Awards & Recognitions: There’s a lot to gain from not winning

October 31, 2013

Junice Yeo says that when it comes to sustainability awards and rankings, winning isn’t everything.

At lunch recently, I had a conversation with some business counterparts who were lamenting about having to deal with additional workload. Their boss had decided to enter their organization into a certain business award for 2014, and so the whole department was in overdrive preparing for their submission.

Incidentally, at a recent business award ceremony I witnessed a contrasting scene of ecstasy and disappointment at different ends of the event hall when the results were announced. The hard work definitely paid off for one company, but for the other, it leads to the inevitable question of the validity of the judgement, where they may have slipped up, and of course, whether it is worth putting in the extra hours in the submission, just to emerge in greater anguish for not having made it.

I reflected on the release of results of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in September this year. One could only imagine a bird’s eye view of the DJSI World of companies who made it, and those who didn’t. Probably only the Sustainability Managers who clicked on that final submission would know of the pain and sweat that went into weeks, and in many cases months, of data gathering, consolidation and careful adjustments. I’m not surprised if it felt like the weight of the world on their shoulders, because the pressure is indeed immense.

This is probably not an unfamiliar topic among our readers, and no doubt everyone has a story to share about the trials and tribulations of Going for Gold. But it certainly begs the question of ‘Why are we really doing this? Is it worth the struggle?’

There is also no correlation that proves the more effort put in indicates a higher chance of success. Sometimes, companies end up being placed in a category being ranked against tougher competition. More often than not, it is a matter of knowing how to answer the question. That can be surprisingly challenging when you’re dealing with a mountain of data, and multiple issue owners with different perspectives as to what the answer should be.

Singapore is a city which prides itself on being one of the most competitive economies in the world, if not the most competitive in Asia. This is not just a ranking of the dollar value of its GDP per capita, but by several other efficiency and innovation indicators including the dynamism of its workforce. Faced with a fast-changing landscape, Singapore businesses not only emulate global best practice, they also constantly adapt themselves to stay one step ahead of the competition.

It is therefore unsurprising that the culture of awards and recognitions becomes ever more embedded in the local mind-set. In no place is this more evident than in many annual financial and sustainability reports. Companies proudly feature their wins over multiple pages – to the extent that even the most recognized global achievements get camouflaged by the abundance of other smaller, less significant awards.

This begs the question, is it really about winning awards? Or is this perhaps a major PR operation?

Corporate Citizenship recently released a timely piece of research, ‘Rankings, standards and awards’, that discusses the real value for responsible and sustainable business in their pursuit for recognition. Enhancing reputation is indeed a benefit, but recognition is often temporary and vulnerable to attacks if things go wrong. The other, greater benefit is in improving core performance within and throughout the organization, giving the company greater mileage.

More and more awards and indices will continue to emerge over time. Business decision-makers in competitive markets must start to think more strategically about what the real value is in their approach, and start to prioritize. Companies with increasing global footprints need to identify which initiatives will bring them the most effective benefits, and especially the ones that speak to their target audiences.

Once the final submission is made, it is important to prepare for the outcome. For the few companies who ultimately achieve their goals, far more end up in disappointment. At this point, again it is important for the team lead to keep the morale up. Winning is not everything. What is crucial is to find out where the problems could be, and try to fix them.

There is in fact a lot to gain despite not winning, and I connect this to the idea of training for a marathon race. The rigorous exercise of preparing for the submission itself may mean discipline is required for data collection, analysis and presentation, but companies would otherwise not have the push factor to benchmark themselves against competitors on a level-playing field.  The stringent list of questions – like time trials and health checks – provide an introspective lens that helps the company look into its internal processes, and find ways of making things better.

As for those who do emerge winners, I’d say that the sweet success is the cherry on top of what is already a well-executed recipe. The best way to make the most of your win of course, is to communicate and celebrate. But more importantly, be mindful that a successful sustainable business is one that is able to continue challenging itself to soar to greater heights.

Junice Yeo is a Director with Corporate Citizenship in Singapore.