Results matter and all leaders know it. Numbers on a page, figures on an income statement and defined positions on a quantifiably measured graph. They are factually cold, hard and indisputable. Outstanding leaders chase them with rigour and ruthless determination. But are they enough?
For the first 20 years of my career, I would say they were more than enough. I classified them as being paramount in my relative success on the corporate ladder. Get the result, broadcast it, and await recognition. For the last 10 years, however, I started to grow up. I realised that outcomes needed to not only be more purposeful – mutually beneficial beyond myself and the organisation (a topic for another day), but importantly, results needed to be more inspiring and engaging for both those inside and outside of a corporation. Specifically, I asked myself the question – how can we achieve cultural brilliance beyond results alone? The answer may surprise you.
Yes, awards. Recognition from others that create a sense of individual and collective euphoria that can never be achieved by numbers in isolation. CEOs and HR leaders love this type of culture. It leads to a state of pulpable excitement and unbridled passion that literally radiates throughout an entire business. You feel it when you enter a building, sense it when connecting with its people and experience it when working from within. Unfortunately, we have a problem. In today’s demanding business world, awards are seldom on the leadership agenda.
Like our international counterparts, corporate Australia is now a serious game with little time for sentiment. Everything is measurable and results are instantaneous. Shareholders demand consistency, repeatability and predictability, not the pleasantries of award and recognition. As a result, leaders become modest and bashful. We tend not to talk or focus on awards, as that’s what other less successful companies do. Heck, as a former marketing guy, I have been guilty of this.
So, before we accept the seriousness of corporate realities, ask yourself one question. Do I want to create cultural brilliance in my organisation that can lead to breakthrough transformation? I do, and that’s why awards matter. Way more than we think, and it’s time we start taking them seriously, again.
Awards are talent magnets
No doubt about it. They attract the very best into your organisation and for those already there, awards function as a retention strategy that is second to none. Exceptional people want to join exceptional businesses. They are wary of flashy and well-crafted Employee Value Propositions (EVPs) and are rightly hesitant to trust the corporate rhetoric from an HR department or charismatic CEO. What matters are the feedback and opinions of those in the know – customers, consumers, suppliers, industry and association groups and, of course, the employees themselves. When a business wins a respected award, it gets noticed and it gets talked about. Big time.
When I demand my teams recruit an unfair share of talent, there are few better and more cost-effective levers for them to pull than showcasing awards. A sustainability award from a national body, a coveted Great Place to Work Award, a supplier of the year award, a Cannes Golden Lion statuette or even the simplicity of an employee of the quarter award makes a massive difference to all those involved. Neuroscience tells us that success and failure can shape us more powerfully than genetics or drugs. That’s a huge call. When an individual wins a contest, there is a large release of testosterone and dopamine into the brain. Over time, this chemical release makes people feel smarter, stronger and more confident than before. Winning is infectious for not only themselves, but for all those around them.
Awards are seldom won by the average.
They are won by being distinct, compelling and always ahead of the competition. Recipients do things that others don’t, and awards are usually bestowed upon those who take calculated risks to achieve exceptional breakthrough. The best people despise organisations of mediocrity and thrive on those businesses who strive for transformation.
Awards reward those who service others.
Respected awards (and I am not talking about those that can be bought or influenced – they are found out and dismissed very easily by those in the know), start with a mindset of servicing others. Customer, consumer or partner. They focus individuals and teams as to what really matters. Outstanding talent always flourish on clarity and focus.
Awards are enduring.
Seldom are results talked about beyond the date of achievement. Awards are different. Even the unassuming leader feels a prolonged sense of pride that results from recognition by others. Interestingly, there is also scientific theory that tells us winning makes you live longer than coming second. Nobel Prize winners, Hall of Famers and Academic Award winners outlive their nominated counterparts by an average of 3 years.
Awards are gold for storytellers and storytelling.
I was told very early on in my career that if you cannot create hype internally, don’t bother doing it externally. The world needs storytelling about exceptional organisations. And storytellers need awards to help write the chapters.
Yes, results matter and they always will. As a driven leader, I suspect I will never change my views on this. But critically, awards can matter too. They just need to be made special again.
Hamish Thomson is a leadership specialist and author of It’s Not Always Right to be Right (Wiley )