Helping the Competition

By Scott Westerman

I got a call from a co-worker the other day. “Full disclosure,” he said. “I wanted you to know that we’re both competing for the same promotion.”

We’re friends. He said he didn’t want me to hear about it from someone else. I thought that was a classy thing to do.

Then I got a crazy idea.

“You know, both of us have strengths that could help the other during the interview process. Why don’t we prep each other so we can both can do our best?”

That sounds nuts on the surface. Why would you want to help a competitor win the job you desire? And why would anyone else who is competing with you even consider sharing his secrets?

My friend didn’t miss a beat. “That’s a terrific idea. Lets do it!”

We spent the next hour going sharing nuggets from our areas of expertise, talking about how we would approach the job, sometimes debating the validity of an idea, but all the time trying to better understand the value that each other brought to the table.

What followed was an email chain. I sent him the spreadsheets that helped me track progress, and explained sales strategies and my favorite management techniques. He sent me a blizzard of details on a section of the business where his expertise is nationally recognized.

We agreed that our joint goal was to help the company hire the best possible person for the gig and realized that, no matter how the chips fell, we would each enjoy working for the other.

I told my team members about the encounter. Some may have thought that their boss was crazy, but there was an interesting gleam in the eyes of others.

That gleam made sense to me two weeks later, when I learned that three of them were applying to succeed me in the role I was about to relinquish.

Naturally, I helped each of them prep for their first interview encounter. I know them well and shot tough questions their way, gave them feedback on their answers and tried to share the lessons I had learned in the role. It was enthralling to watch them work things through and gratifying to see that some of the ideas I had tried to teach them over our time together had taken root.

But the real surprise came later. I saw two of them heading out together at the lunch hour this week. When I asked what they were doing they said, “We’re sharing our knowledge with one another so that we can both be our best during the interview process.”

It turned out that all three of them had spontaneously agreed to help one another prepare.

Clearly, this approach only works if you’ve built a team who trust one another and are genuinely able to put the best interests of the group first. They have worked hard over time to build a unique bond. In our staff meetings, everyone pitches in to understand and assist with an individual’s challenge, even if its technically outside of their core competency. Sometimes, the best technical solutions came from our call center guy. And our marketing lead offered to off load some of the finance person’s work so that we could hit a forecast and customer communication deadline on time.

I can’t yet tell you who will get the two jobs that my buddy and I, and my three extraordinary team members are competing for. But my sense is that the likelihood of the right person being selected has gone up substantially.

Because we’re all in it together.