by | Jun 9, 1998 | Unity

“I’m about to have a contest between our workers to spur productivity. Any ideas?” – Harvey G.

Let the following story be a warning.

“We’re about to have some exciting competition,” said the manager of a steel plant in Ohio. “We have three eight-hour shifts and I’m going to issue this challenge. The shift that produces the most steel with the highest quality over the next thirty days will receive a substantial bonus for every worker.”

For the first few days, there was a lot of bantering between the workers as they changed shifts. “You just wait. We’re going to win this thing,” one night supervisor said to the incoming morning employees. It began as a friendly rivalry.

As time passed, however, what the manager thought was a great motivational device proved to be a disaster. Just a few days after the competition began, discord surfaced between the teams. For example, as one shift was about to leave the plant they would turn off the power so that the next group would have to re-fire the furnaces – losing precious time and producing less steel.

Workers in another shift, dumped foreign materials into the furnace that would lower the quality of the steel for the next team.

At the end of the month, management was stunned. There had been a decrease in output.

Internal competition rarely works. It pits worker against worker, resulting in lower morale, diminished production and friction in the organization. The lesson learned in that Ohio plant is one we all must discover sooner or later. We win through cooperation, not competition.

Neil Eskelin