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HR That Works

Strategies and Tools that Will Inspire Great HR Practices for Your Agency and Clients!


Don Phin Don Phin , 11/25/2013
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In his book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, (
Alfie Kohn stresses that competition in an organization can become destructive unless it results in a win/win outcome. But how can you compete when everybody has to win? Here are some positive suggestions for “friendly” competition:
    • Let everybody know the competition is friendly. Focus on effort, as well as results.
    • Keep it simple. If your competition is a chess match, most employees won’t be able to play. However everyone can get involved in a checkerboard game.
    • Offer random rewards to all competitors. For example, give every participant a ticket for a raffle to be conducted at the end of the contest — or you can hand out tickets as on-the-spot rewards.
    • Keep things moving. Limit your competitions to no more than 90 days. Anything longer will involve all        sorts of variables, such as market conditions, employee turnover, and the like. At the end of the competition throw a party for everyone.
    • Acknowledge achievement. The primary reward for winning should be praise, not financial reward.
    • Create cross-functional teams. For example, take one person from marketing, accounting, operations, etc., assign them to a single team, and then give each team a similar problem to solve. We’ve all seen training games in which a team is stranded on a desert island with a mirror, a hammer, and a box of matches as tools to help the group survive. Instead of competing in a fantasyland, focus on reality and gain real value from the exercise.
Without these rules, chances are that the competitors will refuse to share information, resentments will fester, and the losers will walk away in a huff. Winner-take-all competitions encourage unethical conduct. The victors often triumph at the expense of their fellow employees, destroying workplace morale in the process.

At the end of the competition, capture the lessons learned. What allowed some teams to achieve better results than others? What breakthroughs took place? What can team members teach others in the organization?