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3 reasons why competitive employees are good for business

July 25, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Ruder Finn, Inc.

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you deal with a competitive colleague? is written by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

I recently read an article that suggested we are all responsible for the energy that we bring into our organization. We can be a source of inspiration or we can be a drain — sometimes unknowingly bringing negativity into the business. Competition internally can be the ultimate drain — it can suck energy out, fuel unproductive and unnecessary rivalries, and force employees to drive good for themselves rather than good for the entire organization. It can be ugly. But when channeled correctly, one’s competitive nature can actually help spur innovation, creativity and growth. Here are three key ways leaders can squash the negative sentiment that can come with internal competition and create a productive work environment for all:

Refocus the energy
Use the competitive forces to compete with external headwinds. Channel the “challenger” mentality and turn internal competition into external competition. Task your most competitive employees with surveying the landscape, benchmarking against strong competitors, and identifying gaps within the organization. Ask them to help develop programs and opportunities that create a stronger, better, and faster organization for the future.

Provide ownership, reward and recognition
Over the years I’ve learned that competitive colleagues may be combative, but they tend to be ambitious and highly engaged. Give them a creative outlet, a personal project that matches the individual’s skillsets, and is an assignment that they can independently manage and grow. Harness the desire to do something new and different by encouraging them to stretch their personal abilities in a way that’s productive for both them and the broader organization. Give them the chance to earn recognition, and reward them accordingly.

Build a community
Get competitive colleagues engaged in mentoring instead of fueling jealousy. We all can learn from each other and mentoring is a great way to encourage employees to exchange ideas and support each other for those that may not interact otherwise. In sync with today’s values, people want to be part of a community that is centered around a common goal. Give people the chance to create and own the team building associated with a vision and aspiration. Success of companies today is based on the collaboration and team spirit that is rooted deep within organizations, allowing people to come together and produce results that would not be achievable on an individual basis.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you deal with a competitive colleague?

How to keep your cool with a competitive colleague by Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JPMorgan Chase.