Commentary

Who cares about awards anyway?

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At FCW’s recent Federal 100 Awards gala, one of this year’s winners told me how thrilling it was to get the award. Apparently she did not remember the terse message I had received from her the last time I was an award judge. I was reminded that we all like recognition and dismiss it when we are overlooked or rejected.

The first year of the Federal 100 awards, I nominated a candidate who ended up being chosen. I felt good that the person I thought was deserving had made it through the review process and been selected. My warm feelings cooled somewhat when that person wanted to know what FCW would do the second year. “Surely there can’t be another 100 deserving winners still to be selected.” My chump alert went off. Maybe that person had not been the best candidate.

The value of awards is always in the eye of the beholder, but responsibility for them rests in several quarters. First, the awarding organization must give them for the right reasons and run a credible process to select the winners. Second, the person receiving the award needs to have done something to deserve it and not just be someone who knows how to manipulate the system. Third, awards should be given based on merit, not rank. And finally, the process should be open and continuous so that nominators and nominees can always look forward to next year.

When I coached Little League sports, my policy was that, within reason, every kid should be recognized for something. It sounds Pollyannaish, but you would be amazed how many of those awards are still on a shelf somewhere. Part of creating high-performance organizations is creating legends and self-esteem. It’s something you can’t do with money, and those features follow us forever. Taking the attitude that having too many awards cheapens them is wrong. What cheapens them is giving them for the wrong reasons, with poor intentions and agendas.

The other key ingredient to making awards meaningful is the initiators. Having received a number of awards, I think the only thing more rewarding is ferreting out the person who has deserved public praise for a long time and not yet been recognized. Finding that person, taking the time to write up the nomination, pushing the selection and seeing him or her receive the award is immensely satisfying. If you want to feel like the cavalry, give it a try. It will make you want to do it again, and it will make the next award you receive seem a lot more special.

So when next year’s Federal 100 -- or any other awards program -- comes up, take the time to reflect on who deserves to be honored. How should that list read next time? What agencies have been left out? Are there deserving contributors outside the geographic area who are never considered? Are you doing your part to make the system work, and would you be proud if your candidate won?

Be critical and demanding of those you nominate. Your nomination should not be given away or taken for granted. Also take the time to tell that long-deserving person who finally got the award that you noticed. It will help him or her appreciate that patience counts.

We all have a part to play in recognizing achievement and good behavior. Just remember to keep your chump alert system active, and if the alarm goes off, you might want to reconsider your nominee.

About the Author

Bob Woods is president of Topside Consulting Group and former commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Technology Service.

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Reader comments

Tue, Apr 23, 2013

When I was a postal supervisor, I once decided that one of my employees was doing such an outstanding job that I put him in for a Quality Step Increase (QSI). I was able to justify the award to my manager who then approved it. We had a nice little award ceremony, followed by the union steward filling a grievance because I hadn't given QSIs to everybody. Needless to say, there was no getting a QSI approved by my manager after that. Nothing like sour grapes to ruin something for everyone.

Mon, Apr 22, 2013

I have learned the hard way to be highly skeptical of awards. My partcicular unit was given the award as best in the entire Air Force. We were under NSPS at the time. However, nearly all the non-supervisory NSPS employees in our group were rated BELOW the average rating given out and subsequently recieved less pay because of it. What good is an award when it does not reflect the reality of what is going on to those recieving it?

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