Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creating Competition

I came across something the other day, something I am sure that many other managers have noticed and commented upon and written up and exploited: some people work better with healthy competition.


When I first started working at the bookstore, we had to try to sell memberships. It is not that they are hard sells, but they do cost money meaning a bit of an effort was needed to move the items.

My first Christmas season approached and our store manager decided to have a contest: the person who sells the most memberships within a set amount of time will receive a $100 gift certificate to anywhere. With that my friend and fellow newbie-cashier were off to the races!

There was no hope that I was going to win - my friend is the type of person who could talk a drowning man into a glass of water - but I had something to work for, something to grab at. Though I didn't win (second place with a $50 gift certificate was nice enough for me!), I still remember the contest and the motivation it inspired.

Just before I left permanently the memberships took a turn for the worse. Instead of them being used as something to be proud of, they were becoming something to dread. If your numbers fell below a certain level, you would be fired. I had always been happy with my numbers and excited to try the hard sell, but I grew to resent the you-must, negative reinforcement that was starting to cloud this practice.

Anyway, I had to come up with a way to get my student assistants interested in boring tasks, such as shelving, so that they would be more willing to give it the proper time and attention. This is why I started allowing them to use music devices (iPods, etc) while shelving, for example.

But the greatest challenge were the Search Requests - when a book is not where it should be, we have to search the likely spots it was miss-shelved. This is a process that takes time, concentration, and a bit of creativity. On an whim, I decided to create a "contest" - find a Search Request book and you get your name written on a poster for all to see. The person with the most found gets a prize at the end of the semester.

I did not anticipate the level of exciting response to all of this!! Two students in particular are begging me to give them all of the SRs that I have - they are in active competition with each other and are working hard to find these missing titles.

Big win! Some people must just respond well to the healthy competition! I'll have to wait to see where this goes, but I have to admit that I am overwhelmed at the success!!


  1. In my microeconomic textbook the author quoted another economist who had said that economics was little more than incentives! I think that's a great idea, provide them with an incentive to do good work for you. It seems that winning is also an incentive that can bring out the best (and unfortunately, sometimes the worst) in people.

  2. Well done, Heather. It's great to hear your managerial processes - am delighted with you the success of your SR competition.