I’ve recently read two really excellent posts on the pros and cons of award ceremonies courtesy Paul Taylor and Tom Murtha. That set me thinking about what the intended purpose of industry awards are and whether they help or hinder learning, reputation and perception.
I’ve had quite a lot of conflicting thoughts about awards over the years, so I’m really and truly writing this post as way to unpack my brain and try to arrange it into something that looks like a cohesive opinion. So, here goes.. this one’s been through a few edits!! Buckle in!
Do we need someone to tell us what’s good?
One of the brilliant things about the arrival of the Internet has been its ability to disrupt and distribute authority.
It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to find your way into an established industry you’d need to keep banging on the door until they let you in. Often, knowing someone on the inside was just as important as what you know. If you’re looking for an example, think of how music used to be created and distributed (record company), and how it’s consumed and popularised now (Spotify, iTunes, Youtube).
The Internet has lowered the barrier to both incredibly powerful tools and the knowledge to use them. Everyone now has the means to build their very own diverse networks that can rapidly share and learn from individual successes and failures. Access to information is near limitless. Whatever you can think of, there’s some way to learn about it in a few taps of the finger.
The big question is.. what value do industry awards add?
As Paul points out in his post, customers aren’t bothered about awards they didn’t vote on. So we must be using them as a professional tool for staff recognition, networking and good practice sharing.
As we continue to hurtle headlong into the connected age, social capital is earned through talking, sharing, contributing and doing — not necessarily from trophies or award stamps.
Bromford’s recent award win did not convince me that they’re an innovative forward thinking organisation. Why? Because I already knew this ages ago based on the fairly regular stream of tweets and blog posts that Bromford employees share. My colleagues also know of the good stuff that Bromford do because I share those very same tweets and blog posts with them. There’s that network effect I just spoke of.
I suppose this all really boils down to.. what is your trusted source to learn about things? For me, it’s my (mostly Twitter) network. Over the years I’ve carefully curated a list of people who talk about the work they do in whatever field they’re in. They become my trusted source on that subject area based on the quality of what they share or contribute. And through them I find other trusted sources on other subjects (*note — it’s good to have some contradictory views rather than total cosy consensus).
I do wonder what place industry awards would have if people working in said industry really seized upon the (absolutely free!) tools readily available to work out loud and compare notes.
Through those informal networks, we could celebrate and share good work much more frequently than one night every year. And perhaps we could share it more widely than <insert your own industry or sector here>.
Do we reward people for the low profile, not so glamourous stuff?
Lasting transformative change rarely comes from parachuting the new on top of the old. It comes from doing the really hard graft to make things simpler and more polished. Inching along day by day, working to strip away the clutter of the past to focus on the irreducible core.
I worry that the bigger the awards ceremony, the more likely it is to veer towards flashy high profile stuff. Everyone will want to celebrate the first organisation that implements an Artificial Intelligence which deals with customers in real-time. Few will ever know of the 1000’s of hours of cross-departmental work behind the scenes to feed the Artificial Intelligence with good, clean, accurate data.
And there’s value in the hard graft because that’s where most other organisations are in reality. ChatBot3000 might make for an impressive press release (… or does it?!) but good practical advice on how to actually sort your data out is what most *really* need right now.
I know this is a technology specific example, but it’s probably equally applicable if you build houses or provide community services. Doing the fundamentals right and meeting people’s needs is the foundation for everything else. In striving for higher profile work, I think it’s important not to downplay or forget about really nailing the fundamentals.
If you want to know what this looks like in practice, have a look at the things the Government Digital Service are doing. They pour a painstaking amount of attention into each small part of the services they work on. The result isn’t flashy, it just works really really well.
As I’m typing this I realise it sounds like hard and unrelenting work, which it unfortunately is in most cases! But that’s why we have to find a way to celebrate it because that’s where we really need people who are enthusiastic and up for the challenge.
But.. shouldn’t we reward and recognise staff for hard work?
Yes! Pay them fairly, offer them flexibility, let them work wherever they like, mentor them, listen to them, give them opportunities to lead, give them a space to learn and give them the encouragement to work more openly so they can raise their own profile (and by proxy — that of their organisation).
I personally think these things will do more for people’s careers in the long term than the occasional evening at a hotel sipping champagne. It will also do wonders for the reputation of your organisation both inside and outside whatever sector you operate in.
So, just scrap all awards events? Right?
No — I’m not a fan of absolutes. I’m sure there are plenty of people running awards events with really good positive intentions. And I’m not sure we need to mandate that there’s just one official awards ceremony per sector — I suspect that would make it ever more expansive, exclusive and expensive. But I do think we need to ask more from them and really think hard about where the value lies.
Two noteworthy events that I’m aware of.. (apologies to anyone else doing awesome stuff that I don’t know about)
Comms2Point0 UnAwards. This is a non sector specific event for those working in communications and digital. Beautifully summarised in their own words..
The ‘UnAwards’ are different to any other comms and digital industry awards and, we believe, all the better for it. As an alternative to the high ticket price, black tie, cordon blah dinner award ceremonies, the UnAwards recognises genuine creativity, innovation and results. They’re laid back, held during the day, free to enter and cheap as chips to attend.
With awards determined through a mix of judging panel and community voting, they are also fair.
CIH Cymru Welsh Housing Awards. I’ve given them a thumbs up before for focusing on using the event as a means to share good practice first and foremost.
All shortlisted nominations are published in a compendium for free on their website (bonus marks — not behind any email harvesting registration pages either!).
They stream their event on the internet too so it’s not restricted to just those who are lucky enough to have the budget/a baby sitter/eveningwear.
Have I missed something?
Is there a flaw in my logic? I’m always keen to learn and discuss. Let’s chat!
If you know of any other award events that are doing good stuff, let me know that too! You can reply to this post or @NeilTamplin me on Twitter.