Everyone’s a winner

As the great and the good of US cinema prepare to unveil this year’s nominations for the Oscars tonight (31 January), many of us enjoy the fantasy of clutching an award close to our chests and thanking everyone from our grandparents to our cleaner.

Hollywood bashes aside, the business world has witnessed a tremendous proliferation of awards in recent years, celebrating everything from best staff canteen to cleanest loo. The challenge for employers is to identify the awards that will have the greatest impact on staff morale and motivation if the organisation is successful.

Nick Wake, head of marketing at Grass Roots, an employee recognition and reward programme provider with clients such as Lloyds TSB, Asda and Rolls Royce, urges HR and reward managers to beware the newer, less-established award schemes.

“The best and well-established awards schemes are doing a great job in raising standards and rewarding excellence, but there is a worrying trend in badly thought-out ‘me-too’ awards that are lessening the impact of all awards,” he explains.

Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is less cynical. “Receiving an award is an intangible reward for good work and the cheque you may get is far less important than the sheer fact of the recognition,” he says.

Sales organisations, for example often use awards as a motivational tool, while other employers use them to raise awareness of customer service programmes. “Winning an award is invariably excellent for your career prospects and fulfils the very basic human need we have for recognition,” he adds.

But author and business coach Judi James warns that, if approached in the wrong way, awards can be “both manipulative and even demotivating for many staff”.

She says: “It is human nature to be sucked in when an award comes up and for most of us the only object of the exercise is to try and win. But there will always be some staff who would rather cut out their own tongue than be named at an awards ceremony, which is hardly a motivating experience for them.”

However, James advises against organisations ‘fixing’ awards so that every single staff member wins something in the hope that it will increase morale. “No-one is fooled by an awards ceremony at which there are no runners-up or losers. Many people will feel that such an event is horribly staged and even patronising,” she says.

Christine Cryne, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, points out that the whole awards experience can be as enriching as a team night out or work party. “Awards are great. They recognise success, improve morale and provide a perfect opportunity to take the team out for a celebration,” she says.

And although it’s tempting to enter every awards scheme going, Wake suggests that those co-ordinating entries be selective.

“Nowadays, our company goes in for just two key industry awards and, as of this year, the Sunday Times Best Small Companies award,” he says. “The beauty of that award is that you aren’t at the mercy of a team of partial judges and how they feel on the day. Instead, you rely wholly on your employees completing an online questionnaire. It’s less time-consuming and more impartial.”

The number of awards schemes emerging means that the chances of winning increases by the year. Perhaps 2006 could be your organisation’s red carpet moment.

Don’t be a loser in awards

More and more organisations now host their own awards events as a way of recognising staff achievements. However, they are often expensive and time-consuming to organise, and can end up leaving some staff more demotivated than before. Here are a few employee recognition traps to avoid:

  • Don’t single out one or a few employees who are mysteriously selected for the recognition.
  • Don’t sap the morale of the many who failed to win, place, or even show.
  • Don’t confuse people who meet the criteria yet were not selected.
  • Don’t seek votes or base your choices on other personalised, subjective criteria to determine winners.

Case study: Bev Shears

Bev Shears was named HR Director of the Year in the 2003 Personnel Today awards, when she was the HR director and deputy managing director of SouthWest Trains. She was unaware that her team had nominated her for the award until she was told she had been shortlisted.

Having “achieved all she wanted in the job” and groomed her successor, Shears quit SouthWest Trains in May 2005 to support her son through his GCSEs. She is currently working as a consultant and is studying for a Certificate in Coaching from Henley Management College.

“To have what we had done validated by a list of blue-chip judges was a fantastic experience, made even sweeter by the fact that I had no idea I was being nominated.

“I was a guest editor of Personnel Today, which was great fun, and in October 2005, I became president of employee relations for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development for two years. Neither of these accolades would have happened without the award.

“Although some people may be cynical about awards, I think they’re probably the sort of people who wouldn’t win them anyway. In my experience, awards are a great way of motivating people and can genuinely unify a team. While bonuses can never really be generous enough, and can quickly become incredibly expensive, awards are about far more than money.”


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