In my Professional Opinion – Feb 11 – The Workplace – Recognising Excellence in Business is aspirational oxygen

I used to believe that all of those “Recognition of Excellence” programmes circulating in South Africa were simply an excuse for a good formal dinner. For a free meal and to let ones hair down with staff and senior management.

At best they were an opportunity for the Anchor Sponsor to swing votes of supposedly neutral panels of judges thereby packing the winners podium with their own people. There is always one company, which sponsors these Award Programmes and benefits from sharing the headline of the programme itself. A perfect opportunity for bolstering your company’s brand and public profile. And at the same time in being seen as the major benefactor in an Industry, where other companies could not afford to provide sponsorship.

Now, older and scruffier and having been involved with a number of these programmes, I take a completely different view of why Excellence Programmes really are the oxygen which motivates CEO’s and their Managers to want to strive to be recognized as “Excellent”.

Lets not be disingenuous and deny that it is about Ego, because it is. The collective, “Corporate” ego. But there is nothing wrong with having a platform and vehicle to let your ego express itself now and then, especially when you have genuinely as a company done well and therefore are truly excellently operated and maintained.

Excellence Award Programmes are the vehicles which internal marketing personnel dream of because there is never anything better in the world of marketing than indirect, factual testimonies of excellence in either manufacturing or service practices. This is the epitome of below-the-line marketing. Instead of paying people to sing your praises, a panel of neutral and independent judges, “Industry Peers” are begrudgingly having to acknowledge that your company has surpassed others within your Industry to be recognized as the best, (at least for that year).

These seemingly unnecessary activities are aspirational in-that after every Excellence Awards announcement, the benchmark is set and your competition are already dreaming up ways of wrestling that crown off of your head in the following cycle, for themselves to be duly crowned the next time this circus comes to town, and for the marketing benefits to be derived.

Think of Excellence Awards Programmes as Beauty Competitions and your own Marketing Director as your companies “Mother” pushing, cajoling, starving you to look good and honing your party tricks to shine up there on that stage. Within a very short period indeed your CEO will be sprouting “World Peace and Love for Mankind” platitudes and your dress will have been stitched onto your bulging corporate body, just for the night.

But that is the point. A well-executed Excellence Programme is not about how you will appear “on the night”. It is about recognising the sustainability in your business practices, and how, those who sing your praises, can factually articulate your prowess in maintaining ongoing high levels of service excellence and dependable business practices.

The only difference between a “Proudly South African” or “Investor In People” corporate award and “Idols” or “The UK’s Got Talent” is that the former is not sexy and that we seem not as South African Branding Specialists, to have the skills to make these very necessary awards “sexy”.

I say particularly “as South Africans” because in countries such as Japan, Korea and increasingly now in China the story is very different. There, winning a coporate award or a first place at World Skills, makes you a rock star and your company the equivalent, but on the stock exchange.

South Africans on the other hand do not seem to understand that Excellence Awards are not about the pathway to becoming recognised as the “best performing”, but instead are about what happens after you have been recognised? How do we celebrate excellence so that the winners truly become the hero’s we aspire to want to be and importantly so that our children, the future of our economic prosperity, aspire to emulate those corporate rock-stars?

In Korea winners are generally given huge financial awards and incentives, a ticker-tape parade, television and radio interviews and are placed as poster-hero’s in prominent branded positions of influence because of their achievements. In South Africa it’s like nothing ever happened except possibly for a certificate on the wall at your workstation and accompanied, where possible by a photograph of you with the CEO and even better the Chairman.

We become more miserly and apologetic in this country than the Brits “stiff upper lip” when it comes to celebrating excellence. Maybe that’s why we collectively as a country have so little excellence to generally shout about. Certainly in any programmes where the State is involved, most Awards Programmes appear to me to be incomplete and therefore a waste of time. An excuse for a free meal with alcohol, often shipped home surreptitiously in plastic bags instead of doing things properly.

Nevertheless the fact remains that such programmes, if properly run are essential to the fabric of any well run Industry because benchmarks keep us motivated to aspire and achieve, not only as a single company but collectively within a Sector.

Winning also looks fantastic on your CV and sets you apart from the riff-raff.