Competition exists anywhere people interact: sports, politics, the media and even the workplace. A healthy sense of competition can be a good thing. When recognition and reward rely on a worker’s ability to outpace peers, many respond with an instinctual urge to work harder. This moderated sense of rivalry fuels productivity in the modern workplace by inspiring higher levels of performance and accountability.
But while competition can certainly increase productivity, it can also damage it. In the modern corporate world, definitions of competition are evolving — and for good reason.
How to Avoid Competing to Fail
When organizations pit workers directly against each other or reduce a worker’s performance to simple metrics, productivity will likely suffer. Workers tasked primarily with outperforming their co-workers may start to feel angry and resentful towards a job that might otherwise have felt rewarding and stimulating. This sort of hostile environment doesn’t inspire workers to do their best.
Direct competition produces black-and-white results — a winner and a loser. But critics suggest this reductive reasoning can stunt growth. Fostering too much or the wrong kind of competition can lower enthusiasm, kill productivity and cause stress.
By redefining traditional definitions of competition, companies can create environments of healthy motivation that inspire innovation and creativity.
What Is Productive Competition
Historically, extrinsic motivators like raises or public recognition drove competition in the workplace. But workers who focus solely on these external motivators tend to burn out faster and turn down opportunities for collaboration. Modern research suggests intrinsic motivators, like feelings of enjoyment and fulfillment, produce more stable results. Workers stay engaged longer and show more creativity.
When the competitive spirit comes from within, workers might associate aspects of work to games. Accomplishing goals, developing skills, improving processes — all these tasks become achievable and even enjoyable. This is beneficial to both workers and companies. Making competition enjoyable insights innovation. Researchers call this Game Theory.
Game Theory says: it’s not the opposition that drives people towards goals, but the relentless desire to improve and obtain new skills in the face of challenges. It’s not enough to just be better than the opponent. The process of developing tools to master the task is what inspires passion and hustle.
Take Uber as an example. The rivalry they rally against isn’t another ride-sharing company. It’s the question of how best to get their users to their destination in the most efficient and comfortable way possible. Or look at Google. Their competition is the challenge of providing users with the best, most accurate search results.
The Right Kind of Competition
Under Game Theory, you can transform work into a game in which you compete against yourself. This provides endless opportunities for self-betterment and evolution. When competition asks the question ‘how do I get better,’ instead of ‘how do I beat my coworker,” the result inspires forward-thinking and innovation.
When it comes to encouraging growth in the workplace, businesses should cultivate the right kind of competition — the kind that isn’t malicious or petty, but instead creative and cooperative.
Each organization is unique, but experts agree a company culture that incorporates thoughtful motivation will spur the best work from employees. Most find success in cultures that prioritize respect, courageous innovation and confidence-building through the mastering of goals.
How to Create Productive Competition
Many strategies exist to help you create productive competition in your workplace. Here are a few suggestions:
- Cultivate a teamwork attitude. Treating employees and colleagues as collaborative teammates working towards the same goal can prevent destructive feelings of extrinsic competition from spreading.
- Reward hard work as much as success. Praising thoughtfulness, hustle and innovation teaches your team to value the process of growth on par with its results.
- Prioritize creativity and self-reliance. Fostering creative control and free-thinking allows employees and colleagues to surprise you with new ideas.
- Re-evaluate goals to make them just a little bit harder each time. Creating achievable, but challenging, goals fuels desire and healthy competition.
- Emphasize ongoing learning. Resources such as TED Talks or popular leadership books can teach employees about ways to become more productive.
Celebrate the New Corporate Competition
Company-wide productivity gives your organization a leg up in the corporate world and generates better bottom lines. Fostering aggressive inter-employee competition can undermine the ideal flow of desire created from intrinsic motivation.
If you want your employees to strive for personal goals and improvements, prioritizing a thoughtful culture of productivity might be the way forward — and might just help you avoid the pitfalls of antiquated forms of corporate competition.