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Competition at Work: 3 Steps to Keep It Healthy and Motivational

A little friendly competition motivates most employees, but let competition get out of hand, and attrition and conflict trends up while morale and efficiency plummets.

Smart companies recognize that cut-throat behavior doesn’t benefit the organization or those around the bad actor. The challenge is to harness all the brainpower and creativity each and every employee has to offer.

How can you, the business leader, encourage positive competition that benefits the bottom line?

Here are three steps to building healthy competition at your company.

1. Identify the business issue that needs to be addressed

Does the company need to reduce expenses fast? Increase a certain type of sale? Narrow your time to market? Any competition among your employees should be built to achieve specific results.

For instance, a hospital experienced a sudden drop in revenue and needed to reduce expenses fast. Its leaders created a contest that rewarded the biggest cost savings generated by department. Guidelines specified that one-off, short-term fixes would not win, such as “stop buying office supplies for a quarter.”

Departments were encouraged to look at how entire processes could be restructured to save money long-term. The winning team reorganized their department to cover shifts more efficiently and renegotiated a supply contract, saving millions of dollars a year.

The hospital won overall because teams throughout the organization permanently reduced expenses and improved efficiencies when they implemented their ideas. Winning teams were ranked by the dollar value of their savings, which was communicated monthly to all employees.

2. Structure the competition to reward teams, not individuals

Think like a ball player. The team can’t win unless everyone contributes his or her individual talents.

For example, one company created a fantasy football game to increase sales. The company went so far as to create trading cards with photos of each of its sales vice presidents. Each VP was ranked weekly according to their team’s sales, so the value of their trading cards fluctuated. Employees traded the cards just as players are traded in fantasy football games, based on their perceived and real value.

The wildly popular contest encouraged everyone in the company to get to know the salespeople better and increased interest in supporting sales. While VP faces were on the trading cards, their value came from their team’s results.

3. Implement a communications plan

To drive interest and excitement, communication is key. First, you’ll have to communicate what’s driving the need for this competition, the desired results and the timeline. Explain why everyone should participate. If you will reward prizes, by all means tout those.

Give yourself mid-points to announce partial results and create a big finish to report final results. This builds excitement and rewards participants. After all, everyone likes to be recognized.

A competition doesn’t have to be complicated.

For instance, a sales team might post a white board that ranks employees weekly according to who made the largest number of calls. The team’s total number of calls is tracked week-by-week, with everyone winning a moderate prize if the team’s quarter-over-quarter numbers meet goal.

A big prize could reward year-over-year results while an even bigger prize rewards goals surpassed all four quarters and year-over-year.

While recognizing individuals weekly, the overall competition rewards team performance and accomplishes higher sales for the company.

Challenge your employees to challenge themselves

The mindset of clawing your way to the top has always been unhealthy and doesn’t jibe with today’s more inclusive approach to work and career advancement. Competition has shifted to “challenge.”

Encourage continuous improvement in your employees. Ask everyone to take a look at their long-term and short-term career goals and analyze: How can I keep myself challenged? How can I do better this year than last?

Support employees who want to take a college course, ask to lead a project, or volunteer for a new assignment that helps them stretch. Ultimately, we are always our own best competition.

For more ideas and tips on how to drive healthy competition in your business, get your free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Employee Engagement, Issue 1.