Competition is Organic
One of the key ingredients in developing a performance improvement or continuous improvement culture on your team or group is tapping into our natural competitive nature.
Harnessing those competitive behaviors that are part of our make up as humans will ensure that improvement on your team or group will be “organic” in nature.
What do I mean by organic? Organic in the sense that as a natural tendency, competition is something that we all respond to almost without thinking about it. Contrast this to all the programs you have witnessed that struggled with implementation because they lack that “organic” component and you get the idea.
I was chatting with a colleague the other day and we were laughing about the “fun” around various software implementations. Now don’t get me wrong any software can be a powerful tool but all the stories that come out of implementation are almost universally painful. Why? Because often that implementation misses the human components and thus the struggle.
The Lesson of the Potato
When I was a teen there was a potato farm across the road from where I lived. I was getting just old enough to know that I wanted more than my allowance provided and so decided to walk over to the farm to get a job picking potatoes. If you have ever picked potatoes, you know it is back breaking work and quite frankly not a lot of fun. There were no machines, these potatoes were all hand-picked. I had invited my friend to come with me to make some "easy" money lol!
I noticed quickly that even with ten kids picking potatoes not that many sacks got filled on any given afternoon. To say there was room for improvement was an understatement. Fortunately, my friend had the same view that I did and we decided to quantify our work and set targets. We were paid for each 50lb sack we filled and so most of the kids would decide to pick a couple of sacks per shift. I don't know why but that just wasn't a sufficient motivation for us so my friend and I decided to use a different measure - we would work by row.
Now these rows were quite long usually about a 1/4 mile in length. We did not want to finish a shift with a row undone so we decided to start each shift with a fresh row and set a target to do the entire row that shift. This typically worked out to around 10 sacks. So we would not distract each other we would pick rows side by side and see who could complete their row the quickest. We made it fun, by making it a competition.
We determined we would not leave that day until we had each done an entire row. Well it was dark when we got done, but we did it. The next day we worked at shortening the time to do a row and by the end of the week we set a new target of a row and a half for each shift and by Saturday afternoon we hit that target as well.
On the following Monday after school when we showed up, none of the other kids were there and we asked why? As it turned out my friend and I were picking as many sacks between us as all the other kids combined so the owner told us they were gone, we were getting a raise and the field was ours!
Metrics tap into our Human Nature!
You know the work did not get any less back breaking and I never went on to become a potato tycoon but I did learn a valuable lesson. The introduction of a little competition through the use of a metric (a row of potatoes) can not only increase performance but it makes the work fun! (We will discuss this “fun” concept in our next blog.) Behavior science has backed up this principle and it works in any setting from the field to the office. Performance Leadership – Think About It!