Forget Super Bowl Sunday: Five Reasons Competition Is Good For Workplace Culture

While this year's Super Bowl ads are leaning toward thecuteness factor, the game is all about the competition. Fromsports talk radio to trash talking reporters, winning predictions, potential stars and placing betsdrive our obsession with the game. Scores, statistics, pre-game tape reviews: teams strategize how to win and rally the fans behind them. And it works. One Seahawks fan is so confident in his team, he already has a tattoo declaring Seattle as Super Bowl champions. But come Monday morning, we're back to work. Which makes me wonder: where's this kind of loyalty in the workplace? Across 2012, much of exaqueo's workforce research showed a preference for paychecks over promotions. Has the fire in the belly gone out for most workers? Have we lost the passion that drives us to do the best we can in our jobs, rally behind our company missions and strive towards greater success? Maybe tattoos aren't the answer to employee engagement, but somewhere along the climb out of the recession, employees have become complacent--perhaps understandably so.  Finding the solution is as easy as placing a bet on your favorite team. Bring back the competition to your workplace culture. If 2014 is going to be a period of growth, energy and rebuilding for your team, your division or your company, here are five reasons competition is the answer. It's time for #SuperBowlMonday.

1) Tracking the score

Metrics motivate. There's no doubt about it. We gravitate towards the score during any football game, balancing the time left on the clock with the likelihood we can either hold on to the lead, or score quickly enough. As a Virginia Tech Hokies and Philadelphia Eagles fan, I understand this all too well. I can calculate the number of points and score options available to take the lead faster than A Beautiful Mind. Employees like to know where they stand--it's motivation to stay on top or knock someone off that pedestal.

Tip:get the competitive spirit going with simple--but very measurable--short-term project or initiative goals and track progress openly and regularly.

2) A visual contest

Everyone loves a contest--we can't peel our eyes from the television when a great game is on. Imagine translating that to the workplace. If there's something to watch, a healthy competition to follow, we're immediately engaged in helping our team win or cheering them on. When I worked at CEB, contests were the norm. We had daily phone messages challenging team members to quick wins (I won $100 in shoes once) and longer contests resulting in big-ticket trips. The Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas is gorgeous (in case you're wondering) and over ten years later, I still remember that trip.

Tip:Make competition come alive with whiteboards and wall charts. Use thermometers to publicly track progress and encourage teams to get creative with team names, charts and displays.

3) Rallying around the team

Autonomy may be freeing, but it also can be boring. Employees need feedback, energy and celebration--it's all part of feeling that belonging inherent in a strong workplace culture. Belonging means you have membership and that drives pride, loyalty and association. When I led the employer brand function at Marriott, I launched our Facebook careers page with an associate video contest. We got hundreds of submissions, selected a dozen finalists and used audience voting to declare a winner. Associates on property rallied behind their colleagues to make the videos and friends and family members helped drive voting. At the time, my colleagues were skeptical we'd hit even 10,000 fans. Today, the page has over 1 million.

Tip:Give employees at all levels a chance to get involved. Competition isn't just for the sales team. Everyone likes to win or be associated with a winning team.

4) See the standouts

Every year, the NFL Combine features more than 300 prospects. Scouts, coaches, agents and owners flock to the show of talent. There's no reliance on the season's record.  Everyone starts at zero. Watching top talent on display and under pressure to perform is an easy way to do comparison shopping. And it's the same in a company.  It may not be your managers running 40-yard dashes , but company competition is a great way to identify high-performers while they're actually performing. Sure, you care about who's performing steadily on a regular basis. But when things heat up and the pressure is on, who stands out?

Tip:Make it an open playing field--create competition where everyone begins at the same starting line, and has a chance to perform in front of the big boss.

5) Review the tape

After every game, where do you find a great coach? Reviewing the tape. Coaches look for clues to wins or losses and can more effectively track patterns over time. In a prior HR leadership role I held, our team gathered yearly for talent reviews. We tracked specific data beyond performance like flight risk and propensity for leadership. We compared talent and looked for ways to level the playing field or fill a skills gap. One-on-one discussions with an employee are great, but to get a true sense for performance, you have to look at the entire landscape.

Tip:Debrief every competition or contest. Assess what defined the winners, but also look for surprising performances (good and bad along the way). Give feedback to "players" and let them know when they'll be back on the field.

Whether Sunday excites you for the game or the ads, chances are you'll be watching. Competition brings everyone together.  Forget Sunday. How about #SuperBowlMonday? Now, go get your company game on.

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