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It’s Time To Rethink Industry Awards

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It's Time To Rethink Industry Awards

“Award schemes have become a form of media. They exist to generate income for an organisation through a combination of entry fees and overpriced chicken dinners” – Stephen Waddington

It can sometimes feel like there is an industry awards ceremony for every night of the week.

A Google search for ‘housing awards’ will get you 500 million results and nearly 700 million for ‘health and social care’ awards. That’s without awards for charities and other non profits.

There isn’t a resource where you can find exactly how many ceremonies there are in total (there’s at least sixty four UK award schemes for health and social care) , but it’s clearly very big business.

With all these awards schemes recognizing excellence you’d think customer satisfaction would be soaring to hitherto unseen heights – but that’s clearly not the case.

So what are the benefits of awards ceremonies?

Brand Recognition: A relatively quick way to signal you are above the competition is by seeking out and winning awards in your industry. This is nothing new, it’s basic marketing – companies have been touting their award-winning products for over a century.

Boost Employee Moral: For individual colleagues or teams winning a recognised award gives you public recognition, this gives people their moment in the limelight.

Encourage Self Reflection: The actual act of entering an award is a discipline that, if done honestly, encourages you to articulate why you did what you did and what you learned.

Let’s be honest though, the sheer amount of award schemes means they don’t deliver any true recognition of excellence. As Stephen says in his piece – with disciplined planning and a good entry form anyone can become a winner.

Do Industry Awards Inspire or Inhibit Innovation?

Awards and accreditation can actually act against the interests of customers.

  • They can encourage people to aim at the prize rather than the journey.
  • They can encourage organisations to tell good stories rather than promoting transparency and encouraging learning from failure.
  • They can imply that innovation is a single event, when it hardly ever is. Truly significant change is achieved over years, sometimes across generations.

And awards ceremonies can actually embed silo thinking — by promoting innovation at sector level when the really wicked problems need a more joined up approach

Serena Jones has noted that publicity from awards can help us reach new partners and investors. “They also highlight and circulate new ideas, approaches, methods which challenge us to do things better or different”.

This is helpful” says Serena, “But perhaps other mechanisms (without awards) can achieve the same outcomes?”

In 2014 I collaborated with Shirley Ayres in an online competition to find the people using digital tools to connect and share knowledge in new ways. It was called Power Players.

What was intended as a slightly light-hearted alternative to formal ‘awards’ turned into something else. Hundreds of people voted and the posts themselves have had over 40,000 views.

What was different about the list was the transparency.

As Shirley wrote  at the time “Digital technology has democratised access to information and created very different ways of enabling people to connect and share resources, thoughts and opinion. We live in a digitally connected world and in the crowded social space online influence is becoming increasingly important.”

I’m disappointed in the lack of innovation in the recognition and awards space in the five years since Power Players. Outside the social sector platforms like TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and Glassdoor have harnessed the digital voice of consumers to provide a more transparent way of recognizing excellence.

Related: Lessons Learned From Five Years of Failure

Indeed, transparency is where most traditional awards, many self nominated by the recipients themselves, completely fall down.

There is rarely clarity on why someone wins, why someone loses, or why someone was ruled out in the first place.

In fact the awards business wholly lacks any real transparency which is why many people leap to the conclusion that winning comes down to who sponsors what and which organisations buy the most tables.

Social media has enabled a new transparency, you can no longer control your messaging within closed industry borders.

We’ve still got organisations who are still adapting to an era where they can be answered back and where they don’t have the final word.

Many still think their brands can be controlled (they can’t).

Many still think that their brand is their own (it isn’t).

As Jayne Hilditch has said  – every time an organisation over claims how good it is, another piece of trust with the customer dies.

Those organisations who act like ‘awards tourists’, gathering baubles in very public shows of self affirmation may find themselves having to answer difficult questions.

Who really benefits from awards – and how? 

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