As a startup founder, one of the things I think about a lot is motivation. How can I motivate my team to be creative, to do their best work, and to have big impact? This question isn’t just for founders though—if you’re managing a team, motivating others is key.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review shared a great example of motivation in its case study. The CEO of ePrize, Josh Linkner, had a fast growing, successful company. With double and triple growth year over year, he was worried that creativity would decline as the team cruised into market leader status. So, instead of asking his employees to think outside the box or some other cliché, this is what Linkner did:
He made up a fake nemesis. At an all-company meeting, he stood up and announced that there was a brash new competitor named Slither. “I told everyone they were bigger than us, faster than us, and more profitable,” he says. “Their investors had deeper pockets. Their footprint was better, and they were innovating at a pace I’d never seen.”
The story was greeted with chuckles around the room (it was obvious the company was a ruse), but the idea soon became embedded within ePrize’s culture. Executives kept reinforcing the Slither story with fake press releases about their competitor’s impressive quarterly earnings or infusions of capital, and soon the urge to best the imaginary rival began to drive improved performance.
“It inspired creativity,” Linkner says. “In brainstorming sessions, we used Slither as the foil. Instead of saying, ‘OK, guys, we have to reduce our production time. How are we going to do that?’ I would say, ‘The folks over at Slither just shaved two days out of their cycle time. How do you think they did it?’ The white boards filled with ideas.”
A little unorthodox? Maybe. Though, to be honest, there’s always a chance that a real-life Slither could come into the picture—for ePrize or for you. In any case, though, it worked. Linkner correctly identified that what his team needed was a competitor to motivate them, and found a fun and effective way to give them what they needed to succeed. And that’s a lesson we can all learn from.
Photo of chess pieces courtesy of Shutterstock.