What MasterChef Australia has taught me about winner vs loser mentality

Let me start with the good news, which is that 87% of organisations have recognition programmes. Fantastic. So, if you do the maths, this should equate to an equally high percentage of employees feeling appreciated, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t, for according to an Achievers survey, a quarter of UK employees say that they’re never recognised by their company, with a subsequent Reward Gateway survey finding only 42% of UK employees feel only somewhat valued by their company.

Add this together, and there is a large percentage of the workforce that doesn’t feel appreciated.

The importance of recognition:

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In my latest book, Appreciate it! The Playbook for Employee Recognition, I explore how to change these numbers by creating recognition programmes that deliver a feeling – a feeling that we all matter, we all make a difference, we’re all seen, we all belong and we’re all appreciated for who we are and what we’ve done for each other and our company.

One of the areas to address and change in order to deliver this feeling is winner versus loser mentality.

This is something that can be seen in how many companies design their recognition programmes, put limits on who can be recognised, (e.g. only one employee of the month) and as a result, create winners and losers. Those that win, feel appreciated. Those that lose feel excluded, disillusioned, demotivated and disengaged.

To help change this mindset, I want to share a lesson I’ve learned from watching one of my favourite tv shows, MasterChef Australia. You may be surprised that I cite this, for surely a show where amateur chefs battle it out week after week to be crowned the champion must have this winner versus loser mentality?

Although they do ultimately have one winner, they actually get it right many times throughout the show by doing these four things:

There are multiple opportunities to be a winner

Throughout the series, there are many opportunities to celebrate contestant successes and to feel like winners, so most contestants at one point have this winning feeling.

There are many ways to be a winner

One reason why there are so many winners throughout the series is that there are multiple ways to win. Whether it’s a team challenge, a skills test, an invention test, they don’t just compete in one way throughout the series. By doing this, it allows contestants with different skills to have the opportunity to excel and win.

There are constant learning moments

Throughout every challenge, contestants are given feedback from the judges, positive and negative, which helps them learn and grow as chefs. One by one as they leave the show they consistently say the same thing, which is to thank the judges for such an amazing learning experience. In the last episode I watched, the contestant said: “I feel confident in my abilities, like I can fly out the door.”


They have mini-winners

For each cooking challenge, they don’t just call out the name of the one winner but they call out and bring forward the top three winners of the challenge. By doing this, they are creating mini-winners, who feel like they’ve achieved something for being called forward and for having positive words being said about their dish, celebrating their successes.

It should be easy to integrate these steps into an employee recognition programme, and begin to eliminate the winner versus loser mentality at your company. HR should create multiple recognition plans within your overall programme so that there are more opportunities to be a winner and to be recognised.

It should also recognise small achievements and wins so that there are more opportunities to recognise and create more winners and celebrate not just winners but runners-ups.

Employers need to celebrate learning moments that recognise efforts that have been made even when it may not be a total success or win. By doing this in a genuine and constructive way, it helps your employees learn and grow through recognition.

So next time you consider creating winners and losers through your employee recognition programme, ask yourself, what would they do on MasterChef Australia to create that appreciation feeling? 

Debra Corey is an author, speaker and consultant


This article was first published in the March/April 2022 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.