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How to Promote Healthy Competition and More Of Your Questions Answered

It all depends on how you present it.

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How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting for Lord Of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated in some way, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive consequences of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out and highlighting low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

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We want to lay off a sales associate, but we’ve never done it before. If we are to give them “a month’s pay,” does that mean their base pay, or do we factor in their average commission earnings as well?”

Suzanne Devries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions, says that legally, you’re required to give them only the vacation, sick and personal days they have accrued, although she recommends that you base your decision on how valuable an asset this person has been to your organization, and how long they have been with you. “If it’s a long time and they have been loyal, you should definitely consider a certain amount of days per year. Second, make sure you have documentation that states why you are having layoffs.” She also advises you do an exit interview and have the person sign documentation stating that they understand why “they are part of a force reduction.” An important thing to keep in mind is how other staff will view this. They will want to know that they will be treated fairly even when times are tough.

I keep hearing contradictory advice: Set goals or don’t set them. What’s your take?

There are three main arguments against setting goals: One, that they can lead people to focus on the wrong things (by, for example, becoming too aggressive in chasing sales targets) or cut ethical corners; two, that they become demotivating when it becomes clear they can’t be reached; and three, that it’s healthier to live your life focused on the present. The secret to smart goal setting, then, is to do it in a way that addresses these problem areas. That means:

1. Set challenging goals, but don’t make a big deal of it if someone falls short.
2. Structure goals that focus on behaviors, so your people are learning and improving, rather than wildly chasing a financial goal.
3. Be specific. Setting vague goals can produce higher rates of success with motivated staff, but if your employees are normal human beings, being specific will prevent procrastination.
4. Make the first couple of milestones easy so that people can build momentum toward the major goal. Progress is a huge motivator.
5. And finally, don’t make goals a death march; have fun trying to accomplish them.

I’d like to hire a trainer, but I’m worried about the return on investment. How can I be sure it will be worth it?

To really get your money’s worth, you need to focus on two things: 1.  Hard skills. Overinvest in training that helps to increase ability, rather than motivation. Focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills. It could be when to pause in a presentation, how many features to stress, or phone manner tips. Break tasks into discreet actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. 2. And this is just as important: Follow up. Bring in a trainer, but only if you yourself are willing to buy into their lessons and do ongoing training and reviews.

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