Winning Isn't Just About Beating The Other Guy

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 1 June 2016

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Last week, our CEO, Allan Steinmetz, wrote a blog about moving from doing “good work” to doing “great work”. As I read his thoughts, it occurred to me that doing great work is all about a commitment to winning. But the problem is that there are different interpretations of what winning really means.

Now I have to admit that I hate to lose. I get upset when I lose a game of Words with Friends or an athletic competition almost as much as when a competing company has higher growth, better earnings, and lower turnover. But winning is not really about beating the other guy. Last weekend, I watched our 5- year- old grandson play tee ball and observed that they don’t keep score, don’t count outs, and make sure all of the kids get on base. My first reaction, along with many of the other grandparents is that the coaches are really not teaching these kids about the real world. In the real world, someone wins and someone loses. But then it hit me that the coaches were trying to teach the kids to improve their skills in hitting and catching and were less concerned about whether they beat another team or not. So this led me to two thoughts regarding the true meaning of winning

First of all, winning is not about whether or not you beat the other guy, but rather about doing great work and accomplishing your goals and objectives and delivering on your promises. If your competitor has employee engagement scores of 20% and you have scores of 25%, have you really won? Sure you’re better than the competitor, but you’re still a far cry from having an engaged and inspired workforce that drives exceptional customer experiences. Or if a competitor has a gross margin of 1% and you have 2%, even though your goal and objective is 10%, have you really won? A commitment to winning is a commitment to doing great work and continuing to improve and deliver on your promises. 

Secondly, how an organization does things is as important as what they do. I have never come across an organization that doesn’t have some form of stated values. Granted, some do a better job than others at communicating them, but these values define the desired behavior of the organization in accomplishing their goals and objectives, delivering on their strategy, and achieving their vision. So if an organization accomplishes their goals with a total disregard for the values they have espoused and stand for, have they really won?

I recall from my experience at HP that the culture was defined with a drive to win, but with integrity.  When I did a quick poll with employees asking about the reality of this duality, I often heard them say that as long as you meet your goals, nobody cares how you do it. In other words, the end justifies the means. This clearly goes against the defined culture. If that type of mentality is acceptable, my advice would be to remove integrity from the values. Now to be clear, I’m not advocating for any particular value, notwithstanding the type of culture I want to be associated with. I’m simply saying that if an organization articulates values that drive behaviors, either make sure they align with the definition of winning or remove them and find the actual values that they do honor.

I am certainly not intending to understate the inherent competitive spirit of human beings or the emotional feeling that comes from performing at a level that exceeds your competitors. And in fact, professional athletes are rewarded and recognized for a win, regardless of how they won or if they won by simply performing less poorly than their competitor. But for organizations to truly win, the focus should be on performing GREAT work and be focused more on delivering on their own strategy and vision, within the framework of their own values, than simply doing better than everyone else.

So how do you define winning in your organization? We would love to hear your thoughts.