What a reversal of fortunes the English cricket team is having. If you would just browse through that cricket website that is open on your computer right now, you’ll see how the English are making the lightest possible work of the Australians. It is as if each morning the English team has a conference in the locker room and decides who will hit centuries and who will take wickets.
Meanwhile, the Australians are retaliating with the statistical approach to cricket that India espoused in the late 1980s and early 1990s: If we keep losing pathetically as many matches as possible now…probability and law averages mean that we will eventually start winning at some point.
However, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that if it were not for its organization focus on beating Australia each year, England wouldn’t be half as good as it is right now. The raison d’être, if you will, of the English cricketing establishment is to beat Australia. Everything else, including not letting Yuvraj Singh hit six sixes, is secondary.
But before I get carried away, the point I am getting at is this: I think all good organizations need an arch-nemesis to gang up against. A Coke needs a Pepsi, an Apple needs a Microsoft, a Google needs the Chinese Communist Party and a Goldman Sachs needs the human race.
In my experience, this heated business animosity can sometimes have the same positive impact that the Ashes has on England. Working in such a polarized, charged environment could make employees focused and give them a sense of team spirit that no amount of off-sites, and I daresay cash bonuses, can bring.
A couple of years ago, I was out on a weekend of café hopping with some friends who lived in Mumbai. At some point, we popped into a grocery store for a soft drink or cigarettes or some such.
Suddenly, one of my friends reached into her handbag and, in just 20 minutes, located her mobile phone. She then called someone.
“Hello,” she said to an old colleague of hers, “I am at a grocery store on Carter Road and they have one of our visi-coolers stocked with “their” drinks. I think you need to have a chat with this fellow immediately!”
My friend then handed the phone over to the shopkeeper brusquely. She looked at him as if he’d just told a bunch of children that Sachin does not exist.
Turns out that the shopkeeper had used the cooler provided by one soft drink company to stock and display drinks made by its arch nemesis. A grave error in that business.
But the funny thing is this—my friend had stopped working for the aggrieved beverage brand at least two years before this incident. She now worked for a multinational bank. Yet here she was, still taking sides in that corporate war.
Later she told me that her previous employer had ingrained such a sense of animosity for the rival in new recruits that it stayed with them for life. Even now, years later, before visiting restaurants that only served rival brands, she’d carry friendly fizz in her handbag.
This is the kind of loyalty and passion, and even animosity, that I am sure HR managers and CEOs dream about when they go to bed every evening. How can I make my people so manically focused on defeating the competition? How can I make them work not just for their pay or position, but to crush the competition and subsequently increase my pay and promotion?
Besides making employees work with greater focus and passion, I think this strategy also has other benefits. For one, it prevents them from focusing on the usual pain points: HR policy, perks, other people’s pay, lunch menu and so on. All this seems tremendously petty when your real enemy is Steve Jobs or Diet Coke.
It could also reduce attrition. Who would want to leave half way through the “battle to the death” that is my anti-dandruff shampoo with egg extract versus your anti-dandruff shampoo with egg and sea-weed extract.
Most importantly, however, I think this prevents the company from losing people to the competition. Who would want to join AMD knowing that the next time you get your old friends from Intel over lunch, they could bring cheesecake laced with cyanide?
(Yes, there is an element of human manipulation in this. But that is true of so many things, including marriage and traffic police.)
But I wonder how one does this in organizations.
I remember this old piece of trivia, possibly apocryphal, that Cyrix had a tombstone in the office lobby with the words “Intel Inside” written on it. Macabre indeed, but I assume that is the kind of symbolism you need here. This kind of competitive spirit doesn’t come out of powerpoint or spreadsheet. You need symbolism and jingo.
Do you work for one of these fiery corporates? How do you get yourself and others all riled up and foaming at the mouth? Send email.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama