I remember when all the talk was about whether competitive sports were a good thing in schools. One side of the argument talked about the need for children to be taught to be competitive and to have a winning spirit. The counter argument was that it was unfair on less able students and it would be demoralising if they kept losing. I don’t pretend to know the answer, but as a parent, I have experienced both sides of that argument. I remember the confused look on my daughter’s face when in primary school she crossed the line in the 60-metre race ahead of the other children (we could say she won) and got no recognition for it, but I also remember when a few years before, she had cried at the thought of having to race when she wasn’t so fast.
This made me think about how best to channel a competitive spirit. When we think about people being competitive, we tend to think about sports where there is a winner and therefore a loser. We see it as a positive experience and a negative experience, good and bad, Ying and Yang. But does there have to be negative bi-product of competitiveness, does there have to be a loser?
A person’s competitiveness in a workplace can take many forms, there are the traditional win/lose scenarios such as two people both interviewing for a job or a salesman winning a pitch. But others can be more about the desire to push yourself, the desire to grow, to develop, to become the best version of yourself that you can be. This competitiveness is an internal one, not one that is achieved at the expense of others.
When I meet new joiners at Burrows, we sit and talk about the vision for the business and how the agency is changing to stay ahead of the innovation curve. We talk about culture and values and how my role is to create an environment that nurtures talent. I end up by making them three promises, the same three promises I made to the staff when I took over as Managing Director.
1. You will work hard. I explain that this is the way I was brought up and this is how I believe you get on in life.
2. You will have fun. I explain that I can’t guarantee that they will have fun everyday but that over a period of a few days or a week they should have fun at Burrows. I use the over-worked quote of ‘people working to live, not living to work’ and we talk about my passion to drive more flexibility at work to help get the work-life balance right. I do also say that if they don’t like the work they do, the people they do it with and the place they do it in - they are probably in the wrong job!
3. You will develop. I explain that over a 12-month period I want them to be able to look back and see that they have grown, and they have developed as people. This development may be through working with new software, on new projects or with new clients. I go on to talk about me wanting them to develop so much that they could get a job anywhere they want to. When they look puzzled, I explain that it is my job to build an environment that they enjoy so much that they won’t want to work anywhere else.
It is this third point of growth and development that is the internal competitiveness that I mention above. It’s not trying to be better than someone else, it’s about being the best you can be. To have a growth mindset and to relish challenges. To see a challenge as a catalyst for growth, a way to step out of the comfort zone.
Burrows is going through massive changes driven by technology, our industry, our clients and my leadership team. As the shape of the business changes we need people to challenge themselves to change with the business and to let their internal competitiveness drive them to be the best version of themselves that they can be.