Competition exists all around us. You see it many different ways. As soon as the boarding group is called at the airport, people start to nudge forward, attempting to reach the front of the line, even though all groups will eventually leave the ground at the same time. Is this irrational? Maybe. But, it is how humans behave, so we should probably run with it at this point.

And, it is something to harness.

As a method of improving performance, competition is the one thing that can address both sides of the functional reserve by raising the actual and potential maximum of the individual, team, or organization. As we discussed earlier, actual performance will always improve faster than maximum performance, but there is no reason you can’t raise each at the same time. Managed competition allows performers to do just that.

Managed competition

The efficacy of using competition for training and development is that it prepares people for the real-life competition in their domain, where results are permanent. Healthy, collaborative, managed competition is a common tactic that pushes all members of a group to excel.

However, for a competitive method to improve performance, proper management is key. This requires standards and experts who know how to create competitive environments and ensure the right behaviors and outcomes are encouraged. It cannot be “win at any cost”, or else everyone is more concerned about beating the game instead of improving performance. Here are some of the key elements you must have to take advantage of this powerful tool:

  • Rules: the competition must be perceived as fair and not predisposed to a particular winner or conclusion.
  • Appropriate “weight” classes: group competitors into tiers of relative performance levels so that each has a realistic chance of winning (or losing).
  • Limited duration: set an ending for the competition, whether it’s based on time, score, accomplishment, or another objective resolution.
  • Definition of winning: everyone should understand how the victor is decided and how to periodically evaluate rankings.
  • Valued rewards: offer a prize that is worth winning; it doesn’t matter whether the motivating factors are intrinsic or extrinsic.
  • Referees: referees must be independent participants who ensure the competition is fair and rules are being followed, and who penalize those who disregard the rules.
  • Coaches: coaches are biased experts who help specific individuals adjust to competitors, changing situations, or the environment to improve their chances of winning. 
Everyone should have access to one.

Competition as a development methodology is highly effective but highly complex, with a great many moving parts that require agreement and coordination. Therefore, performers must involve many other people if they wish to concentrate on improving. So why not let the expert coaches manage it?

High performers need others to help them perform their best. Whether this is in the form of competitors, coaches, or dependable teammates, no one truly reaches the winner’s podium (and stays there) alone. High performers use managed competition to constantly reset their expectations and do more than they ever thought possible. Performance improvement and enhancement comes from time spent in the arena. Don’t miss your chances to spend as much time there as you possibly can.

Listen to this edition of the HighPer 7 podcast to learn more about how to up your potential and actual performance simultaneously.