Reserve competition for your competitors


Dear Joan:
For the past 10 years I have worked in sales and have been successful because I've developed good relationships with my customers and the sales team.

For the past four years, I have been working for a manufacturing company in sales but I'm having a difficult time dealing with the philosophy of our sales manager. He believes that the best way to motivate the staff is to sow seeds of dissention between us. When we confronted him in a meeting he said that he believes that healthy competition keeps us motivated and working hard. We think this is counterproductive. Isn't the "enemy" our competition-not each other? It's tough enough dealing with the outside environment; we don't want to be fighting inside too. What do you think? 

I'm with you. The individuals on the team would probably do much better if their focus were on beating the competition instead of each other. Internal competition between individuals and between departments does all the wrong things: competition for resources, withholding help and information, opposing goals...all the things that will hurt the customer and can kill a company.

Many managers still think that setting up some "healthy competition" between peers will spark the drive to do better than the other guy. Unfortunately, not many people are motivated this way. 

Most people do better when they're in a supportive team. The pressures of the workplace are relentless, and in sales they increase when making your mortgage payment depends on a commission. Sales people spend a lot of time alone in the field, and dealing with rejection is tough enough, so when they come back to the office they need to feel supported. It's important to be able to congratulate each other's successes and support teammates when they need it. 

Another powerful component of motivation is having a shared goal. Imagine the dynamics of two differently structured sales contests. In group one, the sales manager would pit each sales person against the other for a prize. In the second group, the manager would have them work together. 

It's likely group one would steal leads from each other, withhold valuable market information, and hide how well they were doing. There would be winners and losers. Even the sales person who came in second place would be a loser. And because they wouldn't share information about successful tactics, the team members wouldn't learn much from the experience. 

In the second team, things would be much different. The sales manager would work with the team to come up with a team goal that would be challenging yet possible if everyone did their part. Progress toward the goal would be prominently posted and the team would meet regularly to discuss how they could help each other to do even better. They would have a vested interest in making sure each of the team members had all the help and information they needed. They would have a compelling reason to share customer information and marketing ideas. They would all be winners and so would the customers. 

These dynamics don't just occur in sales teams. Most companies are inadvertently set up in a way that creates destructive competition. If they are structured functionally--each with their own goals-- it's inevitable. People fight each other for limited promotions, departments fight each other for resources...and the customer is the loser. 

That's why progressive companies are moving toward a new way to structure and reward work groups. Rather than the traditional departmental configuration, they are now grouping people around a whole front-to-back process or product. The idea is to start with the customer and structure the organization to serve them, rather than organizing to suit the selfish efficiency needs of the organization. 

Your manager doesn't realize that these two things--structure and rewards--need to be in alignment before everyone wins. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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