Award overkill?

by 25 Mar 2010

With so many award ceremonies taking place, Tom Washington investigates the true value of winning an award to HR and their organisations

The National Work-Life Balance Awards were announced this week, while earlier in the month Hewitt Associates recognised Australia and New Zealand’s ‘Best of the Best’ employers and April sees the inaugural Best Haircut in HR Awards.

OK, the last one is made up, but with seemingly endless awards ceremonies attached to every conceivable field of business, do they really hold gravitas, or are the events simply a public relations playground?

Tim Powell, Managing Director of Hewitt Associates, argued the value of such awards lies in the process, not just the outcome. “The process [of entering the competition] provides an opportunity to reinforce and analyse how they are driving engagement and performance. But there is a risk that if the market is saturated with too many awards they’ll become disposable and the value may become less that it is now.”

Microsoft Australia was one of the three companies named in Hewitt’s ‘Best of the Best’ category and the IT firm has also picked up a 2009 Diversity@Work award for the employment and inclusion of women in leadership.

Microsoft’s human resources director, Rose Clements said the IT giant sees industry awards as great importance for its external brand and chooses which competitions it enters with great care. “We have targeted those that have meaning and credibility and that are aligned with our business strategy. Microsoft people are proud to work here and the awards mean their families and the outside world can share that pride,” she explained.

Express Data was another winner at Hewitt’s ceremony. The IT logistics firm’s people and culture manager Molly Baker said that by entering awards she is able to benchmark its policies against other employers, while also ensuring it is fulfilling its corporate promise.

“There is no point being a great soccer team if you don’t go and play against other teams,” she said. “We think we do an awesome job but awards allow us to audit ourselves against our competitors. Winning is just a bonus.”

Baker added that the most valuable awards are those with rigorous surveys of the entrants, but said others with less stringent criteria could end up devaluing awards altogether.

For HR professionals, the need to attract and retain talent can be boosted by industry awards. For example, if an organisation claims to be family friendly, winning an award for being a good employer for working mothers boosts confidence for new hires looking for such arrangements.

Last week Alcoa of Australia was recognised as an Employer of Choice for Women by the Federal Government’s Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency for the ninth year in a row.

Director of talent, learning and development at Alcoa, Jann Kinsela said: “We believe we have a far greater chance of attracting the people who will be the best fit for the organisation, and who are best place to deliver bottom line results by offering arrangements that suit working mums – and dads too for that matter.”

There are of course awards aimed at celebrating individual success. Rhonda Brighton, Luxottica’s senior vice president of HR, Asia Pacific and Africa, was awarded the 2009 Telstra NSW Business Woman of the Year 2009, proving that HR can mix it with the best of them.

Perhaps for the more cynical of you, awards such as this not only recognise fantastic personal achievements, but also serve to boost an individual’s profile in the industry for career-enhancing reasons, either internally or otherwise.

Nele Vandersmissen, senior consultant at Hays HR, said that they are in essence self-promotion as people often have to nominate themselves, but that doesn’t mean they are putting themselves in the shop window. “Many of clients have won lots of awards and have remained with the same company. Winning awards certainly boosts profiles. It shows they are passionate about what they do,” she said.


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