While you may think competition is good for motivating the troops, some experts say it's not worth your time. Serving your customers is the primary point of your business. Beating other businesses shouldn't be a goal, it should be a byproduct of your success.
Walter Kiechel, the former managing editor of Fortune magazine, writes in Harvard Business Review about how focusing on your competitors is not a sound strategy.
"Avoiding competition is a condition, or more precisely, a frame of mind" that more leaders should focus their energies on, Kiechel says. "An overweening focus on beating the other guy, gal, or outfit is just as bad for your psychological and moral health as it is for your business."
Kiechel relates a conversation he once had with the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, in which Buffett expressed how much he disliked competition. "'I don't like it at all. I don't know any good businessman who does,'" Buffett told him. Instead of going out and killing your competitors, Buffett said, he'd rather work on building a "moat" around his businesses, focusing on services or products that no one else can offer, and build a brand so formidable that no one can really compete anyway.
Kiechel says competition is one of those things, like greed, that can take over a company.
"If your business and its people take competing as priority numero uno, they're prey to obsessing over comparisons--our market share versus theirs, our cost position relative to theirs, our comparative product quality," he writes. "While these are all good things to know, and may serve as goads to action, by themselves they rather miss the point." He says you need to reflect on why you started your enterprise in the first place. If your startup's mission is to "show the other guy up," then your mission isn't worthy.
Instead of attempting to crush everyone around you, your goals should be noble.
"One hopes--and suspects in the case of the best companies--that other ambitions were at work, other desires, dissatisfactions, or curiosities," Kiechel writes. "Perhaps to create the best burger, medical device, smartphone, or advisory service. Such ambitions typically entail a focus on, even an obsession with, customers, clients, would-be users of your product. Someone out there that you can serve, in other words, not defeat. And to which banner do you expect to rally the best, most creative employees: 'We can make something great' or 'Kill the enemy'?"
The next time an employee or manager of yours tries to tap into a "kill the enemy" mentality, make sure to bring the person back on track. Competition keeps companies honest, and choices keep the consumer happy. If you make the best product or offer the best service, you don't have to worry about crushing anyone.
Kiechel says instead of watching who is nipping at your heels, you need to focus on where you're running to make sure you don't fall. Kiechel sums up the lesson with the words of legendary baseball pitcher Satchel Paige: "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."