Thursday, 3 December 2009

Do your objectives have a competitive element?

Having a clear objective is absolutely the first step in achieving excellence. The first Immutable Law of Improving Performance is to know what excellence is, ie to have a SMART goal.

Whilst I am a big fan of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timed) goals, they leave out one important element: competition. Whether at an individual or team level, competitive goals are highly effective.

I’ve recently re-joined the gym after far too long without vigorous exercise. The exercise bike now needs to be tamed and my motivation kept high so that I don’t slink back to bad habits. Racing against my personal best (being competitive with myself) is effective and very tiring. I often see people with little notebooks or cards, noting down times and distances. Clearly, I’m not the only person who is pushed to exercise a little longer by matching or exceeding yesterday’s time.

Racing against myself, however, is nothing like as effective as racing against someone of a similar, or slightly higher, fitness level. Whether is an overt or covert race it is surprising how deep I can dig into my reserves. This is also very tiring.

League tables are great examples of motivating individuals in teams to do better. Whatever is being measured does have to be within their control and so is well suited to areas such as sales. Software systems that only closest team members to be viewed as a subset of the whole enable people to compete against each other at all levels.

League tables originated in sports and work well to keep everyone motivated and interested to improve. The same principle works in an organisational setting.

So have a look at your objectives. Is there something of a competitive nature in them? Could they be improved by adding a competitive element?

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  1. Competition for competition's sake alone is a different matter and can distract from the greater purpose.

    I think it all depends on having a relevant measure of performance.

    A pure measure of performance (such as time taken to cover a specified distance) is OK, but it only measures one aspect of the whole and isn't necessarily objective, so when taken alone can be demotivating in the longer term because it may not be completely relevant.

    For example when I go jogging I measure my trend performance over the period (month usually), including the other variables such as total distance, number of sprint bursts, elevation changes - as well as the number of times I didn't go.

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