Improving the Quality of Your Formal Award Programs

Most organizations have a formal award programs that are their pinnacle of excellence for all their employees to aspire to.

You might have these kinds of formal programs where you work, too. They’re often called by a prestigious leadership position the company wants to associate with the award. You’ll hear awards named the President’s Award, Chairman’s or CEO’s Award. Or they may go for a more branded name appeal such as Bravo Award, Excellence Award, or Pinnacle Award. 

Both position title or brand named awards, are usually appended with various award categories the company wants people to focus on. They attach qualities or values like Leadership, Innovation, Customer Service, or Citizenship, etc. to the award name.

But for all the time, effort, and energy put into these formal award programs you are likely only awarding around 1% to 2% of your employee base. In larger organizations this percentage is even less.

What can you do to elevate the quality of your existing formal award programs?

Here are seven suggestions for making your formal award programs shine.

1. Ongoing Awards Communications

Communications must be more than just the once a year fanfare.

Too often communications around these top-notch corporate award programs occurs right before the request for nominations. Then there are the reminder messages to submit nominations. Send an advisory note saying the deadline is coming up or is extended. Next, you get the notice of the awards celebration event or announcement of the winners. And, if there is an event, you’ll get the total hoopla of the winners, leaders present, the actual presentations, and photos of award winners and whatever they receive. 

Then it’s silence until next year. 

Create a communications calendar for each formal award you have. Always be sowing seeds to be working on and looking for exemplary projects and activities that merit being honored. 

Have winners from the previous year commit to giving at least one presentation about their project to whet the appetite of potential nominees. Showcase winning projects and accomplishments in poster storyboards displayed at different company events. Systematically highlight a winner throughout the year answering questions about why they did what they did and how much the award meant to them.

Keep the award alive all year long.

2. Year Round Invitation for Nominations

Move away from the one time invitation for nominations. This only creates more angst to get something done in such a short time. Instead, keep the door open and promote nominations throughout the year. Use every communication channel available to you to highlight previous winners and publicize the idea to get ready to submit a nomination.

3. Publicize Positive Performance Examples

Lots of great things go on in all organizations that can easily be unnoticed by most employees or taken for granted. Use your pre-shift meetings to relay stories of excellent customer service or stellar employee performance shared by your communications team. Convey the same examples in management and staff meetings. Make sure your online intranet and company newsletter are highlighting employees recognized for great performance and positive behaviors. Bring out the great things occurring everywhere.

4. Coaching and Tutorials on Nomination Writing

In a lot of cases the winners of these awards stem from a well-written nomination form. This means you must concentrate on helping managers and employees learn how to write better submissions.

Show people how easy it is to submit a successful nomination. Provide online and in person presentations on how to write a nomination. Have coaches available that nomination writers can approach for direction and suggestions. If your formal award has existed a while you could create a library of past written nominations to draw upon for structure and inspiration.

5. Simple and Effective Nomination Process

One thing I have seen for some award nominations is a blank page and they ask why are you nominating this individual for this award? That kind of approach is too broad and vague. It can lead to favoritism with judging who wins.

Keep things simple, for sure, but establish 3 to 5 criteria for each award that nominators can specifically write to and prove their point. Give a word count length for each criteria section on the form. Word length does not have to be long, but having a structure like this guides the nominator to know better what to write. Permit supportive documentation and endorsement letters to accompany the nomination to help those who adjudicate the award appreciate fully what the nominee did. 

6. Straightforward and Easy Adjudication Process

Give those on the awards committee assigned to adjudicate each nomination the right tools to help them judge and report their opinion. 

I have seen where judges receive a broad 10-point scale or out of 100 percent, or vote across all the nominees who they think the winner is. They must achieve consensus and they do this somehow, but it is hard and subjective.

My recommendation is to aim to make judging more objective. Match up those criteria points on the nomination form with a simple scoring rubric for judges. Create and use a 5 to 7-point Likert scale. These may have written descriptions for each level, such as––Very Poor, Poor, Average, Good, and Very Good––for a 5-point scale. Or at the least, each level should have specific written descriptions to assist judges evaluate each criteria level. 

For example, for the criteria item Business Impact for an Innovation Award, level 1, might be “Low” and described as, “Low degree of innovation, creativity, and relevant business impact.”

7. Feedback to Nominator

One reason that the quality of nominations can be poor is because no one ever goes back to the writer with any feedback on the nomination. If you can keep the criteria and scoring process short and sweet, award committee members judging the awards can provide simple notes.

Have an online form created to capture judges’ notes while they’re adjudicating––positive and constructive feedback––along with the actual scores for each criteria point. This will help the writer know why they won or why they did not. 

Put at least one of these suggestions into practice before your next cycle of formal award nominations.

Recognition Reflection: How can you improve the quality of your existing formal award programs?

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