Awards nights and integrity

Industry awards are very important as they reflect special achievements in professions and, more broadly, the community.  But what makes awards so special is that they are hard to get.  This is the reason that the Nobel Prizes are so treasured (barring this year’s controversy over the Peace Prize for President Obama).

This week in Australia, there will be several awards events for those who have achieved special things in workplace safety.  There are several issues that need to be borne in mind during this “award season” and for other awards in general.

Judging Panel and Criteria

Any organisation should publish the membership of the judging panel.  Many do not and often justify this as reducing the likelihood of judges’ decisions being interfered with.  Any organisation that claims this has the wrong judges.  If the judges were people of integrity, they would operate within an ethical framework that would make them impervious to influence.  That should be why they are selected as judges.

The criteria for selecting winners in various categories should also be made available just as the criteria for eligibility is made available to nominees.  Everyone from safety professionals to athletes select categories that they have the best chance of winning.

Some nominees have coaches to assist them, some use past awards judges.  One Australian awards process not so long ago felt there was no issue with having a current judge assist a nominee.  This was dubious at the time but when the judge/coach joined the winner on the stage, the conflict was there for everyone to see.  Sadly the organisers did not see this.

Nominee feedback

Winners have a fairly clear idea why they have won but good awards event provide a critique of all nominees so that, if they want to renominate int he future, areas of improvement are identified.

Very few organisations do this which makes the losers feel like losers rather than those who were not quite good enough to win – big difference.  If feedback is not provided, a loser can feel bitter and express that bitterness against the organisation hosting the event.  Just as, for instance, young dancers may be turned off a potential career by one poorly-worded criticism, constructive criticism can keep a dancer in that career and maintain a level of confidence.

Why have certain categories

Many awards nights have too many categories and categories that are ill-defined.  A principal reason for lots of categories is so that the organisers can attract lots of sponsors and lots of  dollars.  Any awards night, particularly those of a specific industry or profession, that has dozens of awards will be too long, too boring and, quickly, irrelevant.


Recently one award winner in an Australian awards ceremony acceptance speech, expressed pride that her organisation had won the same award for the third year running.  HUH?  Why were they eligible each year for the same award for the same management program?  This severely hurt the credibility of that particular award category and placed a cloud on all other awards at that night.

Eligibility needs to be sensible and this relates to the need for a detailed criteria mentioned above.

If an organisation wins an award for one thing, they should be ineligible for the same award for a couple of years.  This allows for the development of alternative approaches and creative approaches to the same category.  This will lead to a richer and more diverse industry or profession.

If a winner wants to renominate after the ineligibility period, their system should have changed and improved so that the award would acknowledge this change.

It is understood that the award decision-making and judging process should be secret or else the surprise of nomination and winning is lost.  But there is also a need to establish a credibility to the awards by displaying the integrity of the judging process.  The best awards are those that have an established integrity and are not just for marketing purposes or revenue generation.

Kevin Jones

SafetyAtWorkBlog has several pieces concerning awards.  Please use the search facility to the right of this article for other articles and perspectives.

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