I am competitive. There I said it and I’d like to enter that confession in the running for “Understatement of the Year”. Recently, I have been analyzing that truth. I have always said that I was competitive with a certain amount of pride as if it were an attribute to be sought after, but is it really? In Hebrews 12:1 Paul says, “…Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” For most of my life I have read that verse and only focused on the word “race”. If this life is a race, then there will clearly be a winner and then everyone else loses, right? But what if that was not the keyword; what if the key to the statement was something else entirely. Nowhere in Paul’s verse does he say, win the race that is marked out for us. Friends, this where we are going to talk about the Holy 2×4. In my life, from time to time, God decides to hit me with the Holy 2×4 to wake me up to something He has been trying to teach me that I just missed, sometimes for decades.
So why is winning so important; is competition healthy in the workplace; and how then do we balance the competition, with the pursuit of excellence, with the character of a Saint? In reality, I think that is what the verse is really saying. After meditating on it for a while, I concluded the key takeaway is that you, whoever you are, are in a race; that means it has a beginning, and whether you like it or not, it has an end and our God is more concerned with how you run it than if come in first or last or in the middle. He just wants you to run to best of your “given” ability while loving thy neighbor and working as if you were working for Him. So in the office or the warehouse or the production floor, how do we harness the competitive nature of so many of our employee and direct it, in a health way, into productivity? Let’s take a look at a few principals that we believe will make a difference.
Principle 1: Create the Competition
I walked through a manufacturing company the other day as I was preparing to give a presentation on the company’s 401(k). I saw pictures on a big bulletin board for “Outstanding Employees”. Displayed here were accolades for their “Employee of the Month”, an award for the employee who caught a mistake in shipping, another award for an employee that refined a process and made it more efficient. Another company that we work with also highlights an accomplished employee every month and then chooses an “Employee of the Year” who gets a trip to Disney World! These companies created the competition to strategically benefit the employees and the company. This is a brilliant way to motivate and harness the competitive drive in your employees, BUT there are a couple of things that are must-haves in this principle.
- The rules must clear and definitive: the employees must understand how you win and the variable must be trackable. If this area is vague, you risk your employees accusing the company of playing favorites. Remember this isn’t a popularity contest. The winner shouldn’t be the person you like the best but instead, the person who meets the quantifiable goals you set forth at the beginning of the competition.
- Incentives must be appropriate for the effort required. If you want employees to refine a process that will ultimately save the company thousands of dollars per day and you give them a keychain and pat on the back as a reward, you should expect their effort in finding that solution to be worth about as much as your keychain. I’m not saying buy them a new car, but know your workforce and choose an incentive that will be meaningful and big enough for them to want to compete.
Principle 2: Build Team Competition
I know this one will not work with every company, but when possible organize all of the teams within your company to compete together. Collaboration is big desire for your millennials, but I think all ages enjoy a good strategy session on how to overcome the competition. Note: When you do this you should be very observant. In this process you will watch your leaders emerge. Watch how some people have the ability to align interest and influence their team to moving as one unit. This can be very helpful in raising up management.
Principle 3: Adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy for Unsportsmanship
I don’t watch a ton of sports but I was at a minor league baseball game in Birmingham recently and one of our home team players was ejected because he took off his helmet and slammed it on the ground. I questioned the decision and someone I was with informed me that the rule was “no tolerance because the act was dangerous and trashy”. If you are going to harness healthy competition, the standard of excellence and sportsmanship can never be in question. If you cheat, you’re done. If you lie, you’re done. If you sabotage someone, you’re done. Zero tolerance and swift consequences are necessary, but so are swift praise and good rewards.
Competition can be a great driver but the truth is you, your team, and your company have to know why it’s worth winning. The principles above are important for the process but don’t forget to show employees why you’re competing in the first place. What difference are you trying to make in the company or even in the community? You have to show people that the race is worth running and then you can guide them through competition to make a difference.
Caleb Bagwell/Employee Education Specialist
John Maxwell Certified Leadership Coach
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
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