The Problem With Creating “Healthy” Competition Among Your Staff

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Business and competition go hand-in-hand. There’s always someone pushing you to be bigger and better, a rival who you need to stay ahead of to stay relevant. Many entrepreneurs thrive in this competitive atmosphere, which is why they try to instil it in their companies.

A little friendly competition amongst staff is thought to be healthy for both the employees and the business, fuelling creativity and sales. But not everyone thrives in the stress of cut-throat competition—even small, ‘fun’ contests in the office can cause some of your people to recoil and feel insecure. Posing worker against worker can easily backfire, leading to low employee retention, unhealthy rivalry within teams, and a loss of company culture.

The success of your business relies on the people that run it day in and day out, which is why the environment you foster must accommodate to all types of personalities. Some people shine in tranquil, calm environments, while others tend to thrive in the thrill of tight deadlines and first-place finishes.

Here’s how to create healthy competition, motivate your employees and increase sales, while still keeping your culture intact.

1. Keep the stakes low

Not every competition has to be about sales and profits. Friendly, motivating competition can be easily achieved when it’s for a good cause. Instead of ranking them by the cash they bring, see who can achieve the most volunteer hours in the next quarter, or produces the least amount of eco-waste in the office. These kinds of contests give back to a greater cause, and show your staff that you care about the social impact your company leaves. And they cater to the personality of your competitive employees without alienating the more conflict-averse ones.

2. Don’t make it all about the money

After a job well done, people want to be rewarded. But recognition doesn’t have to be in the form of dollars and cents. Spa treatments and hockey tickets are great incentives that don’t create the jealousy that cheques do.

3. Crown more than one winner

In a competition with only one winner, your company could become the big loser. Instead, set an attainable goal that everyone can achieve, and encourage them to support one another. Here’s a good one: Give your team a goal of signing, say, 10 new clients in the next three months. If they achieve it, they’ll all receive an evenly-split percentage of the contracts, a bonus vacation day, or a fancy dinner. Or better still, let your team suggest a possible reward—that way you know exactly what will drive them to achieve it.

• • • • •

Competition in the workplace could be the factor that takes your business to the next level—or it could ruin your culture, and knock you down a notch. The only way to know whether it makes sense for you is to understand your employees. Meet with each of them to see if they feel excited or discouraged by office contests, and solicit suggestions on how to make the playing field more fair and inclusive.

Remember: There’s no point in rewarding one person if it only makes everyone else jealous.

Mandy Gilbert is the Founder of the recruitment firm Creative Niche, and Co-Founder of RED Academy, a technology and design school that specializes in preparing professionals for Canada’s in-demand technology roles.

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