Building Motivation to CompetePeople differ in their views concerning the circumstances in which businesses benefit from promoting competition among employees. I don't want to tackle such a broad topic here, and so will restrict myself to noting what some recent research suggests would be most effective specifically in a company's Sales department.
Earlier this year, Stephen Garcia, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, and Avishalom Tor, a law professor at the University of Haifa, published a paper examining the relationship between the number of competitors a person is facing and that person's motivation to compete.1 A good summary of the paper appeared in the July 11 edition of The Economist.
Garcia and Tor report two findings of significance to businesses in which individual sales representatives are, to a greater or lesser degree, in competition with each other:
- After a certain number, which is quite low,2 the more competitors a person is facing, the lower that person's motivation to compete.
- The negative correlation between number of competitors and competitive motivation which Garcia and Tor have dubbed the "N-Effect" comes into play only when the people involved are in the habit of comparing their performance to that of others.3 I.e., it is in this context of social comparison that the number of competitors makes a difference; a small number of competitors is more conducive to comparison of one's own performance to that of others than is a large number of competitors.4
1 Stephen M. Garcia and Avishalom Tor, "The N-Effect: More Competitors, Less Competition," Psychological Science, Vol. 20, pp. 871-877.
2 Garcia and Tor note that the limits of the N-Effect remain to be studied and are likely to vary according to the exact type of competition in question. ("N poker-table competitors may well be perceived differently from N marathon runners.")
3 Garcia and Tor used the Gibbons-Buunk social comparison scale to measure their subjects' social comparison orientation.
4 Garcia and Tor note that "other mechanisms that await further study might well contribute to the N-Effect."