All Your People should Play to Win? Think again!


There seems to be a rather common opinion that companies need to hire people who “play to win” rather than “not to lose”. You will read this in the so-called self-help books and even more serious publications emphasise this.

Heidi Halvorson and Tory Higgings provide perspective in their article: “Know what really motivates you”.

They argue it is not about hiring one or the other – it is about understanding what type of person you need in a job and particularly how you can create a motivational fit. The more official distinction of play to win vs. play not to lose is:

  • Promotion-focused People who work quickly, consider lots of alternatives, are great brainstormers, are open to new opportunities, are optimists and plan for best-case scenarios; and
  • Prevention-focused People who work slowly and deliberately, tend to be accurate, are prepared for the worst, are stressed by short deadlines, stick to tried-and-true ways of doing.

The key is that companies need both types of people and according to Halvorson and Higgins Motivational fit enhances and sustains BOTH the eagerness of the promotion-minded and the vigilance of the prevention-minded.

We need to realise, however, that a prevention-focused person needs an entirely different management approach then the promotion-focused. At the moment the business community leans towards a promotion-focused only approach, and similar to the extravert-only focus this is not a good development as we are missing out on important  and necessary capabilities.

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