They Play to Win, We Play to Draw

VACATION ARCHIVE: I’m on vacation and so, therefore, is my blog. Here’s one that was originally published on October 29, 2009.

My four-year old some times tells me she wants to play, but “not a game that’s about winning.”  I can understand that – sometimes the prospect of losing is just too much.  I played the most competitive of sports in High School – Jazz Band.  I lived for those performances when I got to compete in a dueling sax part.  It’s what I trained all those short hours for (I played the baritone sax and lugging home that huge honker of a horn was no fun…practice was a rarity).  I really hated Syd (alto sax and chief rival).  He thought he was so good and even though he now plays professionally for an awesome jazz singer and is married to her and she’s hot, he wasn’t all that good back then.  But he made me work hard.  I didn’t like being second to him, and I certainly didn’t like “losing” during those duels.  Syd was my competition and competition was good for business…

I got to thinking about competition in my life these days.  I don’t play the sax anymore, but I do get on the squash court, tennis court, and golf course from time to time - two involve a genteel kind of competition and the other just involves beer.   But what about the place I spend 2/3 of my waking hours every day?  I realized, I don’t really have any real (external) competition in my HR career.  Sure, there’s myself.  There are my peers, but we are collaborative rock stars and hardcore competition rarely enters the picture.  Line employees, on the other hand, who are tasked with developing business or providing a product/service to clients have the constant presence of direct competitors to fuel that desire to win.  Generally they like the game, the challenge, the thrill of victory.  They get to enter into battle every day, they get to measure their success with tangible results – you either win or you lose…there are no ties.

So I’m trying to figure out whether we have the same in HR?   Does one need that competition to truly excel?  To innovate?  To perform?  Do we have the same drive to win?  Is it the absence of a direct competitor that puts us in a different class?  Are we inherently viewed as not having the competitive fire?  Are the operations leaders playing on the football team and is HR playing in the marching band?  Maybe it doesn’t matter – maybe the football team needs the marching band to win and the marching band needs the football team to play.  You’re either on one or the other and that’s ok…

I say that in order to win, one needs to compete.  In order to compete, one needs a competitor.  Who or what is HR’s competitor and do we need one to truly advance our calling?

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9 Responses to They Play to Win, We Play to Draw
  1. laurie ruettimann
    October 29, 2009 | 11:05 pm

    I was just telling Jessica Lee that I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I do have a competitive streak that really bothers me. I don’t know how to be competitive. I never learned to beat someone and feel good about it.

    Can’t everyone win? Or is that the kind of loser-talk that keeps HR in a chronic state of failure?

  2. Alicia Arenas (@AliciaSanera)
    October 30, 2009 | 11:36 am

    This is a great post.

    I don’t know that HR’s competitors are people as much as they are ideas and a state of mine. So with that theme, I would say that we need to fight the idea that our positions/titles give us automatic credibility.

  3. Charlie Judy
    October 30, 2009 | 1:20 pm

    @laurie i think maybe we try too hard to let everybody win in HR; maybe we need to get more comfortable with winning, taking credit, and boasting from time to time…

    @alicia i think you’re right about fighting entitlement; no reason we shouldn’t have to earn (and win) credibility just like everyone else…

    thx!

  4. hrmargo
    October 30, 2009 | 2:28 pm

    I’m with Laurie, I’m a born collaborator. With that said, the last National ASTD Conference I attended I was astounded by the number of people trying to one-up each other, brown nose with the super star presenters, and engage in attention getting behavior. I understand the desire to get ahead. I also think that a certain amount of competition is healthy, and necessary to keep us sharp. But wouldn’t you agree it’s a matter of balance. I must say, I’ve been reading all your posts, and they are very well written. I just started my blog last week, and I could learn a lot from people like you.

  5. Charlie Judy
    October 30, 2009 | 3:04 pm

    @margo i’m with you on the “getting ahead” part. that almost seems seedy to me. i think for me it’s more about celebrating victories and being comfortable with that. it’s about a bit more aggression and having a constant pull (or push) toward achievement. sometimes i think an external force is necessary for that.

    let’s connect soon. i’m just as new to this blog thing as you are…we can work through it together. looking forward to that.

  6. Tammy Colson
    October 31, 2009 | 1:46 pm

    For me HR has always been about finding the middle ground, which is inherently non-competitive. But in recent years I’ve started listening to the inner voice that says “if you don’t toot your own horn, no one will do it for you”. So I’ve worked to celebrate my achievements, while celebrating the achievements of others. I still won’t step up like I should at times, mostly because I have southern gentility that hold me back, but its getting there.

    HR doesn’t appear to have a natural competitor – unless you count Finance. Many of those folks in my world seem to think HR is all about being administrative, and well, anyone can fill out paperwork. ~eyeroll~

  7. hrringleader
    October 31, 2009 | 1:59 pm

    First, I want to say I’m so glad you decided to enter the HR blogging world Charlie. Who knew that when we met 2 years ago we’d both be doing this?!? I agree that HR needs to do more to publicize what we do that’s great. From an internal standpoint, I guess our “competitor” could be whatever group is actually bringing in the money. Since HR is an expense and not a revenue driver, it’s hard for us to get attention internally I think. So, HR really needs to learn more about internal communications.

    From an external perspective, I don’t know that HR needs to “compete”. Because the HR community is so collaborative in nature, we can all learn so much from each other. I value that.

    However, if you want a good HR competition, meet me in Soulard and we can knock back a few beers! Who knows, we may even get Punk Rock HR to join us! (luv ya Laurie). She used to live in Soulard.

  8. Charlie Judy
    November 1, 2009 | 1:26 pm

    @tammy i guess someone in the organization has to work the middle ground. it starts to turn into trench warfare, though – hard to gain any ground one way or the other. i fear competitiveness in the workplace earns more respect than collaboration…i think that’s changing in some organizations but still rare.

    @trish i value our collaboration too. i think one of the best ways for us to compete internally is to speak up, take a position, and show confidence in our understanding of the business. as for soulard, just name the time and place…you’re going down.

  9. Betsey Upchurch
    March 28, 2011 | 12:35 pm

    Interesting way to think about HR. We HR and OD folks like to think we are collaborative and that somehow competition is not the right thing to do but our clients and business partners live in that world. I like to think of what I do as competing on their team. There is more than to competition that smashing the other team into the dirt. Healthy competition means eternally finding better ways to do things, creating training that works better, faster, cheaper, helping business partners figure out ways to be better than the competition and helping humanity find sustainable, compassionate ways to live in the world. Raising the playing field to a higher level should be the name of the game. I was a competitive swimmer. The game was always to beat my previous best. Focusing competition in organizations on beating the best that is out there for a bigger purpose is bringing big rewards in some of the companies I work with and not expending energy and resources in places that don’t add value.

    I challenge all of you to beat the best you can find out there!

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