• David Sharp
  • 7 August 2013

The rewards of awards

The annual awards season is almost upon us again.

If you’re one of the people who likes dressing up and attending these auspicious professional networking occasions, you might be feeling it’s a bit too soon to be thinking about ball gowns, dinner suits and drinks tabs the size of a monthly mortgage payment.

If, however, you’re one of the people who’s just completed a submission to enter one of these awards, the chances are – with deadline day behind you – you’ll be feeling a combination of stress, exhaustion and relief. 

So why put yourself, your colleagues, and maybe your organisation through such an intensive process when the chances are you have greater priorities, you can’t think of anything you’ve done that’s been excellent, and you don’t think you’ll win anyway? Or is that purely a very defeatist, archetypally British way of looking at things?

As the MD of Workplace Law, I’ve pushed us to enter awards in the past, with both encouraging and disappointing results. We actually have a good track record in entering awards, with a really high conversion rate. Yet despite winning a prestigious award from the Periodical Publishers Association in 2008 (awards are always ‘prestigious’) and winning the silver award at the Elearning Age E-learning Awards 2011 (which I think actually means we came second?), in the years following our victories we chose not to re-enter the same category. The reason? We didn’t want to jinx our chances in case we didn’t win again.

And where we’d not even made the shortlist, we didn’t ever go back and try and improve on our performance the following year. The reason? Well, if we weren’t good enough first time round, how could we hope to win next time …?

The flawed logic was made thumpingly obvious to me during the judging at this year’s BIFM Awards, where I’d been honoured to join the judging panel for the Learning and Career Development category. For the first time, I saw the process through the judges’ eyes, and since then I’ve been converted from someone who thought awards were ‘quite a good thing’ to someone who thinks it should be compulsory for all organisations to enter at least one award every year, or else.

What struck me above all was the opportunity the entry criteria and the submission process provides for everyone to measure themselves against the same industry yardstick, and to give and receive feedback on the work they are doing as part of the judging process. I’d always seen the judges as the ‘experts’, in effect looking down on the entrants and passing forth judgment upon them.  

As one of six or seven people on our judging panel for our category at the BIFM Awards, it was a pleasure to see and hear what excellent work is going on in facilities management, and to see just how the leading proponents are driving the standards that others will have to catch up with. It’s a Darwinian process: survival of the fittest, with the best getting better, and everyone involved discovering more, confidentially, about how they could improve their business and their chances next year.

Another misconception I’d always had was that award entries always had to be about something new and in some way ‘exciting’. In fact, judges are looking for evidence to support their views, and newness is one factor that sometimes counts against this: if you fail one year, there’s no reason why you can’t enter again the following year with more evidence to support your claims, and to build on your experience the year before. Success is often achieved more from evolution rather than revolution.

As an awards convert, I’m keen to support Workplace Law and to pass on tips to our team that I’ve gained from judging (not least in getting commitment from the top, no matter what the award you are entering).

We wait with baited breath to find out how our recently submitted entry to the E-learning Age Awards 2013 fares. But one thing is for sure: win, lose or draw, we’ll be sure to get the judges’ feedback and will be entering again next year.