Motivating Employees Through Competition Gone Bad

Employees like to be challenged.  They like to stretch.  They enjoy learn new interesting skills.  They love having ownership in something cool that they've created, that they've contributed.

Most of us in management feel that in order for employees to feel challenged, engaged, we need to create some kind of competition or game with an external entity - whether that be with a competitor, another department, or another team.  And there is a winner and a loser.

Consider the consequences for this team that lost in their company - "Employees were paddled with rival companies' yard signs as part of a contest that pitted sales teams against one another. The winners poked fun at the losers, throwing pies at them, feeding them baby food, making them wear diapers and swatting their buttocks."

Now consider the consequences for this company due to the lawsuit that ensued - "because the company has since gone into bankruptcy and its insurance was exhausted battling Orlando's claim and settling with three other co-workers, there may be little left to recover."

This is an extreme example and yet an important one to really emphasize that competition to motivate employees that has them pitted against someone else is often on some level degrading.  Simply the idea that people will not give their best unless manipulated to be against another entity really feeds off of the base nature of humans.  Not a pretty place to come from.

Internal competition is downright foolish.  You can forget a culture of camaraderie.  You can forget a culture where people really feel like their working together for a greater good.  Because instead their working toward beating their fellow employees.  And if they win they boast.  And if they lose they sulk.  Not exactly a recipe for company-wide teamwork.

And what about the value of competing against external competitors?  A company that truly seeks to be the best it can be doesn't need an outside competitor to motivate it.  A company of excellence would be excellent regardless of whether there was competition.  A company of excellence is always striving to be a better company and asks the same of the individuals within it, to always strive to be a better person.  This taps into our higher human nature, one worthy of the people in your organization.

Quotes from this article.

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