I know - you get labeled as a manipulator if you make employees compete against each other.
I think that sucks. We need more competition, not less.
The best way to get non-sales, white collar professional employees to compete is to create workflow that lets people check things out when they're ready to work on them and back in when they're complete. Then keep public track of who's working on what and who completed what. A scoreboard of sorts.
Does that make them suspicious that you're simply trying to get them to compete? Maybe. Just deny it if it comes up. Tell them they can take as much time as they want on any task or project they check out. They'll always be at least one person who wants to light up the scoreboard. My kids call them the "try hards".
They're called "try hards" for a reason. When they try hard, you have to make a choice. You're either going to try harder than you want or you're going to be a complete slacker. See the video below for an example (email subscribers, click through for the video from HBO's Silicon Valley).
Most people will chose to compete, at least harder than they intended to, when a try hard enters the mix and starts lighting up the scoreboard. It's human nature.
Long live the Try Hards.