Has competitiveness become an old dog’s trait?

by Nicola Middlemiss15 Apr 2015
Once widely regarded as a valuable business asset, the real worth of competitiveness is being called into question by one leading entrepreneur who says it can actually do organisations – and individuals – more harm than good.

“I love business. I think the potential for business to solve the problems we face is immense and limitless,” says Margaret Heffernan, Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Bath's School of Management and a Visiting Professor at Simmons College School of Management. “So I get really upset when we blow it.”

According to Heffernan – who is also the author of The Naked Truth: A Working Woman’s Manifesto about Business and What Really Matters – it’s a tendency towards competitiveness that is damaging both organisations and their employees.

“We’ve over-egged the competitive issue and hugely under-egged the building of social capital,” she asserts. “Most people are competitive and what we don’t need to do in business is to ratchet that up.”

Internationally acclaimed Heffernan insists that a competitive culture often backfires – leading to a series of harmful side effects including increased stress, rising levels of corporate fraud, ethics breeches, elevated business risk, and an absence of teamwork.

One of the most damaging aspects of competition, Heffernan says, is that it undermines helpfulness – which research shows improves overall performance.

So – it’s time to teach an old dog new tricks. Forget competitiveness between employees, says Heffernan, HR managers need to foster helpfulness, inclusion and social connection instead.

But which camp does your business fall into – collaborators or competitors?  Heffernan shared nine characteristics of organisations that demonstrate a positive culture of collaboration:
  1. They’re flat organisations – leaders are leaders because others choose to follow them.
  2. They are noisy with debate – employees aren’t afraid to share the ideas and opinions.
  3. Mistakes are seen as learnings – rather than shameful errors that could damage their reputation.
  4. Intense listening and questions occurs – employees are switched on, discussions are developed and ideas generated.
  5. Every decision is seen as a “hypothesis” – it will evolve, without judgment, as new information is learned.
  6. They are fluid and loose organisations – they liberate talent across the company, rather than restricting it.
  7. Leaders get employees to work together – even across silos, in order to build social capital.
  8. There’s an understanding that everyone needs each other – everyone’s talent may be different but it’s valuable to the team and won’t be wasted.
  9. One for all and all for one – they believe no one wins unless everybody wins.


Most Read