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Driven Away: What Managers Can Learn From Rosberg's Shock Retirement

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After his win at the Formula 1 World Championship last week, it came as a shock to many when Nico Rosberg announced his decision to retire. He had chosen to go out on the ultimate of highs, one he had been chasing for 25 years. He climbed this mountain fuelled by many years of disappointment and hardship, but in the end, he reached the peak.

Rosberg’s perseverance and ultimate success has a lot to teach us about performance management in a highly charged and competitive environment, and can help us answer a question burning on the minds of managers everywhere: how can we keep our staff motivated and dedicated when they’re in constant competition with one another?

When does competition become unhealthy?

Rosberg and Hamilton have been making headlines all year courtesy of a tightly contested and intense F1 season, riddled with mechanical failures and an (at best) tense relationship between the two Mercedes drivers. It culminated in Hamilton defying team orders in a desperate bid to curtail Rosberg’s eventual success.

Does competition only become unhealthy when someone acts against the interest of the ‘business’? Recruiters are known to be an extremely competitive breed, battling to find the best people, the best jobs, and clients. But by setting both individual and team goals, managers can use this competitiveness to co-ordinate the team and maximise the possibility of attracting the best clients, which will lead to better jobs, and less time wasted speaking to overlapping candidates. This ultimately benefits the individual’s experience, the team’s cohesiveness, the clients’ satisfaction, and the company’s bottom line.

It seems that in the case of Rosberg, who has worked hard his whole career to reach the pinnacle of his profession, the lack of rapport coupled with internal competition has become too much and he has decided to leave the sport. This has left Mercedes with the unenviable task of finding a suitable replacement.

Can having two star performers be bad for a team?

Some F1 teams pride themselves on letting their drivers genuinely compete with each other, but can having two highly competitive team-mates have a negative impact on overall performance? Well, research conducted by Dr Paulo Aversa in 2014 found that pitting top performing drivers against each other is detrimental to their performance. Dr Aversa believes that implementing a clear strategy with defined goals from the start is a solution to this.

I’m of the view that it may be most beneficial to the overall business to pair your star performers with the people that need to develop the most. A study conducted by Sun Microsystems has shown the benefits of mentoring programs by evaluating 7 years of data. They found that employees who had mentors were not only 20% more likely to stay at the company, but also 25% more likely to receive a pay increase, which perfectly illustrates how mentoring can benefit both the individual and the business as a whole. 

How can you keep motivation high with only one winner?

It was pretty clear from Hamilton’s tactics and behaviour that he was motivated to keep pushing for the top prize in his industry despite the limited chance of success, but not every workplace has the promise of global glory or millions of pounds in sponsorship money to offer their top performers. In the workplace the key is recognition. Recognition of a job well done, of going above and beyond, even recognition of a colleague’s existence. Appreciation is a fundamental human need and people respond to recognition of their good work because it confirms their work is valued, which in turn makes them feel valued as an individual. Their satisfaction and productivity rises, and they are motivated to maintain or improve performance. A study by Glassdoor found that more than 80% of employees are motivated to work harder when they feel appreciated, while only 40% are motivated by demanding managers or fear of being let go.

Rosberg has managed to reach the top of his game despite unhealthy internal competition, despite being seen as the dimmer of two stars, and despite the media often downplaying or underestimating his capabilities. Mercedes will be asking themselves if they could have done more to encourage him to stay, and compete near the top of Formula 1 for years to come.

The Rosberg Retirement is an extreme example of competition, but can we all do more to promote healthy competition in our own working environments? I believe that whether you are a colleague, a manager, or a director you can always help to elevate the performance of people around you. Ensuring competition is healthy is one way to achieve this and a big part of healthy competition is all of us being mindful to recognise the qualities and contribution of our colleagues. One way or another they are contributing to your personal drive every day, and if that relationship is positive, collaborative, and competitive you will help each other to maximise your potential.

Feel like switching lanes?

Are you, like Rosberg, looking for a new job? Start looking today. 

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