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How Not To Run A Company Contest

Aren’t you sick of everyone telling you the right way to do things? 

These days it seems everyone’s an expert on everything. We’ve all got the hottest takes on what to do, how to do it, and why our way is better than everyone else’s. 

Well not us. 

Instead, we’re going to tell you exactly how you shouldn’t do things. 

Because something we’ve realized is that there are a lot of bad ways to run a company contest. 

In a picture perfect world, a company contest is something that increases employee engagement. It’s an opportunity to elevate employee performance, boost morale, and deepen your employees’ sense of purpose and fulfillment in their jobs. 

Didn’t realize a simple contest could do all that? You’re not alone. In fact, plenty of employers get so focused on the benefits of increased performance—and they get so focused on those dollar signs that they hastily throw together bad contests that miss the mark. 

And with that in mind, we wanted to show you what a bad, sloppy employee contest looks like. 

And to be clear: don’t do any of these things. Your employees will thank you. 

Keep It Very Vague

A great way to plunge an employee contest into chaos is to keep the terms as undefined as possible. Maybe you just tell your employees to hit a benchmark like “boost productivity by 100%” or “see who can increase their output the most this week.” 

The reason these are such useless goals is because they’re a) difficult to quantify and b) even harder to measure. 

What a good employee competition might choose to do is rather give employees measurable KPIs by which they can compete. KPIs, for the uninitiated, are job-specific goals and metrics to use against performance—in other words, tangible ways to measure an employee’s performance. 

By linking KPIs to company contests, you’re giving your employees measurable ways to improve their performance, work toward specific goals, and analyze their performance for future improvement. 

When contests are vague (and more broadly, when our goals are hard to measure), it’s hard to understand the larger context to why it matters. When we link them to performance indicators, contests become an opportunity to improve our skills as employees. 

Give Every Department The Same Metrics

If you’re running a company-wide contest, how much more confusing you could make it if you gave every department the same goals to accomplish? You can’t expect accounting to increase their sales numbers! 

Rather, company-wide contests can benefit from more team-oriented contests. What are weekly goals by which that team can measure success? Are there ways that you can combine departments? Or maybe, in the spirit of KPIs, there are ways in which you can find different goals and metrics for each team to abide by that are ultimately equal. 

When you give teams measurable goals for their specific roles, you also give underperforming employees an opportunity to learn and benefit from their higher-performing colleagues. 

Above all, if you set one universal standard for everyone to live by, your employees will feel overwhelmed, and will probably come out of the gate disengaged.

Pit Employees Against Each Other

Jeffrey Summers, a Restaurant & Hospitality Business Consultant, wrote a piece for LinkedIn criticizing bad company contests—and we’re totally here for it! Something we like to distinguish in the world of gamification and contests is the difference between competition and healthy competition. 

Summers says it pretty plainly, and we agree: “pitting one employee against another can undermine the goals of collaboration and teamwork.” 

That’s certainly not healthy competition, and to Summers’ point, it’s a great way to lower morale and employee engagement. 

Rather, if you’re looking to run a company contest the right way, make competition healthy. It’s not simply about winners and losers, it’s about reaching new heights as both an individual and an organization. 

One way this can look is to have employees competing against their own “PRs” as it were. Rather than competing with each other, they’re trying to out-do themselves on a week-to-week basis. Now the focus is on how we can all do better, not how we can best each other. 

Punish The Losers

There are generally two types of leaders: those who inspire by fear, and those who inspire by hope. As a general rule, we much prefer the latter. 

If you want to induce anxiety amongst your employees, then we suggest not rewarding good behavior, but punishing those who finish at the bottom. 

As Eli Broad shares over on the Monster blog, fear isn’t just a bad way to motivate employees, it’s straight up disrespectful to them. 

Instead, Broad suggests, we should be allowing space for our employees to fail: “If you let your employees fail without punishment, you’ll win their loyalty, their hardest effort, and their willingness to take risks with you. No one will resort to finger-pointing or cover-ups.”

A good employee competition doesn’t just produce winners and losers. It allows struggling employees to see what great looks like, learn from their mistakes, and improve the next day, week, and quarter on. 

Don’t Give Out An Award/Reward

Although, that’s not all to say there isn’t room for a good reward now and then. If you’re in the running for a “worst employee contests” award, then our best advice is to not reward anyone for their efforts. 

The truth is inherent in who we are as humans: it’s nice to be recognized for a job well done. And if you have a group of high-achieving employees who don’t feel like their efforts are being recognized, you can guess that it’s not going to be long before they take their talents elsewhere.

And as the folks at Adecco point out, it’s more than just giving one person one great reward—it’s about recognizing and rewarding as many folks as possible: “For a longer-term and wider impact, determine specific criteria and reward everyone who meets them. Publicize each accomplishment and acknowledge each achiever. As long as the criteria are meaningful – the more winners the better!”