By Fran Duskiewicz
Competitiveness is a human trait that can be viewed as simultaneously admirable and/or obnoxious. However, it is always a motivational force, whether handled well or poorly.
I’ve always been a competitive ‘son-u-va-gun.’ My poor mom would play games with me when I was a kid. I’d throw a fit if she won, but I’d also throw a fit if I thought she let me win. This led to many discussions about being a good loser and a better winner.
My father, a gentle soul, liked my competitive spirit and did his best to stoke my inner fires. He said that was the path to getting ahead and earning success. He was brilliant, but a bit passive, and he did not want that for me. So, I’ve always gone for the gold, full tilt. I’ve done my best to be gracious, but inside I’ve always had a deep need to win and be the best.
Nice N Easy (NNE) Founder John MacDougall loved my spirit and, yes, he had to slap me down once in a while because of it, but he also knew when it came in handy. And it really came in handy in firing up our store managers and their teams. There are so many measurables in our industry that any store—big or small, new or old—has the ability to be the best at something. You just have to identify it, quantify it, track it and publicize it.
Finding The Fun
About 20 years ago, we came into possession of a few big screen televisions. John wanted to award them to store managers, but he wanted to do it through a contest that rewarded the best overall performer and he wanted me to design the mechanism for the contest. He told me to use my writing ability and “smart charm” (direct quote) to update everyone on the standings and to make it fun.
I created an overall manager performance metric that included sales versus goal, labor productivity versus budget, cash and inventory controls, store inspections and mystery shopper scores. It really worked and was an incredibly accurate measurement of managerial ability. It also tapped into the motivational force that was competition.
Every week, I updated the stores with an email that read like a news release from ESPN. To make it fun, I created team names for all our stores: the Court St. Commandos; the Tully Terrors; the Clinton Presidents; the Lafayette Escadrilles (I had to explain that one.) You get the drift.
The stores loved it. And performance improved. We went from doing pretty well to kicking major league butt in very short order. Cash shortages were not acceptable. Dirty stores were not acceptable. Sales goals were crushed. Labor usage was well under budget. The trash talking via email between managers was good natured and tons of fun.
We simplified our mission statement to reflect this change: “Be nice. Sell stuff. Have fun. Be the best.” Sort of a Dirty Harry approach. I loved it. So did the stores. Here was a mission statement they could get their minds around.
Becoming The Best
Here’s the capper: the final standings were not calculated and announced until the mystery shopper scores came in and were added into the image section of the contest.
Many TVs and cash prizes were lost because of mystery shops. And, they didn’t have to be bad, either, but a 90 instead of 100 could cost you first place. Do you think our mystery shopper performance suddenly became a higher priority than it had been?
The late, great Linda Nelson, one of our managers you’d want to be your grandma, won one of the first big screen TVs.
She was leading another of the later contests when I asked her if she really wanted another big TV. She said, “I don’t care about the television. I just want to win.” This kindly, older lady had the inner fire of an MMA fighter. We just had to tap into it. We learned our lesson well.
Over the years, John gave me many new responsibilities and my job changed constantly. He had me create programs and then hire people to run them.
However, he never, ever, took away from me the performance analysis part of my job, nor my responsibility as NNE Contest Master.
The contests evolved over the years and became a major part of our culture. They never stopped. Yes, John put the Nice in Nice N Easy. But I think I added the fire that made us tough competitors.