Wed | Sep 18, 2019

Trevor E.S. Smith | How to stop rewarding selfish behaviour

Published:Sunday | October 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

"America first!"

- Donald Trump


"One thing you don't get is a stupid gold medallist. They're all driven, all single-minded, a bit selfish."

- Colin Murray (who interviewed many British Olympic gold medal winners)


"It's better to be alone than in bad company."

- George Washington





Participants in the Certified Behavioural Coach (CBC) programme have been engaged in a truly insightful examination of the issue of turf wars and silos in organisations. The initial focus was on the negative impact of silos and the potential for turf wars to frustrate productivity.

Then there was a scary but enlightening shift in the discourse. We were challenged to examine more closely the genesis of turf wars and silos. Maybe we were trying to deal with the symptoms without identifying the heart of the problem.

Insight: Our socialisation and reward structures encourage selfish behaviour!

From the earliest years, parents drill their children to ensure that they get into the right high school/college/grad school. Being at the top of the class is achieved by being smarter and working harder than their colleagues.

The message is clear: Be competitive or be second-class or worse - in the race of life.

Life is a race. In the race there are winners and losers. Be a winner!

Talk of 'we are all winners' is merely designed to comfort those who lost. The reality is that our socialisation and reward systems make it clear that losing sucks.

Who enters an competition and says that because there must be losers, I volunteer for one of the loser slots?




The question to ask then is, why is there so much fuss about individuals who accept that life is a race and bring it into the workplace? Self-seeking!

Why is the mindset that has got you into the best school, college or graduate programme frowned upon (outwardly) in the corporate domain? Entitlement mentality!

She is rewarded for stomping all over the competitive brands to dominate the market. Why is she marked down in her performance appraisal for not investing her precious time in empowering a colleague who is competing for the same promotion? Poor team player!

Why is there talk of 'good corporate citizenship' when what that means in practice is not clearly defined and is not in the key performance indicators for which I am held accountable and rewarded? Misses the big picture!




CBC resident philosopher Andrea opened the door to another way of thinking. It allows for acceptance of the ingrained respect for the value of winning.

A short-hand application of the powerful concept is to reflect on the Olympics. A Usain Bolt can win his personal gold medal in the 100-metre run AND help the team by running a relay leg AND help the country through his personal popularity.




There is a huge difference between the Olympics and most corporate environments. Bolt also gets a medal for his relay run. His teamwork is rewarded. His national impact is recognised.

What if good corporate citizenship had a similar level of clarity and rewards?

Keri (CBC facilitator) shared one solution. Adopt the kindergarten approach. All the desired behaviours are stated clearly and reinforced. There is no assumption that the children know how to behave. Undesirable behaviours are clearly identified and discouraged.

Rewards - subtle (smile) and open (stickers) - and punishment (time out) are used to achieve the desired results.

Why not bring the kindergarten to the workplace?

Why not spell out what good corporate citizenship, teamwork, community spirit and undesirable behaviour mean in clear and simple terms?

Suppose we stop assuming adults know how to behave appropriately and document and reward what is required?




One mechanism for capturing the WHAT and the HOW in the corporate domain is a competency framework. It translates the vision of the organisation into precise competences and then guides effective capacity-development and performance-management systems. Ask for information on our SPIKE e-Solution - Strategic Performance Improvement & Knowledge Enabler or a Competency Framework no-cost consultation.




Join my live presentation at the Productivity And Continuous Improvement Conference.

Learn more about the turnkey Leadership-Coach-Mentor Certification programme here:

- Trevor E.S. Smith and the Success with People Academy team prepare and certify leadership professionals and coach/mentors and develop engaged, high-performing teams. Hire smart with their recruitment solutions. Now enrolling coaches in the ICF/SHRM-accredited Certified Behavioural Coach programme. Email: