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The role of competition in a social business

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The role of competition in a social business

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There can be a sense that competition is bad for a social business, and not without some justification.  It’s easy for most of us to imagine after all a scenario where heightened competition encourages individuals to look out purely for themselves, hoarding information in the hope that it will secure them the promotion or the pay-rise they believe they’re due.  This can even occur on a more base level if one believes their job is at risk, it seems rational for that employee to highlight the value their individual contributions bring to their employer.

All of which can ensure that competition gets a bit of a bad rap.  Does it have to be like that?  When you’re looking to create a social business, it will undoubtedly require a shift in focus away from the kind of behaviours that corporate culture has spent a century building up towards something a little more collaborative.  When attempting such a shift, there are various levers you can use to create an environment that encourages such behaviours (eight to be precise), but I want to focus on three here today, because these three look specifically at the issue of competition.

Lever #1 – Measurement

An obvious place to start is what it is that you measure in your organisation.  Many organisations measure individual contributions.  Key performance indicators are fed from job descriptions that tend to focus on what we each do as individuals.  If you wish to be collaborative however, this would be a good place to start, because it feeds everything else that comes from it.  To encourage collaboration, start measuring for it, and make those measurements important.

Lever #2 – Rewards

Pay and other rewards (and of course punishments) stem directly from what you measure.  You’re looking here to encourage the right kind of behaviours, and discourage the wrong sort.  I’ve written previously about pro-social benefits, whereby a percentage of your pay is social in the sense that you have to allocate it to someone else.  Research found that when a salesperson was given a bonus to spend on colleagues, his own performance grew by $52, compared to a meagre growth of $3 when he spent his bonus on himself.

Lever #3 – Information

The final lever is that of information.  To encourage collaborative behaviours, employees need frequent and regular feedback on what they’re doing well, and what they’re doing badly.  Whilst pay and other perks can do this nicely, it’s probable that a more frequent method of feedback will come through directly from other employees.  So you need to build a system that encourages this.  Enabling this employee to employee feedback rather than the traditional hierarchical appraisal system gives you a much richer idea of how well someone is working within the team.

All three of these levers can contain an element of competition within them, which when aimed in the right direction can encourage the right kind of behaviours rather than the wrong sort.  Competition doesn’t have to equate to Lord of the Flies style in-fighting, it just needs to be directed properly.

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