Ali vs. Anderson – Unlikely Competitors

Listening to Ali Velshi speak at the 2010 HRPA Conference was quite interesting to say the least. He began his speech by described how he went from being a Business Analyst in Canada to a Hurricane Chaser for CNN (not an easy feat). He went on to tell about his journey down south, job offer and expected start date in hand and how he was refused entry at US customs because his Visa wasn’t in order – all this happening just days before one of the most tragic events in our lifetime – September 11th, 2001. That day, as we all know changed travel drastically, and getting across the border, was of course not that easy! However not being able to get a flight didn’t stop Ali, he instead turned to his trusted motorcycle and two wheeled it down south to join the CNN newsroom. Overall it was a great story of a fellow Canadian making it big but what really caught my attention was how throughout his presentation Ali Velshi always seemed to refer back to Anderson Cooper, fellow Anchor and Reporter at CNN.

Anderson vs. Ali sounds like an unlikely rivalry. One at least I never expected. Ali referred to Anderson on several occasions during the final keynote at the 2010 HRPA Conference. Much to his displeasure if Anderson was to be a part of the same story Ali’s coverage would be bumped. Jokingly, Ali stated how the audience would likely be more intrigued with his presentation if it were given by Anderson. Did Ali’s really think the viewers were more interested in seeing Anderson on television than himself? Probably not, but lets just say there is some respectful professional rivalry going on a CNN, which can be healthy but can also be very destructive if not managed correctly.

These kinds of rivalries are not uncommon in the regular everyday working world. Often one employee may feel they are perceived to be lesser by other colleagues in the organization. Whether because of unequal treatment, (what we like to call favoritism) in the workplace by their Manager or a feeling brought on by themselves due to a lack self-esteem, this is a problem that needs to be addressed. How do you as an Employer or Manager ensure that your subordinates feel important and are recognized for their accomplishments (and down falls) on the same level?

First, your organization needs the right processes in place to effectively and accurately measure success against an appropriate benchmark. This will limit bias and place all employees on an equal footing. Instead of comparing Ali’s ratings to Anderson and vice versa, management should measure them against a preexisting benchmark to see how they compare (Walter Cronkite). This takes the emotional (human) aspect out of the equation and minimizes the competition between colleagues and translates into a less hostile working environment.

Secondly, Managers need to express their gratitude to all employees when a job is done well and provide constructive criticism when improvements are needed. In this case, if Ali receives record high ratings on a story he’s covered; management should express their contentment with his work and maybe even offer him a prime time slot or a raise (shameless plug for a fellow Canadian). This move would demonstrate their confidence in his work and encourage Ali to continue on the path to success.

Finally, its important not to fall into the “everyone is equal” trap, a little good old fashion competition can be a key motivator in getting an employee to take the next step in his/ her career. It pushes individuals to work beyond their comfort zone. They not only work harder but smarter. Competition helps the employee to continually look for areas of improvement and ways to outwit their colleagues. This can lead to innovative ideas and an increase in productivity. Keep in mind that too much competition can back fire and cause an increase in turnover and an over all unhappy workplace. The key is everything is moderation!

Clearly Ali Velshi is a highly capable reporter who contributes a great deal to the success of CNN. It is also apparent that Ali and Anderson share a healthy competitive relationship! In my mind and the minds of most at the audience members at the HRPA Conference, Ali put on a great presentation and we can all be proud to have such a competent and competitive Canadian working at CNN.

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