DEPENDING ON YOUR INDUSTRY, a bit of competition could be just what your business needs. However, there is a major difference between good competition and bad competition. The easiest way to differentiate between the two is to simply say that one is productive, and the other is debilitatingly counter-productive. Often, the competitive “Alphas” bully the other people involved because they crave that constant desire to feel like they are the best in the room, and let’s face it—it feels good to be the best, but if you’re a manager of several employees and only a few of them are Alphas, the others (Non-Alphas) may feel threatened by the Alphas and shut down. And you know what? No matter how powerful your Alphas are, they can’t pull the resistant weight of the others who now don’t care about anything but saving face and defending themselves against the Alphas. The result: not a lot of work is getting done, and your productivity reports will show it.
I suggest talking to the Alphas individually and saying something like, “All right, look. You are performing extremely well, but this group, division, office, whatever, is a team. You are good, but you’re not as good as you could be if the others didn’t hate you for being aggressive toward them. And quite frankly, you would be a lot more productive than you currently are if you would refocus your competitive nature outward, toward the industry, instead of inward, toward your fellow employees.” The Alphas won’t feel attacked because you stated that you admit that they are outstanding performers, and you have delivered your message that you need them to be team players.
Something else that you can do, as a manager, is to ensure that you don’t foster a work environment that rewards, in any way, intra-office competition. If you run a sales division, do “top seller” prizes, but keep the ongoing tally private. Announce only who the winner was at the end of the competition. Even if it wasn’t a photo finish, say that it was. This way, while the competition is going on, people won’t worry about what their fellow employees are doing; instead, they will be inwardly focused to simply do the best they can. The Non-Alphas won’t be threatened by the Alphas’ in-your-face attitude, and the Alphas will have their beloved competition.
* * *
What’s that you say? You have two people who work great alone but refuse to work together because they hate each other, and you think you might want to fire them? NO! Well, not right away at least. There are a few managerial tactics you can try with which I have had success in the past. Sometimes, when two Alphas have to work closely together, it doesn’t go well because they are in constant competition with one another, instead of the task or goal at hand. We see this very often in sales or marketing firms. The salesmen want to have the highest numbers and the junior marketing execs want to be the most creative…first.
With such intense competition and animosity going on behind the scenes, how can anything get done? The short answer: it can’t. And you can’t choose one of them to be the boss of the other because the other one will shut down and say something to themselves like, “Well if he’s the best, then why do I even try?” A secret reality in business is that Alphas perform so well because they are extremely emotionally-driven people. Their emotions are so strong and they crave to be the best so badly that they will literally do anything to win. As such, when rejected, they almost always shut down. Like many other life scenarios, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
So what is the solution? How do I make them work together? The answer is laughably simple: give them a common goal. Seriously. They already have a common desire (to be better than everyone else, but especially each other), so force them to rely on each other to be successful. If they are your two very best junior marketing executives, assign one the slogan, and the other the graphic; but when they present, they have to do it together. Advise them, however, that if one fails to produce something of quality, the other fails for not helping them. Both of their names will be on the product and in order to be the best, they will just have to figure it out together. If you want to be really tricky, you can assign the one who you know is better at graphics, the slogan, and the one you know is better at slogans, the graphics. They won’t be able to avoid helping the other, because they want to be the best. The psychology behind it is that their “Alpha-ness” will kick in and they will care more about delivering a stellar product (since it will have their name on it) than they will care about competing with the other Alpha. Typically, somewhere along the way, they will realize all that they actually have in common and will develop, if not a friendship, at least a mutual respect for one another since in the past, the only thing they knew about the other was that they were a threat to keep them from being the best.
As a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that your division, office, team, or whatever, functions as a well-oiled machine. The higher-ups don’t care what kind of cohesion problems you are having echelons below their level; they have their own problems to worry about. All they care about is positive results and that you achieve said results legally (having two Alphas fight to the death does not qualify). Common goals have a proven track-record for success in practical applications. Look at it this way, even if you force two people who don’t work well together to work as a team, either one will immediately quit (which, technically, solves your dispute problem), or more likely, they will just think you’re a jerk for forcing them to work together, which is, in fact, a commonality in itself, and the first step to developing cohesion.