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Rivalries prove positive for employee motivation

New research suggests that having external criticism can renew efforts to improve performance as a way to prove outsiders wrong. The study could help firms improve the results of their sales incentive programs.

A healthy dose of competition can help employees and their companies overcome setbacks.

New research suggests that having external criticism can renew efforts to improve performance as a way to prove outsiders wrong. The study, which will be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, could help firms improve the results of their sales incentive programs.

"Downward performance spirals can be readily observed in every domain of human performance," co-author Jessica Salvatore of Amherst College, told Science Daily. "Our research shows that the 'us-versus-them' mindset isn't always a destructive force – sometimes it can be the key to re-motivating yourself and turning your performance around."

The powerful motivational effect of competition led to the adoption of gamification strategies within many incentive programs. However, the research shows that the source of criticism or encouragement could influence future performance. Participants in the study were divided into teams and asked to throw darts at a dartboard while blindfolded. Those who received criticism from a rival group were motivated to prove them wrong and often improved their performance. Similarly, when positive feedback came from a team member they also saw better results on the next round.

Gamification strategies gaining popularity
Business blog Startupsmart states that competition-based incentives are increasing in popularity among companies. These strategies include awarding individuals for accomplishing specific tasks and ranking their performance against other staff members. The goal is to provide a fun environment while motivating workers to achieve higher levels of skill. If done right, the incentive programs can increase company performance, but Destination CRM notes that many gamification initiatives fail to achieve their goals.

The source notes that many firms set unrealistic objectives for their staff, which can cause them to lose interest. Failing to plan appropriately and develop well defined goals for their staff could reduce the effect of the reward program. Ensuring that all employees know what business processes will bring success can help firms create significant improvements to performance. However, many executives simply look to what types of rewards will be offered without tying them to procedures.

"They jump instantly to points, badges and leaderboards without thinking through the design and end up motivating the wrong group of people to behave in ways that are probably not meeting the business objectives," Gartner research vice president Brian Burke said in a roundtable discussion.

Companies can work with incentive program specialists like Xceleration to create gamification initiatives that successfully develop long-term benefits for organizations. These firms have the knowledge to help companies incorporate competition and teamwork into their programs correctly.

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