Perils of Competition

winning culture


I heard a thought provoking talk by Margaret Heffernan recently. She is a business thinker and advisor to CEO’s whose TED talk has had 2 million views. The topic was about the often unintended negative consequences of businesses and a country obsessed with competition and winning.

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:


  • “The only thing that matters is getting results.”
  • “I need to make a name for myself in the company. That doesn’t happen by helping someone else.”
  • “We use forced rankings for our performance reviews.”
  • “We have an employee of the month.”

Those all reflect how we create high performance and achieve our goals, right? From the research Heffernan has done and, quite honestly, from our own experiences, that is often not true. What are some of the real consequences of the thinking reflected in these statements? Let’s take a look:

When the only thing that matters is getting results, how you get those results can promote very bad behavior. Look at the cheating scandals at universities. Think about the decisions financial institutions made that led to the financial crisis. Think about some of the people you’ve known who will do anything to win. It’s not pretty.

When career success hinges on how I and I alone make a name for myself, I won’t share information or expertise. I will maximize my performance and in the process sub-optimize the performance of others.

Forced rankings promote mediocrity. If only a small percentage can ever be ‘superstars’ then it doesn’t really matter if I work really hard because I probably won’t join them. The odds are not in my favor. On top of that, if I become part of that group, the game becomes too costly for me if I fail.

By having any recognition system that only rewards one person or a very small number of people, like employee of the month, the vast majority of your people are demotivated. Again, if only one of us can win, the odds are that I won’t be one of them.

Heffernan suggests that promoting collaborative behavior will lead to far greater success. Her research shows that companies that have long-term success not only measure and reward results, but put an equal emphasis on how one got results. They have cultural norms that promote people spending time in conversation and congregation with each other. She told the story of one company that did not allow coffee mugs on desks. It was not because they didn’t like how coffee mugs looked or feared a spill. They wanted people to get away from their desks and congregate around the coffee maker so the would begin to have conversations with each other and share ideas about their work and where the company was going.

What’s the norm at your company — collaboration or competition?

Who’s Working 40 Hours?

40-Hour Work Week

WSJ reported recently that the 40-hour week is a thing of the past. Did you need the WSJ to tell you that? According to the report, 58% of U.S. managers reported working more than 40 hours a week. The only country to report a higher percentage of manager working more than 40-hours is our neighbor to the south, Mexico.

The article mentions the role of technology in this trend. It’s a double edge sword. While it allows us more flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere, it also prevents us from ever being able to completely disconnect. If we don’t get to those emails before we leave the office, we can do them after dinner or over the weekend. No need to wait until we’re in the office to review that presentation, we can download it on our phone.

A question this finding raises for me is, how are we spending our time? Have our jobs changed in such a way that more hours are needed or are we consumed by tasks that aren’t adding much value anyway?

For example, I think we’ve all spent endless hours emptying our inboxes of emails that we’ve been politely copied on so that we can ‘stay in the loop.’ Do we spend too much time composing texts or emails focused on interpersonal transactions that simply move the ball down the field a littler further or are we developing real work relationships that allow us to collaborate, innovate and create significant breakthroughs that really make a difference for our customers, our people or our organizations?

Strategy & Choice


The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. — @MichaelEPorter



I was recently having a conversation with someone about strategy. He noted that at the end of the day, strategy is simply about choice. As someone who does a lot of strategy work, I was taken by this elegant definition of strategy. A well-defined strategy should be an articulation of a choice you are making about how you will achieve your vision. It is also the choice of what you will not do to achieve your vision. It is saying yes to some things and no to others.

It’s also a guide for the choices you make about how to implement the strategy. On a tactical level, it serves as the guidepost for the daily choices and decisions that get made about what markets to pursue, what products to introduce, who to hire and promote and where offices should be located. It can be a touchstone for difficult decisions, providing criteria for weighing your options.

For the strategy to play its important role in guiding choice, it needs to be widely communicated and understood. It needs to be discussed on a regular basis so it is top of mind. Too many times I hear Directors or VP’s in large organizations that the strategy is not clear. If they don’t know it, how can anyone else?




Edith Onderick-Harvey is a recognized organizational and leadership development expert.  She works with Fortune 500 firms, growing companies, and universities to design their organizations, develop their leaders and continually elevate performance.  She has been quoted in The New York Times, Human Resource Executive, and the author of the newly released book “Getting Real:  Strategies for Leadership in Today’s Innovation-Hungry, Time-Strapped, Multi-Tasking World of Work”


Are You Spending Time with the Right People at Work?

work relationshipsNow that the end of the year is in sight, it’s a good time to take a step back and assess how we are progressing.  Usually, when we do this type of assessment, we look at progress against our business plan, project timelines or other priorities we’ve identified.

I suggest we all take a look at our key work relationships and assess how those are going.  We all know that our work relationships are important for a wide variety of reasons.  We also know that these relationships shift over time.  Someone who it wasn’t important to have a good working relationship with in the past is now an important partner.  Someone who we worked closely with in the past moved to a new role or division and we don’t really work together anymore.  And sometimes, there are people we need to build relationships with that we don’t spend the time on because they are difficult or building a new relationship is outside of our comfort zone.

I suggest you assess the balance in your network of work relationships and ask:

  • Who are you spending a great deal of time with?  Why do you spend that much time with them –familiarity?  The ease of the relationships?  Because you need them to get work done? It could be a combination of reasons.
  • Based on what you want to achieve, is that the right amount of time to be spending with them?
  • Who are you spending less time with but should spend more because they are important to success?  What needs to happen for you to be able to spend more time building the relationship?  Do you need to spend less time on those relationships that are comfortable
    but not as important to the work?  Do you need to force yourself out of you comfort zone?
  • What’s your plan for building or expanding the relationships you need to work on?  Set 2 or 3 goals for making the necessary changes to re-balance your relationships and put them into action now.





About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times,, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

Show Some Emotion Part 2

Show some EmotionI had an experience last week that illustrates the importance of getting angry appropriately when you’re a leader.

I and another colleague were having a conversation with the head of a mid-sized company after I gave a speech at the breakfast meeting for the CEO Club. He was sharing his immense frustration with the lack of performance and toxic culture in one of his company’s offices. During the conversation, it became clear that he was not one to shy away from sharing a full range of emotions in his work as a leader. He was seemingly effusive when warranted, immensely caring when called for and willing to show his anger and disappointment when necessary. However, as the conversation continued, I began to wonder if his anger at the people and the situation in this office were seen as a productive part of this interactions with his team or if they came with a level of unpredictability that could be adding to the chaos.

As I discussed last week, anger, when shared appropriately, can help focus people on what’s important, create confidence, and create strong bonds. When it is erratic, seemingly comes out of nowhere, or is the first response to a wide variety of situations, it puts people on pins and needles as they wait for another eruption. It creates a scattershot approach to priorities as everyone tries to figure out and avoid what will cause the next outburst. It diminishes relationships because one minute things are great and the next minute the conversation has become a tirade.

Are there people in your company whose emotional outbursts are creating chaos?





About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times,, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.


Show Some Emotion – Part 1

Show Some EmotionsThere are a lot of people I know who work very hard not to show their emotions at work. They think that showing emotions is not part of ‘being professional’. has a great article entitled Why Great Leaders Get Angry — and Show It. Reading it reminded me of the many companies I’ve worked for or with that could best be described as polite. In many conversations and meetings, topics that should have been hotly debated or, worse, probably didn’t deserve the time they were given, were politely discussed. Then, once the meeting was done, small groups huddled in offices to talk about how they really felt about the discussion, or worse, the decision.

As the Inc article points out, anger and, in fact, the entire range of emotions can be very productive and powerful when used and displayed effectively. As the author of the article, Jeff Haden points out, anger can be very focusing. It can create confidence. I believe it can spur creativity and new thinking. It can reinforce the importance of a topic. And, when someone gets angry and shares it appropriately, it can lead people to resolve a conflict or solve a problem. These are the types of interactions that build effective workplace relationships and lead to better performance. When we don’t or think we can’t share emotions in the workplace, we interact in a superficial way and are not able to tap into the strength of working collectively. Our companies stagnate. Our products lose their luster. People are physically at work but probably not engaging all their efforts. We aren’t able to innovate. We don’t benefit from different perspectives and great ideas.

I challenge you to give this some thought. How is being too polite hurting your company?





About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times,, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

Changing the Tire While the Bus is Going 60 mph

Transforming an Organization

One of the issues I often hear from client during times of change is ‘how can I implement change when I can’t even keep up with what I’m doing now?’ People often feel like they have to change the tire and steer the the bus while it’s going 60 mph. Change is like that. The world and your business don’t stop so that you can transform the culture, the strategy or the organization.

However, there are some things that can help you slow the bus down while you’re changing the tire.

          • Separate the urgent from the important. There is always something that needs our ‘urgent’ attention at work. The key is to decide if it’s urgent and important or urgent, but in the end, not really very important. If it’s the latter, let it go, especially if it doesn’t help with the transformation. If it’s urgent and important to the transformation, give it your full attention.
          • Remember that change is a process. When faced with transformation, we can get trapped into thinking it all has to happen now. Change takes time. Transformation doesn’t happen quickly. Create short-term milestones and work to achieve those milestones.
          • Enlist others. Involving others in the change effort has enormous benefit. It speeds up the buy in. It develops others abilities and capacity to change. And, it distributes the work. Some of you steer, some of you change the tire, some of you take care of the passengers on the bus to make sure it isn’t too much of a bumpy ride.




About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times,, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

What’s It like to Join your Company?

To a whole new adventure.
Another chapter in an incredibly exciting story.
Yours. And Ours.
It’s probably a bit different from where you used to be.
(Maybe really, really different.)
But your reason for being here hasn’t changed.
You are here to do great things.”


This is the note my brother received a couple of months ago when he and his wife arrived at their temporary housing as part of the relocation for his new job.

His new job is with what many of us think of as a dream company — Apple.

As part of his relo, they’re providing him with corporate housing for a few weeks until they find a new place. Pretty standard for many companies. However, that note is very, very different.

What makes companies like Apple great is that they build and rebuild their culture every time they greet a new associate with that note. They reinforce why great talent would want to work for them. They reinforce that their culture is about adventure, an exciting story and doing great things. It’s not ‘here’s you desk, here’s your compute and orientation starts at 9:00.” That note and the actions that surround it — I’ll get to those in a minute — say “We are so glad you’re here to be part of what we are here to do.”

The actions that surrounded the note? The corporate housing had a stocked fridge and homemade cookies. They were greeted at the door, given a tour of the facilities and ideas for how to spend their first weekend in California.

You know it won’t need to be going to the grocery store.

What’s it like to join your company?


About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times,, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

Making Room for Failure

Making Room for Failure - Factor In TalentHow often are innovation and risk taking discussed in your organization? Among the executives I’m working with, they both seem to be to be hot topics. In leadership team meetings, they’re talking about how to get people to take more risks. They want new ideas that will change their product mix or increase market share. But when you look at how their companies approach risk you find it’s focused on mitigating it. Or when you look at how products are developed the process favors a small tweak or a modest change to a ‘proven winner.’ The actions aren’t supporting the words.

If you want more innovation and risk taking in your organization, you have to expect, allow and celebrate failure. Without failure, breakthroughs don’t happen. If you’re going to take a risk, sometimes it’s not going to work. It will fail. And if you want someone to take a risk again, you have to take that failure and hold it up to the light. Not to highlight what not to do but rather to highlight what to do. Jason Seiken, former SVP and General Manager for digital at NPR wanted to create a more innovative culture. So, he made failure part of everyone’s goals and performance. He created the failure metric and integrated into daily conversation and formal performance reviews. As a member of the digital team, if you did NOT fail during the year, you received a lower performance rating. In his recent Harvard Business Review blog, Seiken notes “In the end, the failure metric was something of a verbal stunt. Here’s what staffers said a few years later: If I had simply announced that they had permission to fail, they would have considered it corporate blather. By making failure a requirement, I had shocked them into taking the message seriously.”

What would shock your organization into action?

Leading Virtually Part 3: Feedback and Maintaining the Relationship

Feedback circle

The tips in this post were co-written by my colleague, Stefanie Heiter of Bridging Distance. This is part three of a three part series.

For the past two weeks, I’ve shared tips with you for creating results and managing performance when leading a virtual team. Last week’s tips focused on discussing both the ends and the means and creating a game plan. This week’s tips are about creating a feedback and coaching loop and maintaining the relationship.

Tip 5: Create a feedback and coaching loop. Feedback on performance is most effective when it is timely and about performance that you’ve directly observed. In a virtual world, the ability to physically see someone’s performance is not always possible. Create processes that allow you to gain meaningful information about an individual’s performance. For example, a sales director uses a survey with customers to get input into a sales person’s performance. While she created the survey to get direct feedback from customers who interact with her salespeople in live situations that she is unable to attend, it has created better customer relationships. The customers have told her that they are thrilled to be asked because it allows them to be heard. Also use technology to coach. For example, virtual meeting software could allow a less experienced team member to simulate a client presentation to you, providing you with the opportunity to coach them in real time.

Tip 6: Maintain the relationship. Our first tip was about relationship building. Once you’ve built the relationship, take steps to maintain it. When we primarily use technology to communicate, we often feel like we need to have a reason to communicate. Develop a culture that says it’s ok to just check in – not check up on – by calling or initiating contact without a specific need. Make it clear that you don’t see this as a sign that someone doesn’t have enough to do. Also, make a point to communicate the positive. Say thank you, recognize an individual’s achievements and results. If we are in the habit of using technology as a vehicle for only task oriented communication, we miss an opportunity to use it as a vehicle for building capabilities and engagement. Model this behavior with our team and you’ll find that when you do need to communicate because of a specific need, those conversations are more productive.

Effectively leading performance in a virtual world is similar in many ways to effectively leading performance in a more traditional work configuration. Leaders need to communicate expectations, monitor behavior and results, and establish an effective relationship so that we can work through the invariable issues and problems that arise. Ina a virtual world, we have an ever growing toolkit to help leaders be more effective. By understanding how to use each appropriately, leaders can get strong performance in any of the many work arrangements we find today.