Thursday, January 31, 2008

The "Tiger Effect" May Lurk in Your Organization

The presence of Tiger Woods in a tournament causes higher-skill PGA golfers’ tournament scores to slump. This can have implications for “tournament style” competitions in organizations when one person far outshines everyone else.

According to Jennifer Brown, a researcher from the University of California in Berkeley, California, the other top pro golfers’ scores are 0.8 strokes higher when Tiger Woods participates, relative to when Tiger Woods is absent. She refers to this as the “adverse superstar effect” which increases during Woods’s streaks and disappears during Woods’s slumps. Ms. Brown found no evidence of players taking undue risks which would have potentially reduced their performance. She concludes that “the presence of a ‘superstar’ in a competition can lead to ‘reduced’ efforts from tournament participants”.

Recent newspaper reports on Tiger’s 62nd win at the Buick Invitational in San Diego, California appear to support this research. A number of players indicated they were competing for “second place” due to Tiger’s commanding lead going into the final round on Sunday.

On the other hand, Brown contends that if another highly skilled person believes that the race is “winnable” against rivals of similar skill more or less, he or she will tend to be motivated to work harder. Within our organizations, therefore, she questions the compensation “20-70-10” system and similar compensation devices that reward the top 20% IF there is a superstar present.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, in general, especially for leaders who grew up playing sports and who believe in competition to raise the performance bar. Maybe it’s time to re-structure our assumptions and systems to reward the many not the few for their efforts. This also suggests that superstars require attention but not at the expense of everyone else.

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