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September 26, 2006

What good are awards? Part 2

Following up from yesterday's post...

On the other hand, I know how much time and money awards programs cost. One of the biggest problems is that association staffs feel like they have to make awards totally impartial. So we set up bureaucratic processes like checks and balances and applications and member (over-) involvement to at least make the process appear kosher. The time we spend on the process is not insignificant.

Then there's the expense of the awards. Those engraved pieces of acrylic are a racket. Oh, and you better not let one of them slip through with a mis-print! So we proof read each of them multiple times. Inevitably, one will break in shipping every few years, throwing the project manager into a state of panic, and others on staff are affected, bringing down everyone's productivity.

And I don't really buy the "awards programs inspire people to do bigger and better things" argument. The best and brightest are intrinsically motivated, not induced by carrot and stick.

So why, in this day and age when we are trying to cut the low value stuff, do we keep doing awards programs?

Let's get real: The overwhelming majority of members are either totally unconcerned about or totally unaware of their associations' awards. I won't fool myself into thinking that anyone cares that I won my little awards but me. Oh, I guess my wife, a few close friends and some colleagues care, maybe a little. Yeah, they look good on my resume and in my LinkedIn profile, and I've read that putting awards up on my office walls or bookcases makes me a look like a self-absorbed jerk (but I've done it anyway). This is the most important part: I'd bet 90% of members would rate their association's awards programs in the bottom 10% of a list of valued programs. Based on this estimate, fewer than 10% of members would actually miss awards if they were cut.

One more post on this tomorrow...

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Nathan Larson said...

The government contractor I work for received a letter of commendation from an agency (I believe it was the Army) and as our marketing person was posting it on the wall, she said she had been pondering whether or not it would be appropriate to write them back and ask them to send another letter without all the typos and grammatical errors.

Nathan Larson said...

I want to get an award sometime for my political work. It would feel good after all those long hours of effort. A plaque can be a tangible symbol of accomplishment that brings a feeling of satisfaction every time you look at it, especially if comes after pushing a tough project to completion. I knew an ultramarathon runner who hung T-shirts from all the races he'd won on his stairwell wall.

On the other hand, when it comes to the type of award you're referring to, who wants to cause the organization you volunteer so hard for to devote all those staff hours and money to the award process? It actually subtracts from your contribution to the group. It's like how some organizations offer you a free gift if you donate, but then allow you to check a box to waive the gift so that your full donation goes to support their work. Sometimes I just check the box.

What's really cheesy is when organizations decide they're going to give everyone an award. I think I've trashed a few of those plaques.

If you can standardize the criteria for getting the award, I'm sure that simplifies matters. For instance, the Congressional Award is granted for doing x hours of volunteer work, personal development, physical exercise, etc. in order to meet certain objectives set by the individual and their advisor with the prior approval of the organization.

Anonymous said...

For a Trade, an awards program can be a good tool to promote the good that the industry and the members are doing. In this case, you can connect a strong ROI to the program. I think a key is to keep the program focused and not loose sight of why the award was created in the first place. Using awards to generate goodwill outside the association can be a good thing.