Saturday, 25 April 2015

Competition ~ Not a “Necessary Evil”

As a rookie mechanical engineer, Radhika enjoyed every minute of her two-year MBA programme. The only flaw was the apparently relentless competition in the class full of bright managers-to-be. Five years later and working as a Senior Manager in a large and dynamic engineering firm, she realises the situation is far worse – stress due to peer group comparisons is on the rise and is affecting productivity.

Competition is frequently treated as a necessary evil. Sometimes, the approach swings to the other extreme, with a highly aggressive approach with one’s peers.

Healthy handling of competition - need for acquiring this “Life skill”: 
Usual approaches towards competition can have the following consequences:  
  • Insecurity-driven choices, leading to low job satisfaction
  • Low team spirit, decreased co-operation
  • Low individual and group productivity due to the above
  • Stress with its consequent psychological and physical ailments
  • High turnover of skilled manpower
How can we then improve things?

Running in the “rat race” without becoming a rat:

Experts in holistic living say that competition is unnecessary and wasteful. The following are four useful concepts:
  • Recognize your uniqueness
Competition presupposes sameness of people whereas in reality, every inhabitant of this planet is unique. One needs to ask: “What is it that makes me refreshingly different from
others?” The answer to this question can then be used as a tool in one’s work, for useful self-differentiation. Tools such as the Johari window, the SWOT (Strength- Weakness- Opportunity- Threat) analysis and mindful journal writing are of help in discovering one’s unique traits, skills and talents.  The focus thus shifts from “Being a part of a herd and hence competing with others” mentality to “Effectively using one’s unique strengths”.
  • Re-assess your goals in the light of the above
It is critical to periodically re-assess one’s goals, in the light of one’s strengths. Else, one may persist in working along avenues that yield sub-optimal results – not because one is not working hard enough but because the task is not aligned with one’s own inclinations and abilities.

For example, a very senior executive working with a nationalised bank has for long nursed dreams of becoming the chairman of the bank. He is also aware that he is very high on technical skills, such as economic analysis and forecasting, but not equally strong at “people skills”. This awareness, coupled with the realization of the duties entailed by the post of chairman, might make him reconsider his goal. Would he then be better placed elsewhere, say, as a special advisor to an institution like the World Bank, where his strong analytical
skills and knowledge of macro-economics would make him an invaluable asset? This analysis might lead to mutually satisfying outcomes for the nationalised bank, the World Bank, and the senior executive. The stress that accompanies the “compete and fight for it” syndrome vanishes, as does the frustration and subsequent lowering of morale that might have emerged if the executive had persisted in working towards the chairman’s post and not succeeded.
  • Focus on efforts alone
Competition sometimes arises from a misguided sense of purpose, a fear-propelled need to constantly “look over one’s shoulder” to see what the others are doing. It helps to realize that the only thing one can truly control is one’s own efforts – not the environment, one’s colleagues or bosses, or the state of the economy. Hence one could:

a) Plan one’s desired outcome after carefully considering possible external variables.
b) Next, focus exclusively on one’s efforts .
One asks, “Am I doing the very best that I can?” Thus competing with others gives way to competing with oneself; the challenge is to stretch one’s intellectual, emotional and other capacities to do full justice to the task on hand, dynamic and unpredictable external circumstances notwithstanding.
  • Keep the “Big picture” in mind
It helps to place the seemingly all-important presentation, project or promotion against the backdrop of life. Taking a long-term perspective before zooming into the short-term details helps to fix appropriate priorities. This weeds out unnecessary competition and the misleading “do or die” attitude that sometimes leads executives to unproductive choices.

For example, a young sales manager may be tempted to inflate his sales figures in order to go one-up on his colleague. But an understanding of the price of such an approach, legally and ethically, might help him choose more appropriate methods for bolstering sales. In the latter approach, competition becomes irrelevant; focus shifts to “Does this add up to the person I am / want to be?”

To conclude:
Competing against others, while offering the same skills as others are offering, is a choice with limited application. Other choices include complementing skills and talents (win-win versus win-lose), and constantly competing with oneself, to give the best of oneself to the task on hand. The intelligent manager may well consider stocking his basket of skills with all the above choices, to be used judiciously, as circumstances demand.

Written by: Piya Mukherjee, Director – VES Leadership Academy and Research Centre, Corporate Trainer and Life Skills Coach.

Piya Mukherjee, MMS-Fin from NMIMS, started a career in investment banking but moved, after a few years, to corporate training and teaching MBA students. For close to 18 years now, she has been working in the areas of business ethics, human values, Vedanta, life-skills and cross-cultural sensitization, with b-schools such as JBIMS, SIMSR, SP Jain (Dubai and Singapore), NMIMS and VESIMSR.
She is the founder-Director of VES Leadership Academy and Research Centre (VESLARC) since 2010.Her corporate training clients include diverse organizations such as L&T, TCS, RBI, Taj Hotels, Trident Hotels and BPCL. A contributor to the Speaking Tree supplement to the Times of India, Piya is deeply passionate about sharing everyday tips that help us apply Vedantic principles in our lives. In this article, recently carried by Business Line newspaper, she debunks the myth that competition with others is a necessary evil in our lives. Instead, she says, focus on discovering your own uniqueness and polishing that, for productivity, success and joy.

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