Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC) Ep 8: Winning with a Competitive/Collaborative Culture

ATC is proud to partner with Cendea to present the series, “Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC)”. This blog series addresses the questions and gives insight to the art of finding the RIGHT tech leader to hire at the director level and above. Thank you to our experts for sharing their knowledge with the tech community.

There are numerous platitudes out there about competition.  Thousands of breakroom posters have boasted them for years.  From my career experiences, very little is more unifying than being focused on beating the competition within an industry.  Pride is often reflected on companies’ websites, business cards, and other marketing collateral material.  Phrases such as “the global leader”, America’s best”, “the best name in (fill in the blank)” adorn ad campaigns.  Since one of our basic human motivations is to know that we belong, being a part of a winning team elevates everyone’s game.  A winning culture is a natural derivative.

As I’ve frequently written, I’m blessed to have been a part of two awesome companies; FedEx and Pulte Homes.  When we were setting the standards for a new industry we created at Federal Express, UPS was nipping at our heels at every turn.  To preempt their entry into the overnight express market, we trimmed the delivery commitment window for our Priority One product by 90 minutes!!! (from noon to 10:30am).  Shrinking our window by almost 50% required a massive reengineering effort on our part in ground operations.  Route realignment, added vehicles (capital), added couriers (payroll) were all part of Operation Earlybird.  We accomplished this in six weeks!!!  We were nimble, creative, and motivated!  The culture was energized and unified by this common goal.  Our COO at the time, Jim Barksdale, proclaimed (with tongue firmly planted in cheek), “all we’re asking for is our God-given right to 100% market share!” Of course with his wink and nod, we knew that we couldn’t legally expect that, but the message was clear: “go get all you can, we’ll tell you when to slow down!”

When we won the Malcolm Baldrige Award in 1990, it provided a marketing validation and a new standard.  We had to live up to that new standard not only every day but every transaction!  It represented a competitive advantage over others in the industry.  If we ever got complacent with our laurels and awards, our competition was there to remind our customers of our failures.  I had then and still have now, an enormous amount of respect for our most formidable competitor (UPS).  They pushed us and made us better!

Competitive culture can be a motivating force.  It can also be destructive.  We have “internal” competition for recognition and promotion.  That can manifest itself in the traditional label of “politics.”  It can be destructive when people celebrate other people’s failures.  I am often in awe of people who can still congratulate a winner when it came at their expense.  Those congratulations represent organizational and personal maturity.  In that situation, a healthy corporate culture has been curated by a leader.

Healthy internal competition can be a good thing.  Sales contests have been around forever!  Rewarding divisions and districts for team achievements embed a strong sense of culture and alignment.  You can have fun with it as well.  Ask me about losing a contest to a team of employees that resulted in my management team (and me) having to get our heads shaved when they achieved their goal!  The whole day was videotaped and later played over the company’s daily news program for the entire world to see.  Other divisions wanted to implement similar competitive contests…which didn’t cost the company a dime but instead resulted in outstanding results.

Work can occasionally be drudgery.  Don’t be afraid to introduce some competitive fun.  Make it a game.  To play a game, you have to do three things:

  1. Know the rules
  2. Keep score
  3. Have a stake in the outcome

Coopetition has become a new dimension in the business arena.  Austin is perhaps better known for its collaborative culture than its competitive culture.  There are likely members of ATC (Austin Technology Council) that at first glance are competitive.  However, ATC has developed a culture of collaboration that elevates everyone’s game.  We are a better market for it.  Internally or externally, an “I win, you lose” competitive landscape can be destructive.  Competition can be healthy.  Be creative, and ensure it is a regular part of your Culture Kit!

Cendea has over 25 years of securing great talent for great opportunities.  Please feel free to call us at 512.219.6000. Wade Allen, President & CEO, x101, or Jim Bledsoe, Senior Partner, x121.