Survival of the Fittest: How Technology is Increasing Workplace Competition

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Management professors Serguei Netessine and Valery Yakubovich wrote an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Darwinian Workplace.” In it, the authors illustrate how new technology is increasing competition amongst employees across various industries, and new data sets are providing companies with more and more information about their most productive and value-generating employees.

Using Performance Data to Target Top Performers

Performance Data and Workplace CompetitionImagine there are eight employees working at a high-end fashion retail shop in New York. Through new data gathering tools, a manager can determine at which times the business generates the most revenue on an average per customer basis. The figures can then be correlated with work schedules to determine which employees are the most effective at contributing to the revenue generation.

Over time, one can begin to see new patterns emerge that illustrate the most valuable and productive employees. However, data collection can also be effective at identifying individuals who are most effective at:

  • Operating at particular times with specific customer groups. This information is based on demographic data captured by company loyalty programs.
  • Working with specific types of products or merchandise.
  • Perhaps even identifying how the employees’ own attire is influencing their customers (Like selling more merchandise when they wear brown boots — no, really!)

Data Collection: Helpful for Employees and Companies Alike

This application of technology is not only helpful for the business from a resource management standpoint, but also for employees who can now select work shifts that coincide with when they’re most successful. As a result, employees will be able to generate higher commissions. The challenge with this model is that it can increase competition amongst employees to a point where the workplace environment is ruined. Let’s examine this idea more closely.

The Danger of Too Much Workplace Competition

If the workplace atmosphere shifts from cooperative to hostile as a result of heightened competition, there may be consequences that outweigh the intended benefits. These may include lower levels of morale, satisfaction, and teamwork. Consequently, there may be higher turnover and increased recruitment and employee management costs. In addition, the cut-throat work environment may be noticeable to customers, leading to lower overall sales.

Friendly Competition? Weighing the Pros and Cons of Employee Data Collection

This model is in no way ideal for all industries. However, it does hold significant merit when businesses are trying to motivate staff through friendly competition. In this case, companies are trying to help each party come out on top in the long run. The key is to strike a balance between leveraging data for informed decision-making and ensuring that the workplace’s culture is enhanced, not disrupted, through the implementation of this new strategy.

What do you think are some measures companies can take to ensure that the pursuit of productivity does not jeopardize employee morale, loyalty, and teamwork?

Head of People Operations