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Awards panel gives credibility to company honors

By Dan Carrison

It’s that time of the year again, when annual performance awards are given to employees who have been singled out by management for exceptional achievements. Typically, these awards are presented in front of the staff with some fanfare. But an undercurrent of dissatisfaction may exist among some in the audience who think that upper management is in no position to recognize or evaluate the true contributions of the rank and file.

One sure way to avoid a cynical response from the workforce is to create an awards board of former recipients from various departments. Board members would make the annual selections. Their credibility will bestow legitimacy on each award. These previously honored company veterans know the score; they have “been there and done that.” They are in a much better position to evaluate high performance – and, further, to ferret out the true backstory of a significant achievement.

For example, a major customer order may have had much less to do with the salesperson who takes credit for it and much more to do with the patient dedication of the customer service representative who gave the customer the confidence to make the buying decision – or the IT technician who tweaked the product to meet the customer’s unusual specifications. Senior management, not being in the loop, is unlikely to notice such behind-the-scenes heroics. They are apt to focus on sales numbers because they are the easiest metric to measure.

But an awards board of former recipients will know from their intimate knowledge of the company’s operations the degree to which certain individuals contributed to that blockbuster order.

Consider the negatives an awards board of former recipients would eliminate. By keeping corporate out of it, there would be no suspicion of politicking or favoritism, no question of nepotism, and no impression of career-building awards given to employees targeted for promotion. The very fact that the annual awards have been determined by previous recipients ends speculation on the part of the rank and file, for who could be a sterner judge than those who have been honored?

By allowing its past top performers to identify those deserving the high performance awards in the present, senior management tacitly is acknowledging that it is not in the best position to make this call. But there is a temptation that upper management should avoid in its enthusiasm to spur performance: the creation of an even higher award.

Many companies have an equivalent of a president’s club or silver circle, which honors their top performers in sales, customer service, marketing, production, etc. But when a company, in a misguided attempt to push performance to even greater heights, creates yet another, loftier plateau of recognition – a new platinum circle, for example – it diminishes the honors previously bestowed.

Just imagine if the military “updated” the criteria for its prestigious Medal of Honor with another category for the really, really brave – or if Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame opened a modern annex titled the Baseball Hall of Even Greater Fame. These moves would bring into question the achievements of the earlier recipients. Yet some companies blithely institute their own versions of these silly examples.

Annual achievement awards are supposed to motivate those who were not recognized for year-end performance by instilling in them a desire to sit at the roundtable. That will not happen if the rank and file deems the current recipients undeserving of their awards, and if the honors of the past are diminished by management’s arbitrary creation of a new, higher category of excellence.

Dan Carrison, a business writer and consultant, has authored or co-authored four management books: Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way, Deadline! How Premier Organizations Win the Race against Time, Business Under Fire and From the Bureau to the Boardroom. Carrison is a general partner of Semper Fi Consulting and founder of www.ghostwritersinthesky.com. He also teaches corporate communication for the University of La Verne. He can be reached at dan.carrison@gmail.com.

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