The highs and lows of awards season

The Business of People Blog Series

The BAFTA's, Brits - awards season is upon us, the champagne is flowing and the backslapping is in full swing. Award ceremonies are a crucial part of most businesses and key to rewarding staff achievement, but Darren Ryemill argues, they also have their downsides…

The recruitment industry, like many others is one that's synonymous with rewarding high achievers. It's very meritocratic and people who are successful can expect not just good pay and promotions but also rewards, awards and public recognition of their achievements. I'm a big believer in rewarding people. I think it creates a dynamic, performance and competition based environment - and there's some great things about that. At Opus we've given away everything from holidays to Las Vegas to Porsche's.

But, for every person who wins a Porsche - there are many, many others who don't. For every winner of manager of the year, there are hundreds of managers who didn't even make the shortlist. I've lost count of the number of award ceremonies I've been at when people have come up to me afterwards saying they're gutted they lost, they were robbed, it's a fix etc. And for those people, it's crap. Sometimes they're totally right and they missed out by the smallest margin. But sometimes, they're wrong. The standard response to the losers tends to be, 'you were great and you should have won'. No one ever says, ' do you know what…I actually thought you were fairly bad. You weren't in the same league as the winner.' I know that would be harsh, but the reality is that some people are just stronger and achieving more - and they're usually the people who end up winning.

As well as the losers who spend the rest of the night being angry or upset, awards can also have a negative impact on the winners. Some people win and go on to perform even better because of this new status they've been given. But many people do the opposite and become complacent. They think, 'I've done this brilliant job, smashed all my targets and now I can sit back.'  They take their eye off the ball and are content with being the best they could be this year - rather than being even better next year. And as most successful sportspeople will tell you, it's far easier to win something than to retain it. That's when the real work starts. 

Winning an award can also change people's expectations and affect their attitude towards future achievements. To give an example, I did an annual review with someone recently who has been promoted twice in 18 months, seen their salary go up by 45% and won numerous awards. They were told in their review that they'd had a fairly good year and would be getting a £5k pay rise (on top of a bonus and their original 45% rise) and their instant reaction was, 'is that all?' Rightly, this person now feels they're doing an amazing job and they've certainly had a really great few years. So they believe they can walk on water, they're a superhero -- and they're now seeing a positive thing like a pay rise as a negative. Once some people's taste becomes accustomed to a certain level of richness, it's often followed by a crash. It's like the high of your Christmas dinner followed by that slump that hits you on December 27th. 

The other thing about chasing to be a winner is there's a real danger you can lose sight of yourself as a result. A couple of years ago, we were named as the second best place in the UK to work by The Sunday Times - a fantastic achievement. Afterwards, I rang them and asked why we weren't the first and they gave me some feedback. We then made some changes based on that feedback and lots of employees told me they didn't like it. They felt we'd gone too corporate. They liked working for a business on the up who do things their own way. They didn't want us doing the same as everyone else. We tried to become more like the winner and ended up losing a bit of ourselves. 

Having said that, awards do mean a lot here at Opus. When we first started the business 'celebrating success and rewarding achievement' was one of our founding principles. And that celebration needs to happen in public, you can't celebrate in a room of one person (or you'd certainly get some strange looks if you did!) As a company we've won several awards and it means everything to me.  And that's because if you only ever look internally, you'll only ever see yourself and your own vision reflected back. When you start looking externally, you notice how other people are doing things - and you learn from them. So I think the most important thing when going to these ceremonies is to think about what you can bring back with you, aside from a trophy or winners certificate. Go to learn, to see what others are doing and what you're up against. It's always good to know what your competition is offering and to be challenged on whether you could be doing things better. 

As someone who has spent a lot of time going to awards, receiving them and judging them, I will admit they aren't my favourite thing in the world. In fact, when I was named business leader entrepreneur of the year, I didn't go along and I missed out on meeting Caprice as a result. Something that my younger self whilst at Uni in the late 90's when she was a household name model would have been disgusted in me for! Anyway, that gives you an idea of my general appetite for awards ceremonies! But the one question I get asked the most about them is probably, 'how can I make my entry stand out?' And I'd give the same advice as I do for many things - be you. Everyone's only truly unique selling point is they are them - they are the best in the world at being them. As soon as you stop being true to yourself, you end up becoming a duller version of someone else. And that's not going to win you anything.  

What do you think about awards? Do you have any great ways of rewarding success? Get in touch with me today on my LinkedIn or Twitter. And if there are any other topics you'd like me to blog about then just let me know.

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