been effective in sales for years. There’s no reason to hide from results. In fact, it is part of the open-book management process we recommend all companies to follow.
- Assess your culture. If you’re already in a hostile or stressful environment, creating competition can be toxic. One way to assess your culture is to survey your employees or to allow them to create the contests.
Ultimately, the question is this: If we compete against each other, how can we do so in a safe and empowering way? If you can answer that question, you can motivate employee performance and grow your bottom line.